As a freshman applicant to Washington & Lee University just after the middle of the last century, I had an interview with Frank Gilliam, its legendary, long-time dean of admissions (he could recognize and call by name any student or former student who attended during his 30+ year tenure). Naively — from a small town in Alabama, I knew little and understood less — I asked him whether W&L had a quota on Jewish admissions.
With no hesitation or reservation, he replied (this from memory, but it’s close to verbatim), “Of course we do. If we didn’t, if we accepted applicants on the basis of nothing more than academic qualifications, within one four-year turnover the student body here would be about 75% Jewish from within about a hundred miles of New York City and W&L is not that kind of college.” (I attended W & L — perhaps I was expected to provide an early, as yet unnamed form of “diversity” to the 90+% of the students who weren’t Jewish. I liked W & L but transferred after one year.)
I thought of Dean Gilliam when I first read about Harvard’s original turn to “holistic” assessment of applicants in the 1920’s as a way of putting a ceiling on Jewish admissions. You can read a nicely documented discussion of that policy in the Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) complaint (pp. 10-27) in federal district court in Boston accusing Harvard of now treating Asians the same way.
SFFA’s legal filings — its complaint, along with its expert reports by Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono (original report and rebuttal of the response by Harvard expert, Berkeley economist David Card) and its recently filed memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment — are nothing short of masterful.
They reveal that Harvard’s intricate, massive “diversity” edifice is an emperor with no clothes.
The essence of SFFA’s argument is that to establish and maintain a pre-determined racial balance, Harvard awards massive preferences to black and Hispanic and penalties to Asian applicants. It uses various tools, as summarized in the summary judgment memo, “to manipulate the process so that it achieves essentially the same racial balance year over year. If, at the end of the admissions process, Harvard has admitted more (or less) of any racial group than it did the year before (what it deems, in violation of Title VI, to be “too many” or “too few”), then it reshapes the class to remedy the problem.” If “too many” or “too few” of whatever groups enroll one year, adjustments are made in admissions the following year.
“Harvard’s remarkably stable admissions and enrollment figures over time are the deliberate results of systemwide intentional racial discrimination designed to achieve a predetermined racial balance of its student body,” the SFFA complaint charges. “No factor or criteria for admission — other than racial balancing — could explain … the overall consistency of Harvard’s admissions, enrollment, and overall student body figures across all racial groups.”
The intended and actual effect of this racial manipulation on Asians is dramatic. “An Asian-American applicant with a 25% chance of admission … would have a 35% chance if he were white, a 75% chance if he were Hispanic, and a 95% chance if he were African American.”
Asians v. Whites
Most of the controversy over racial preferences has focused on the preferential treatment of blacks and, to a lesser degree, Hispanics. This is understandable since the preferences are so significant, but the SFFA lawsuit brings to the fore the fact that Asians, not whites, are the primary victims.
This has long been known to those who follow the issue closely. For example, after the passage of Prop. 209, the proportion of whites entering the University of California and California State University systems fell from 40% in 1997 to 34% in 2005 and the proportion of Asian Americans accepted at Berkeley increased from 34.6% to 42%.
As Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and a colleague demonstrated in their 2009 book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, if selective colleges eliminated racial preferences in admissions, “Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class not taken by African-American and Hispanic students.” Black students, they found, receive preferences worth 450 points (out of 1600) on the SAT compared to Asian-American applicants, but Asians must also score 140 points higher than white applicants to have equal chances of admission.
Thus the charge that critics of racial preferences are intent on helping whites, such as this typical accusation in SLATE that the purpose of the SFFA lawsuit is “exploiting [racial] fears for the benefit of white applicants,” is absurd.
Indeed, one of the strongest aspects of the SFFA filings — and again, one that will surprise many who have not followed this issue closely — is the extent to which Harvard treats Asians much worse than whites. In fact, the first reason SFFA offered for why summary judgment should be granted is that “Harvard intentionally discriminates against Asian-American applicants. Incontrovertible evidence shows that Harvard’s admissions policy has a disproportionately negative effect on Asian Americans vis-a-vis similarly-situated white applicants that cannot be explained on non-discriminatory grounds.” [Summary Judgment Memo, 1]
A few examples:
- “It is obvious that if Harvard evaluated Asian Americans and non-Hispanic whites equally, non-Hispanic white admissions would drop significantly, possibly to the point where Asian-American enrollment and non-Hispanic white enrollment would be roughly comparable. Although this would cause Harvard’s overall level of racial diversity to increase, not decrease, Harvard nevertheless continues to use racial balancing to keep white enrollment more than twice as high as Asian-American enrollment. [Complaint, 70-71]
- About three-quarters of whites on the waitlist were ultimately admitted v. about half of the Asians. [Arcidiacono Report, 31-32]
- “At least for applicants in the top half of academic indexes, Asian-American admit rates in any decile are roughly equivalent to white admit rates for one decile lower.” [Arcidiacono Report, 42-43]
- “Randomly drawing from those in the top academic index decile would results in over 50% of the admitted class being Asian American, compared to their current share of approximately 22%. Over the six-year period, this would result in an increase of 1563 Asian-American admits in the baseline dataset.” [Arcidiacono Report, 45]
- “If they had been treated like white applicants, an average of approximately 44 more Asian Americans per year would have been admitted to Harvard over the six-year period the experts analyzed.” [Summary Judgment Memo, 10]
- Stuyvesant High School in New York City, about 70% Asian, regularly sends about 10 graduates a year to Harvard, but generally less than half of them are Asian American. “When shown these data in her deposition, Stuyvesant’s Director of College Counseling broke down in tears.” [Summary Judgment Memo, 30]
Blacks v. Hispanics
Not only does the racial balance Harvard requires demand that Asians be disadvantaged compared to whites; it also severely penalizes Hispanics compared to blacks.
Over time, the proportion of black and Hispanic admission and enrollment has remained remarkably stable “despite the fact that throughout this period, the applicant pool of academically strong Hispanic students at Harvard … was substantially larger than the similar pool for African Americans, and the gap became larger over time,” a result obtained only because Harvard awarded “substantially larger preferences for African Americans than for Hispanics. In other words,” the complaint notes, “Harvard has manipulated the size of the actual preferences to ensure it maintained racial balance.” [Complaint, 70]
Harvard: Asians Deficient In Likability, Courage, Kindness, And Being ‘Widely Respected’
Summarizing SFFA’s “analysis of more than 160,000 student records” filed June 15, The New York Times reported that “Asian-Americans scored higher than applicants of any other racial or ethnic group on admissions measures like test scores, grades and extracurricular activities…. But the students’ personal ratings significantly dragged down their chances of being admitted, the analysis found.”
Harvard’s defense of its personal and overall scoring “means Asian Americans have, among other things, a less ‘positive personality,’ ‘others like to be around’ them less, they have worse ‘character traits’ such as ‘likability … helpfulness, courage, [and] kindness,’ they are not ‘attractive [people] to be with,’ they are not ‘widely respected,’ and they have worse “human qualities.” [Summary Judgment Memo, 28]
Peter Arcidiacono, the Duke economist and SFFA expert, found that indeed “Asian-American applicants have the lowest scores of the four major racial groups on Harvard’s personal rating” — that is, the rating assigned by Harvard’s own admissions staff. This result contrasted markedly “from the scores Asian-American applicants receive from other individuals, including the ratings from alumni interviewers, teachers, and counselors.” [Arcidiacono Rebuttal Report, 13-14].
On the important “overall” personal score, also applied subjectively by Harvard staff, Asians were given a top score (2 or better) 22% of the time only in the top academic index decile. By comparison, whites were given a top rating 22% of the time “in each of the top five deciles; Hispanic applicants received this score in each of the top six deciles, and African-Americans received this score in each of the top eight deciles.” [Summary Judgment Memo, 8]
For years the Ivies have been accused of stereotyping Asian American applicants as nerdy, not well-rounded, etc. The data in Harvard’s own files — except for the personal scores assigned by its own staff — proves this untrue, and yet low personal scores was the heavy thumb Harvard applied to the “holistic,” individualistic evaluation of Asians to reduce their numbers. One sad, depressing virtue of SFFA’s evidence and analysis is that the accusation of relying on an unfavorable stereotype of Asian applicants has now been compellingly confirmed and documented. Stuyvesant’s Director of College Counseling was entirely justified in breaking down in tears when presented with this evidence.
A Smoking Gun
In addition to the compelling weight of the statistical evidence SFFA filed in federal court last week, what may prove to be a smoking gun was also filed: three internal studies conducted by Harvard’s highly respected Office of Institutional Research (OIR) in 2013, conducted to investigate the charges of discrimination against Asians in then-recent publications.
Those studies drew on ten years of Harvard admission data, seven of which pre-dated the selection of applicant data provided to plaintiffs on discovery. They found:
- “If academic credentials alone dictated the shape of the class, OIR determined that Asian Americans would make up 43% of the admitted class.” [Compared to their actual 18.7% share, Summary Judgment Memo, 11]
- “OIR found that the white applicants were admitted at a higher rate than their Asian-American counterparts at every level of academic-index level. But it is even worse than that. As [OIR’s] second chart shows, being Asian American actually decreases [Asian American] chances of admissions.” [Summary Judgment Memo, 13]
- “Harvard’s admissions officers assign significantly lower ‘personal’ scores to Asian Americans as compared to whites. The difference is notable because similar ratings by teachers, guidance counselors, and alumni interviewers do not show nearly as much of a difference between those two groups. The use of personal and extracurricular scores as a whole has a negative effect on the predicted admission rate of Asian-American applicants, but not on the applicants of all other races.” [Arcidiacono Report, 10]
In other words, Harvard’s own internal studies mirrored what Prof. Arcidiacono confirmed later, with mounds of additional evidence. Even more dramatic, however, is what William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s Dean of Admissions, and Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Harvard College, did when presented with this smoking gun evidence in 2013: Nothing!
“Fitzsimmons sat there silently, ‘pausing and reflecting’ on what he had just heard. He asked no questions. He did not request additional analysis. And he did not discuss OIR’s findings with anyone.” Nor did Dean Khurana. Instead, Harvard “killed the investigation and buried the reports.” [Summary Judgment Memo, 15, 1]
Harvard’s Feeble Defense
Harvard’s attempts to limit the damage to its case caused by the discovery of these OIR reports reveal the weakness and hollowness of its defense. First, “Harvard’s witnesses developed amnesia on the entire subject at their depositions,” denying any memory of the OIR reports. Excerpts from their testimony, as the Summary Judgment Memo stated, were “embarrassing.” 
Then, presumably coached by lawyers, they later claimed to believe the reports were “flawed” or “incomplete,” but “they did not question the quality or thoroughness of OIR’s findings when they were made. They did not ask OIR to collect more data, perform further analysis, or conduct a more thorough investigation. They just sat there and did nothing as OIR informed them at least four different times that the Admissions Office is biased against Asian Americans.” [Summary Judgment Memo, 17-18]
Much later, in response to Prof. Arcidiacono’s extensive analyses that confirmed OIR’s finding, Berkeley economist David Card, Harvard’s expert, repeated the argument that these findings are incomplete because they did not consider such material as the personal essays by applicants. The problem with this argument is that Harvard had refused to provide the plaintiffs with a sample including those essays and is thus precluded from relying on them in its defense.
Another of Prof. Card’s responses reveals a flawed assumption that underlies Harvard’s defense. He criticizes Prof. Arcidiacono for limiting his model to competitive applicants, i.e., for excluding applicants who were clear rejects or who received substantial non-racial preferences, such as legacies and children of staff. However, by including such applicants, Prof. Card’s model has the effect of “making these penalties and preferences appear to be of smaller magnitude than they actually are.” [Arcidiacono Rebuttal Report, 17]
Only competitive applicants are affected by racial preference and penalties. Neither certain rejects nor those who receive substantial non-racial preference are affected. As Prof. Arcidiacono compellingly asserts, Prof. Card’s inclusion of these applicants in his model reveals that Harvard believes “discrimination against certain racial groups and in favor of others is of no consequence unless Harvard actually discriminates against or in favor of every applicant within the affected racial/ethnic groups … that there is no penalty against Asian-American applicants unless Harvard imposes a penalty on every Asian-American applicant…This is an absurd proposition.” [Arcidiacono Rebuttal Report, 17, 19]
In his Bakke opinion, Justice Powell relied heavily on “the Harvard plan,” which stated that the race of an applicant was only “a factor” that “may tip the balance in his favor just as geographic origin or life on a farm may tip the balance in other candidates’ cases.” Leaving aside the offensive oddity of equating discrimination based on race and geography or agricultural status, SFFA’s filings leave no doubt that Harvard uses race as much, much more than a balance-tipping consideration in individual cases. It is all too often the decisively determining factor in black and Hispanic admission, Asian rejection, and the pronounced preference for whites over Asians.
Since Harvard is thus largely responsible for inflicting “diversity”-justified racial discrimination on American higher education and beyond, it would be poetic justice for Harvard’s hubris in its flagrant use of race combined with the feeble weakness of its defenses of doing so to be the occasion for the beginning of “diversity’s” downfall.