Asians as the New Jews,
Jews as the New WASPs

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Ron
Unz’s cover story in the December American
Conservative
— “The Myth of American Meritocracy” — has
generated an extraordinary level of commentary in popular magazines, op-ed
pages and Internet blogs.  The article
deals with the many non-meritocratic practices in the admissions policies of
America’s most elite universities, especially the eight Ivy League institutions.   The extensive attention and commentary lavished on
Unz’s article is fully warranted for it breaks new ground on old controversies
while opening up some new controversies along the way.

In
its more than 30 pages of text, 15 separate charts and graphs, five pages of
densely packed endnotes, and eight separate online appendices Unz’s article presents
a powerful, data-driven indictment of the fraudulence and dishonesty of Ivy
League institutions, particularly in regard to their admissions of Asians,
Jews, and non-Jewish whites. Even longtime readers of Minding the Campus, who
are familiar with some of the more dubious practices Unz explores, will find the
situation Unz documents considerably worse than what they previously thought.  Two of the most salient conclusions of his
study might be summed up under the headings “Asians as the New Jews,”
“Jews as the New Establishment WASPs.”

Asians 16% at the
Ivies

Anyone
who has followed the college admissions scene over the years knows that it is
much more difficult for Asians — America’s “model minority” — to
get admitted to the most competitive colleges in the U.S., not only in
comparison with blacks and Latinos, but with whites as well.  In their widely publicized study of admission
to several high-end colleges and universities, sociologists Thomas Espenshade
and Alexandria Radford  found that at the
private schools they surveyed, after controlling for many complicating
variables, black students enjoyed an admissions boost equivalent to 310 SAT- points
(out of 1600) over whites, and Latinos a 130 point boost, while Asians incurred
a 140 SAT-point penalty.  It was much
harder for Asian applicants to get accepted to competitive colleges than the
members of all other groups, with the black-over-Asian admissions advantage being
particularly striking (450 SAT-points).  Unz
cites these statistics in his study but provides much new data regarding Asian
admissions to elite institutions including the eight Ivy League colleges.  

One
of Unz’s more striking illustrations shows the proportion of Asians enrolled at
each of the eight Ivy League institutions over the period from 1990 to 2011.  His graph also displays the increasing
proportion of Asians in the 18-21 college age group over this period and the
increasing proportion of Asians in the strictly meritocratic Caltech.  The result is jaw-dropping:

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While
Asian enrollments at the Ivies began to rise in the early 1990s, reflecting the
increasing size and academic quality of Asian applicants, this abruptly ended in
the late ’90s and reversed itself by the early 2000s.  Over the last ten years every one of the
eight Ivy League institutions seems to have settled upon a de facto Asian ceiling
quota of approximately 16 percent (give or take 2 percentage points) despite
the fact that the number of superbly qualified Asian applicants has continued
to rise. 

The effect of the Asian numerus clausus can be seen, as Unz shows, in a comparison of
the Ivies with the more meritocratic institutions like Caltech and the top five
University of California institutions after the passage of Proposition 209
prohibiting racial preferences. At these schools Asians make up approximately
40 percent of the student body, which, under strict meritocratic admissions, is
just about what one would expect in view of the outstanding Asian high school performance

Overwhelming Evidence of Achievement

Unz
illustrates the Asian rise at the top of the high school achievement pyramid
through a variety of means.  Perhaps the
best is his analysis of the list of National Merit Scholarship
semifinalists.  The NMS semifinalists
represent the top half-of-one-percent of those in each state who took an
SAT-like achievement test in high school. 
While racial and ethnic breakdowns are not reported, the NMS Corporation
publishes the names of all these high-scoring semifinalists so that a rough
approximation of the ethno-racial breakdown can be obtained by a simple last
name analysis (i.e. one can reasonably assume that NMS semi-finalists with surnames
like Wong, Nguyen, Kim, and Dasgupta are probably Asian, those with names like Rodriguez,
Fuentes, Ruiz, and Vazquez probably Latino, and those with names like Levy,
Cohen, Goldberg, and Kaplan probably Jewish). 
The method need not be perfect to produce valuable insights, especially
since the actual results are so striking. 

Asian
academic performance in recent years, Unz shows, has been nothing short of
spectacular.  While only 11 percent of
California’s high school students, Asians constituted almost 60 percent of California’s
NMS semifinalists, and the picture is similar in other states. Only 3.8 percent
of Texas’s population, those with Asian last names constituted over 25 percent
of the state’s NMS semifinalists, while even in New York State, with a very
large, academically competitive Jewish population and many college-educated
whites, Asians, who are just 7.3 percent of the state population, accounted for
over 30 percent of the NMS semifinalists. 
What is even more striking, Unz explains, is that the NMS test does not
play to Asian strengths, as it has a double-weighted verbal component, where
past testing shows Asian ability to be much weaker than in math, and has no
visual-spatial component at all, where Asians always outshine other groups.     

The
evidence for massively disproportionate Asian presence at the highest end of
academic achievement is simply overwhelming, Unz shows.  Besides the NMS semifinalists, Asian preeminence
in recent years is shown among the U.S. Math Olympiad winners (58 percent Asian
since the year 2000); the Computing Olympiad winners (over 50 percent Asian since
2009); the Physics Olympiad winners (81 percent Asian since 2010); finalists in
the Intel Science Talent Search (64 percent Asian since 2010); and the Biology
Olympiad winners (68 percent Asian since 2003).  Asian students have clearly shown what can be
accomplished in the American academic arena when talent, dedication, and hard
work is combined with supportive families, neighborhoods, and peer groups.

‘Too
Many of Them’ Once Again?

But
like the high-achieving Jews of an earlier era, the Asians have not been
permitted entrance into America’s most elite educational institutions
commensurate with their achievement. 
There are “too many of them,” our college administrators seem
to be saying, and they subject the Asians to unacknowledged ceiling quotas. “On
the one hand,” Unz writes, “America over the last two decades has
produced a rapidly increasing population of college-age Asians, whose families
are increasingly affluent, well-educated, and eager to secure an elite
education for their children. But on the other hand, it appears that these
leading academic institutions have placed a rather strict upper limit on actual
Asian enrolments, forcing these Asian students to compete more and more
fiercely for a very restricted number of openings.”

While
the Asian ceiling quotas are similar to those imposed on the Jews in the middle
years of the last century, in two key respects, Unz’s analysis suggests, they
differ.  First, the ceiling quotas on the
Jews were readily acknowledged and initially defended by leading college
administrators in their time while today administrators are loath to admit such
quotas and when questioned about them almost always dissimulate (usually by
invoking the weasel words “holistic admissions”).  Even more important, however, is the vast difference
between the two victim-groups in terms of media power. “The collapse of
the long-standing Jewish quotas in the Ivy League during the decades following
World War II,” Unz explains, “only occurred as a result of massive
media and political pressure, pressure surely facilitated by very heavy Jewish
ownership of America’s major media organs…” 
By
contrast, Asian-Americans today neither own nor control even a single
significant media outlet, and they constitute an almost invisible minority in
films, television, radio, and print.  For
most Americans, what the media does not report simply does not exist, and there
is virtually no major media coverage of what appear to be de facto Asian quotas
at our top academic institutions.”

A Dramatic Reversal
in Academia
 

Even
more controversial than what Unz has to say about discrimination against Asians
is what he says about the dramatic reversal of the role of the Jews in academia.  While the Jews early in the 20th
century displayed  the same kind of stellar
academic performance as today’s Asians, and like the Asians they were subjected
to discriminatory ceiling quotas by those running the Ivy League institutions,
today, Unz charges, it is the Jews who occupy many of the top administrative
levels of the Ivies and who not only consent to Asian ceiling quotas but artificially
prop up the number of Jewish students admitted to their institutions despite
dramatic declines in Jewish academic performance at the high end.  The Jewish administrators, Unz says in
effect, have taken on the role of the older WASP establishment in favoring
their own kind.

Some
will no doubt find Unz’s charges here outrageous and perhaps dismiss him as
“a self-hating Jew,” but Unz backs up his claims with serious data.  What to this writer is most new in Unz’s study
is the supporting material he presents on the dramatic collapse of Jewish
academic achievement over the past ten years, especially among Jews whose
families have been in the United States for several generations (more recent
Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union seem to be doing much better). Surveying
the National Merit Scholarship list of semifinalists, the winners of the Math,
Physics, Computing, and Biology Olympiads, the Intel Science Talent Search
winners, and the Siemens AP award winners, Unz finds a dramatic decline in the
Jewish names today compared to the recent past with a corresponding increase in
Asian names and names of those presumably white, non-Hispanic, and non-Jewish.  He estimates that only about 6 percent of
America’s highest performing students today are Jews, and while this is still
three times the proportion of Jews in the national population, it is a far cry
from earlier times when the very high-achieving Jews were often overrepresented
in national competitions by a factor ten-to-one or more.

Despite
the decline of Jews at the high end, Unz shows that the Ivy League institutions
continue to keep their Jewish student population close to the high level it was
in the last decades of the 20th century (with Jewish proportions in
the 15-25 percent range) when Jewish achievement clearly warranted such high
numbers. At Harvard, Yale and Columbia, Jews still constitute a quarter or more
of the student body despite the decline in Jewish achievement relative to other
groups. Unz finds this to be an unfair product of a Jewish admissions bias.  The ones most hurt in terms of what their
representation would be on a strictly meritocratic basis, he says, are both
Asians and non-Jewish whites. In earlier generations, Unz writes, “when
Jewish students, sometimes including myself, regularly took home a quarter or
more of the highest national honors on standardized tests or the prestigious
academic competitions … it seemed perfectly reasonable that Harvard and most of
the other Ivy League schools might be 25 percent Jewish, based on
meritocracy.  But the objective evidence
indicates that in present-day America only about 6 percent of our top students
are Jewish, which now renders such very high Jewish enrollments at elite
universities totally absurd and ridiculous.”
 

Jewish
administrators in recent years, Unz believes, have become something like the
new establishment in the eight Ivy League schools, and although not motivated
by animus or ill-will, they tend to favor, he believes, Jews — as well as
Latinos, and blacks — over better qualified Asians and non-Jewish whites (the
latter, he says, are even more underrepresented according to meritocratic
criteria than is the case with Asians). 
And not surprisingly, the Jews on campus don’t perform like they once
did.  Whereas in the past, Unz says,
Jewish names were common on Harvard’s list of graduating seniors making Phi
Beta Kappa, today, he says, “non-Jewish whites are now perhaps five times
as likely as their Jewish classmates to achieve such high academic
performance.”

Unz
is charitable in his account of high-ranking Jewish administrators. They are
mostly decent and honorable people, he says, but like all human beings they are
subject to unconscious biases and in-group prejudices.  With four of the eight Ivy League
institutions currently headed by Jewish presidents (Yale, Columbia, Penn,
Cornell), Harvard (Unz’s alma mater) having had two of its last three
presidents Jewish (and its current president a non-Jew married to a Jew), and
large proportions of the provosts and other top-level administrators of these
institutions also Jewish, it is not surprising, Unz believes, to find an
unconscious Jewish admissions bias. When one combines “shared group
biases” with “the extreme flexibility and subjectivity” that
exists in the college admissions process, one should not expect, Unz concludes,
objective, meritocratic decision making. 
Asians and non-Jewish whites turn out to be the big losers.

There is much more to Unz’s very long article
than can possibly be presented here, and the remedy he proposes to admissions
biases is even more controversial than the substantive material I have summarized.
I urge Minding the Campus readers to read Unz’s article in its entirety as it
deserves to become the basis of continued discussion and debate.
  Unz has clearly done a bang-up job in
bringing to light new developments in the academy that many would no doubt like
to ignore. 

Russell K. Nieli

Russell K. Nieli

Russell K. Nieli is a Senior Preceptor in Princeton University's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, and a Lecturer in Princeton's Politics Department. He is the author of "Wounds That Will Not Heal: Affirmative Action and Our Continuing Racial Divide."

4 thoughts on “Asians as the New Jews,
Jews as the New WASPs

  1. Ron Unz’s primary claims in his article are simply not true; he obtains them by using methodologies and data sets that are inconsistently applied and, in some cases, from inappropriate sources.
    For example, he claims only 3% of US Math Olympiad team members in the 2000-2009 decade were Jews by only counting as Jews students with one of 13 obviously Jewish names as Jews; I have determined that the real number is at least 16%. His grossly under-counts Jews among the high-achieving students because he fails to count Jews who Anglicized their names, have Hebrewic/Israeli names or inter-married, i.e., the vast majority of US Jews in the 21st century. On the other hand, he over-counts the % Jews attending Ivy League colleges by using the Hillel Foundation numbers, numbers that are likely quite inflated because they are used for fundraising purposes and include non-Jews who might have attended a Hillel event such as a free dinner. It is scientifically inappropriate to compare data obtained from 2 totally different methods, one that over-counts against one that under-counts. If Unz were to determine % Jews at Harvard using his Jewish names method, he would discover that Harvard has no where close to 25% Jews among its undergraduate students.
    Unz’s premise that the Ivy League admissions offices are intentionally giving preference in admission to Jews does not even make sense since, just like Unz, they have no mechanism to know which of their white applicants who don’t have an obviously Jewish name are Jewish rather than non-Jewish white unless the student happens to have written an essay on a ethnic/religious-related topic.
    Likewise, Unz over-counts Asian-Americans by not distinguishing them from non-US resident/citizen Asians even though these two groups are considered in different applicant pools, i.e., foreigners are restricted to ~10% of the total admits. For example, 34% of the College Putnam Math winners from the 2000-2009 decade were foreigners who had only come to the US after being admitted to college here. Thus, while Unz claims 37% of these students have Asian names, only 17% of them were, in fact, Asian-Americans. Similarly, at most 33% of them were non-Jewish US whites after one subtracts out the Jews he failed to count and the foreign European whites. Unz’s analysis of Harvard’s students who achieved Phi Beta Kappa suffers from this same problem, especially given that the foreign students attending Harvard are among the very, very top students in the entire world, not just the US.
    Another example is Unz’s under-count of the Asian-Americans attending Harvard. Instead of using Harvard’s own data which, for example, indicated 22% of the class of 2014 as Asian-American, he cited data compiled by the NECS which includes the non-select Harvard Extension students among the undergraduate population attending Harvard. Yet again, Unz used mixed methods and data sets in scientifically inappropriate ways to obtain the conclusions he desired rather than the correct ones.

    1. @Janet:
      Unz made allowances for (necessary) imperfections in his analysis of the NM Scholars and other measures. His broad defense of his estimates rests on two points: 1) Bias in a data set, if it remains constant over time, can still yield accurate information about changes over time, which is the focus of his essay; and 2) Even if his estimates are off by 50% across the board, Jewish students’ academic performance has dropped off a cliff; their continuing 25% enrollment percentage at the Ivies is therefore unwarranted; Asian high-achievers are shockingly underrepresented; and white Gentiles are even more underrepresented.

  2. Unz doesn’t show that Jews are actually favored over gentile whites in admission to top colleges. What he shows is that Jews are greatly overrepresented in top colleges compared to their numbers among all high-achieving white students. Unz doesn’t have data on what percentages of those Jews and other whites who apply to Harvard, Yale, etc. get admitted. The underrepresentation of gentiles could simply be due to them not applying to such schools even if they have excellent test scores, grades, and other achievements. This view is supported by Hoxby and Avery’s recent paper (NBER Working Paper No. 18586) showing that high-achieving students from poor families are unlikely to apply to highly selective colleges and that such students are overwhelmingly whites from the “flyover states.”

    1. @Jack:
      Unz addressed and dismissed the possibility you raised. If you read his article, you will see that he addressed a comprehensive set of possible objections to his findings.

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