NY Times Op Ed: Is Harvard Unfair to Asian-Americans?

<p><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/opinion/is-harvard-unfair-to-asian-americans.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region&region=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region"&gt;http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/opinion/is-harvard-unfair-to-asian-americans.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region&region=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/p>

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In 2008, over half of all applicants to Harvard with exceptionally high SAT scores were Asian, yet they made up only 17 percent of the entering class (now 20 percent). Asians are the fastest-growing racial group in America, but their proportion of Harvard undergraduates has been flat for two decades.

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<p>I found this line to be poignant: “The real problem is that, in a meritocratic system, whites would be a minority — and Harvard just isn’t comfortable with that.”</p>

<p>FWIW: The author is a PhD candidate at Harvard: <a href=“http://scholar.harvard.edu/mounk”>http://scholar.harvard.edu/mounk</a></p>

<p>If Harvard were to admit based solely on quantifiable criteria, aka standardized test scores, application would be a simple matter of sending your best scores and Harvard would take the top 1650 kids. No doubt the pool would be overwhelmingly Asian. I think Harvard (or any school) would be a much less interesting place without the world view brought by a diverse group of students. Also, as a private school, I respect their freedom to assemble a class that they feel will be most conducive to intellectual growth of their students. </p>

<p>If Harvard was full of Asians, I wouldn’t apply (Even though I’m Asian). I chose Harvard b/c of the diversity -> Much more diverse than MIT</p>

<p>@Calvin689111. I wouldn’t be so naive and presumptuous with your statement:

When and if you get your rejections from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and Princeton…or any combination thereof…and end up at your state flagship or one of the costlier private schools (with less cache)…you won’t be so quick to make such an uninformed statement! I empathize with many of the outstanding Asian applicants who get numbered-out because of the sheer number of top Asian applicants applying to these schools…</p>

<p>…let’s just be more understanding of what is going on in this world of “holistic admissions”…and what it really means…</p>

<p>It’s a little scary that Mr. Mounk teaches expository writing at Harvard, because that op ed is a terrible piece of expository writing. It’s one non-sequitur after another. So 8 years ago Asians constituted half of the applicants with “exceptionally high SAT scores” but only 17% of the class . . . . And what percentage of the entering class had “exceptionally high SAT scores”? What percentage of the students offered admission? (Granted, at Harvard there’s less of a difference between those two questions than there is most other places.) What percentage of students classed as “international” or “race or ethnicity unspecified” are in fact ethnically Asian?</p>

<p>What support other than “I said so” is there for either of the following two key statements: “in a meritocratic system, whites would be a minority” and “Harvard isn’t comfortable with that”? (Note: as far as I can tell, students who identify as white and American are less than 50% of the undergraduate student body, although still the most populous category by a good margin.) And what, exactly, does he mean by “meritocratic”? His definition, or Harvard’s somewhat broader one?</p>

<p>I am not denying that there may be an issue here. The numbers for a long time were very troubling, although I was under the impression that they had improved a lot the last few years. But Mr. Mounk does a terrible job of assembling anything resembling a convincing case. Instead, he strings together a couple of anecdotes, some numbers that don’t add up, constant and by now cliched references to Karabell’s over-argumentative book, and a whole bunch of opinion. If that’s all there is, the lawsuit is going nowhere.</p>

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Most European universities admit like this. You apply to a specialized school within the U such as English or Law or Pharmacology and take only classes in that subject. There are no sports or activities and little campus life. The U.S. system, even at Research U’s has a Liberal Arts approach with core classes or distributional requirements and the desire to have a rounded class with a certain college life and experience. So the U builds a class. They need trombonists as well as violinists, kids for every position in every sport, and kids from many states, countries, ethnicities, and races. A U.S. school wanting to provide a diverse and vibrant campus life as well as a quality academic experience, because of the nature of the system, must reach far deeper than grade or test metrics, hence the holistic approach.</p>

<p>It is certainly desirable to have a diverse class, but Harvard and other elite colleges need to be upfront with their policy of a hard quota on Asian Americans. What they are doing now is just disingenuous. </p>

<p>Here in the US, Stuyvesant High School is a true meritocracy. Twenty-eight thousand New York City 8th graders sit for an SAT-like test, and the top 800 scorers are admitted (about a 3% acceptance rate). Admission is based upon ONE quantifiable criteria — test scores. Transcripts, course rigor, GPA, teacher recommendations, essays and extracurricular’s ARE NOT considered. </p>

<p>Fifty-years ago, Stuyvesant was 70% Jewish. Now the school is 70% Asian. Does the educational system at Stuyvesant suffer by admitting just the top test scorers? Does the orchestra suffer by admitting just the top test scorers? Do the athletic teams suffer by admitting just the top test scorers? Does the debate team, robotics team, drama society suffer by admitting just the top test scorers? Having two kids recently graduate from the school, the answer is absolutely not! It works at Stuy; it could work at Harvard or any other college for that matter. (In fact, it has worked quite successfully in the California State College system.) But, most US private and public colleges want to control the mix of students who are admitted. And, I don’t see that changing anytime in the near future!</p>

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@gibby I’d first like to say that I appreciate your history of diligent and helpful posts here.
BUT - Do you really think that Harvard (or any other top school) could continue to field a full spread of viable sports teams, orchestras, etc, if only test scores were considered?</p>

<p>I think any kind of admissions that relies on race as a factor is unfair. It’s kind of ironic though… Harvard is getting sued for racial inequality, but the racial equality-purported move to a meritocracy would cause even more racial inequality in the sense that Asians would likely be even more grossly overrepresented.</p>

<p>I don’t support the idea of a meritocratic system, but, if it were up to me, there’d be no appraisal based on race, and aims would be made to socioeconomically uplift minorities based solely on economic status. The current system just seems flawed in so many ways. In the name of diversity, universities would rather give enormous advantages to a rich African American kid from the suburbs than a white kid from an Alaskan mountaintop, even though the latter would probably add tons of life diversity in life experience to the campus. </p>

<p>@gibby Interesting perspective. I wonder though, since your kids are not Asian, what kind of issues did they face being in the minority?</p>

<p>“universities would rather give enormous advantages to a rich African American kid from the suburbs than a white kid from an Alaskan mountaintop”</p>

<p>@IBNick: but that’s a false dichotomy. That superstar Alaskan kid would be grabbed up in a millisecond over the 50 avg white kids from Shaker Heights, Grosse Pointe, Princeton, Thomas Jefferson or Harvard-Westlake</p>

<p>@snarlatron: Many New York City high school coaches recruit athletes to play on their teams. Stuyvesant, because it’s a test-only school, cannot do that. Yet Stuyvesant’s football team this year is ranked third in all of NYC with a 9-1 PSAL record. Stuy’s baseball team has made the NYC PSAL playoffs for 18 of the last 19 years. That’s not too shabby for a school that admits just by test scores. Contrast that to Columbia’s football team which hasn’t won a single game in the last 2 years, or Cornell which has a 1-9 record (their only win was against Columbia) and you can anticipate where I’m going. Yes, I think it’s possible to field a competitive athletic team (or orchestra) just by admitting by tests scores. Maybe not as competitive as Harvard this year, but certainly more competitive than Columbia and Cornell.</p>

<p>@Falcoln1: My kids didn’t have any issues attending a school where they were the minority. They had to compete just like everyone else.</p>

<p>The culture and mission of Harvard College changed significantly over the past century, from a country club finishing school with academics on the side, to a very diverse meritocracy with academics emphasized. (See Karabel’s The Chosen.) If Harvard were to go by standardized test scores only, the campus would fill with only very wealthy White and Asian students whose parents went to Grad School. This WaPo article shows the SAT correlations w/ graphs:
<a href=“http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/03/05/these-four-charts-show-how-the-sat-favors-the-rich-educated-families/”>http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/03/05/these-four-charts-show-how-the-sat-favors-the-rich-educated-families/</a>
I doubt that any school would want to go in that direction. A long time ago, Harvard based admissions on their own entrance exams. If tests were to be used for admissions, this model would be better than the SAT because it couldn’t be prepped for and would take away the advantage of wealthy kids taking years of prep courses juicing their chances.</p>

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^^ I agree.</p>

<p>@gibby Thanks for insights. Point taken about Columbia’s football team.</p>

<p>@snarlton Wouldn’t the elite prep schools just start focusing on preparing kids to do well on the Harvard entrance exam, thereby defeating the purpose of it?</p>

<p>@Falcon1 The beauty of giving your own exam is that you can choose and change the format and content. The elite schools wouldn’t know what was going to be on the exam, which could change yearly.</p>

<p>Yes, I thought of that but then you would have people crying foul and complaining bitterly that the test is arbitrary with no set standards. Anyway, this is not going to happen so it is all moot.</p>