At the request of the unidentified Asian-American student who filed discrimination
The civil rights office had folded the complaint against Princeton … into a compliance review begun in 2008 of whether that university discriminates against Asian-Americans.
The allegations in the 2011 complaint “will no longer be considered as part of OCR’s existing compliance review involving Princeton,” said an Education Department spokesman, who declined to be identified, citing department policy.
“The complaints,” wrote Daniel Golden, who broke the story about the recent investigation, “fed the longstanding debate about whether elite universities hold Asian-Americans to a higher standard in college admissions.”
Actually I don’t think there is any reasonable debate about whether Asians are held to a higher admissions standard at elite universities. Even liberals acknowledge that the Ivies and other selective institutions discriminate, although they are loathe to admit that it is, you know, discrimination. Take SLATE’s Matthew Yglesias (Please!), who writes: “it’s worth noting that we know perfectly well that this discrimination happens. The only real issue is whether or not they’re breaking the law.”
Leave aside the point that “whether or not they’re breaking the law” is not, of course, “the only real issue.” Some, perhaps many, reasonable people believe that racial discrimination should be illegal even if it is not, and that it’s both wrong and bad policy even if courts or legislatures in their wisdom never agree.
What interests me here, however, is the way Yglesias (and many, perhaps most, other liberals) fundamentally misunderstand what discrimination is. “For starters,” he writes,
Harvard recruits athletes who are disproportionately white (it’s not just football and basketball–there are fencing and golf teams). Harvard also gives a bonus to the children of alumni, another disproportionately non-Asian group. But then on top of that Harvard seeks to ensure the presence of a diverse class by giving bonuses to members of underrepresented racial minorities and underrepresented geographical areas. The much-discussed racial diversity criteria hurt Asian applicants and benefit black and Latino applicants, while the never-discussed geographical diversity criteria hurt Asian applicants and benefit whites. Conservatives have entrenched into law the idea that policies with a “disproportionate impact” on racial minorities don’t constitute an illegal form of discrimination, which may be the wise approach, in which case it may be that Ivy League schools aren’t doing anything illegal to Asian applicants.
This analysis, if that’s what it is, is hopelessly confused. Harvard doesn’t recruit golfers or fencers or legacies because they are white but because they are good (and presumably smart) golfers and fencers and legacies. For that policy to be illegal even under disparate impact analysis (aside from whether it’s wise or not), there would have to be no good reason for Harvard to want good fencers and golfers and legacies–and if preferences to them are illegal, then presumably so would be requiring high SAT scores and grades.
“Business necessity” is a defense against charges that an employment policy has an impermissibly discriminatory disparate impact, and defenders of racial preference in college admissions argue that racial “diversity” is an educational necessity. According to current law, however (42 U.S. Code Section 2000e(k)K2)), demonstrating “that an employment practice is required by business necessity may not be used as a defense against a claim of intentional discrimination.”
Clearly, distributing admission “bonuses” and burdens based on race is intentional discrimination. Selective institutions recruit blacks and Hispanics because they are black and Hispanic. They set higher admissions hurdles for Asians because they are Asian. Race-balancing discrimination is thus not the unintended effect of what “diversity” admissions does; it is the core of what it is.
John S. Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.