Last winter, an Asian-American student was denied admission to Harvard College, despite his stellar test scores and distinction as an AP Scholar and National Merit semifinalist.
On Monday, the student, now a member of Students for Fair Admissions Inc., filed a lawsuit against Harvard for employing “racially and ethnically discriminatory policies and procedures” during the undergraduate admissions process. Students for Fair Admissions — a group that represents students who believe they were rejected by schools because of their race — fights against what SFA Director Edward Blum termed as limitations imposed by colleges across the nation on the admission of Asian-American and Caucasian students under affirmative action policies. The group supports the claim that affirmative action harms populations that are allegedly over-represented on college campuses, Blum added.
Blum said the organization’s mission is to facilitate legal challenges that will end the use of racial classification preferences by American universities in their admissions processes. Although the group has only filed complaints against Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill thus far, Blum said the goal is to file a handful of lawsuits around the country, and that Yale is absolutely one of their targeted schools.
“We believe that we will be able to show various courts that whether it’s Yale in Connecticut or Harvard in Massachusetts, these schools are classifying people by race, treating them differently by race and have strict quotas for Asian-American students,” Blum said.
He added that Harvard has a long, “ugly” history of using holistic admissions criteria to prevent certain types of students from being admitted. In the 1920s, Harvard used its holistic process to diminish the number of Jewish students admitted, he said. Harvard is currently using this same approach to diminish the number of Asian-American students admitted, he added, and the rest of the Ivy League — including Yale — is doing the same.
The complaints filed against Harvard and UNC cite substantial quantitative data. Both cite the perfect ACT and SAT subject test scores of the rejected students, their GPAs and the amount of AP classes taken in high school. However, Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said that it is impossible to properly compare applicants using test scores and other numbers.
“It is convenient for conversations to revolve around SAT scores because a test score is a number, and a number gives the illusion of precision, but admissions applications are never that simple,” Quinlan said.
Quinlan added that while various background characteristics can be a positive factor in an application, this factor still depends heavily on everything else the Admissions Office finds in the application.
However, Ron Unz, a political activist who has written extensively against affirmative action, said evidence of “Asian quotas” can be found not just in test score discrepancies among accepted and rejected applicants, but in the static rate of Asian-American students accepted each year.
“When you look at the fact that the percentage of college-age Asian-American students has doubled in the last 20 years, while there has been no increase in admissions of these students to Harvard and other Ivy League schools, it seems extremely suspicious,” Unz said. “It seems that the percentage of Asian-Americans applying has massively increased in the last couple decades with no corresponding increase in admittees, meaning the admissions rate for Asian-American applicants has absolutely plummeted.”
Unz added that while Harvard and other Ivies release the ethnic and racial composition of their students to the public, these schools are unwilling to release this information for their applicant pool.
He added that schools in the University of California system release this information each year, showing that their acceptance rate for Asian-Americans is roughly the same as the other ethnic groups applying to these universities. But Harvard and other Ivies maintain a “brick wall,” blocking the public from this data, he said.
Blum said Harvard will most likely be compelled to release information about its applicants for the recent lawsuit, indicating whether there is a racial balancing program or quota policy in effect.
Patric Cao, a freshman at Harvard, said that while he thinks Asian-American and white students do face larger barriers in college admissions, the lawsuit itself has holes, and is not the best way to go about solving the problem of discriminatory admissions practices.
“The group rests its argument on the point that Harvard’s holistic admissions process is veiled as an explicitly race-discriminatory, race-balancing and quota-motivated admissions system, which the group claims is proven by Harvard’s stable admissions and enrollment figures,” Cao said. “But that alone isn’t evidence to indicate that Harvard is race discriminatory, only that it’s racially — and legally so — aware.”
Yingjie Wang ’17 said she agrees that it is increasingly harder for Asian-American and white students to get into Ivy League institutions, but added that she understands the value of pursuing a diverse student body.
The students who filed the lawsuit got high test scores and earned great grades, Wang said, so it is understandable that they are upset. But every college is looking for something different, and while test scores are considered, they are not a determining factor in the end, Wang said.
According to the Yale Factsheet, 17 percent of the University’s student body is Asian.