Harvard Crimson Mounts Squirrelly Preference Defense

The Harvard Crimson offers an unsurprisingly elliptical response to a new study “Admissions and Public Higher Education in California, Texas, and Florida: The Post-Affirmative Action Era” appearing in InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies. The study focuses on the enrollment patterns of school systems that eliminated affirmative action – and found significant increases in Asian American enrollment in each case. The study suggests that Asian Americans are disadvantaged under affirmative action system.

First, The Crimson discounts the study’s finding – that Asians seem to be comparatively disadvantaged under affirmative action systems:

One shortcoming of the UCLA study, however, is that it offers no definitive proof that Asian Americans are discriminated against in states that still follow an affirmative action policy.

Doesn’t the reliable increase in Asian enrollment in schools that eliminated affirmative action tend to suggest exactly this, however? Sure, we can’t be absolutely certain about the nature of Asian-American enrollment at schools still using preferences, but the study offers clear evidence of what the end of affirmative action did for Asian American enrollment – benefit it greatly.

Second, The Crimson engages in legerdemain

Colleges advocate the importance of applicants’ community involvement, leadership capabilities, distinction in extracurricular activities, and work experience in their admissions process. To examine the serious charge of racial discrimination, researchers should evaluate the contributions of applicants of different races to these other factors of admission as well.

Ok, so faced with a reliable pattern in every school under study – an increase in the number and percentage of Asian American students following the elimination of affirmative action programs, The Crimson is unsatisfied as to a causal relationship? If there’s a case to be made that some other web of factors, from “community involvement” to “distinction in extracurricular activities” might instead have caused this at every school under question then I’d certainly like to hear it. No one has mounted anything like that effort, though, because every study I’ve ever seen has shown a reliable correlation between increasing Asian enrollment and the end of affirmative action programs. Yet I suppose, from The Crimson’s standpoint, we can’t consider that evidence definitive until we’ve determined what effect the realignment of tectonic plates or imbalances of bodily humors might have on the admissions rates.

Finally, after these two dodges, in effect ‘this study proves nothing outside of its overwhelming pattern’ and ‘but what about the value admissions departments place on pet ownership’ The Crimson engages in a third. They don’t believe that discrimination against Asian Americans occurs, but:

As disheartening as evidence of admissions discrimination against Asian Americans would be, the pursuit of diversity necessarily requires colleges to make some harsh decisions about whom to accept.

Sounds frank but is immediately followed by a softball point:

When there are more applicants than there are spots in each incoming class, colleges must discriminate in some fashion to have a talented and diverse student body.

So, after all the quibbling with the studies, The Crimson admits that if discrimination did exist it wouldn’t mind? They prefer, of course, to remain vague about what this discrimination is, and deny evidence that affirmative action constitutes a concentrated harm to the admissions prospects of Asian Americans. An honest argument for affirmative action wouldn’t elide the question; The Crimson, unsurprisingly, prefers to weave around the less savory aspects of preferences.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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