Harvard: Affirmative action on trial
“No wonder Harvard fought tooth and nail” to keep its admissions practices secret, said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. In “the most significant legal battle over affirmative action in recent years,” Harvard University was dragged into court last week by a lawsuit accusing it of violating Asian-Americans’ civil rights “by using vague measures of personality to hold down their chances of admission.” The plaintiffs cite as evidence a 2013 internal Harvard document showing Asian-Americans would account for 43 percent of the freshman class if only academic performance were considered. At the time, Asian-Americans constituted just 19 percent of admissions. To keep their numbers down, admissions officials consistently diminished Asians with “hoary stereotypes about having ferocious work ethics but not much else.” It’s the same excuse Harvard and other universities once used to exclude Jews.
This lawsuit isn’t really about Asian-Americans, said Jeffrey Toobin in NewYorker.com. It’s part of “the American conservative movement’s legal and political assault on people of color.” The conservative activist shepherding the suit, Edward Blum, has made a career of attacking policies designed to help African-Americans, including the 2013 Supreme Court case that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Blum’s real target is “the consideration of race in any decision by a university or a government.” After a failed lawsuit against the University of Texas for discriminating against whites, said Paul Waldman in WashingtonPost.com, Blum concluded that Asian-Americans would prove to be more sympathetic victims, “even if whites will wind up being the principal beneficiaries.” Should this case make it to the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, “it will likely mean the end of affirmative action in higher education.”
The real scandal about Harvard admissions, said Arwa Mahdawi in TheGuardian.com, is the big advantage enjoyed by “legacy” applicants and children of wealthy donors, who are admitted at inflated rates. Take President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who “got into Harvard despite having a mediocre academic record”—perhaps because of his father’s $2.5 million pledge to the university at the time of his application. “Conservatives love to decry affirmative action as ‘reverse racism.’” But as this lawsuit inadvertently made clear, “the most widespread affirmative action” at elite schools is for “rich, predominantly white people”—it’s called the “status quo.” ■