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It has been documented for some time that Asian applicants to the Ivies face a stiff test-score penalty in the admissions process—Asians have to get higher SAT scores than members of other races to have an equal chance of admission. But it’s one thing to have a higher bar for Asians. It’s still worse to have an Asian quota.
Ron Unz took the evidence of discrimination against Asians to a new level in a long article in the current issue of American Conservative, “The Myth of American Meritocracy.” As Steve Sailer has noted, Unz’s findings have received astonishingly little coverage. “Astonishingly,” because Unz has documented what looks very much like a tacitly common policy on the part of the Ivies to cap Asian admissions at about 16% of undergraduates, give or take a few percentage points, no matter what the quality of Asian applicants might be.That’s a strong statement, but consider the data that Unz has assembled.
From 1980 through the early 1990s, Asian enrollment increased at all the Ivy League colleges. It subsequently continued to rise at the schools with the lowest Asian enrollment, Dartmouth and Princeton. Elsewhere, Asian enrollment hit its peak in 1993 for Columbia and Harvard, 1995 for Cornell, 1996 for Brown and Yale, and 2001 for Penn. What’s more, Asian representation at all eight of the Ivies has converged on a narrow range. In the most recent five years, the average percentage of Asians in the eight Ivies has been 15.7%, and the difference between the highest and lowest percentage of Asians in the eight Ivies has averaged just 3.7 percentage points. Call it the 16±2% solution. The convergence of the Ivies is vividly shown in this figure, using Unz’s data.
We can be sure that the reason for the convergence on the 16±2% solution does not reflect a plateau in Asian applications. As Unz notes, America’s Asian population has more than doubled since 1993. In The Power of Privilege, Joseph Soares documented that Asians are about twice as likely to apply to elite schools as students from other races. It is certain that the Ivies have seen skyrocketing Asian applications over the last twenty years. Not only that, they have been swamped with more and more superbly qualified Asian applicants. A sampling of the data Unz presents:
National Merit Scholarship (NMS) semifinalists represent about the top half of one percent of a given state’s scores on the PSAT, the short version of the SAT. In 2010 in Texas, Asians were 3.8% of the population but more than a quarter of all NMS semifinalists; in New York, Asians were 7.3% of the population and more than a third of NMS semifinalists; in California, Asians were 11% of the high school students and more than 60% of NMS semifinalists. Nationwide, Unz estimates that 25–30% of NMS semifinalists in 2010 were Asians, far higher than their enrollment in the Ivies.
In the US Math Olympiad, Asians have grown from 10% of the winners during the 1980s to 58% in the 2000s. In the computing Olympiad, Asians have grown from 20% of the winners in the 1990’s to 50% in 2009–2010 and 75% in 2011–2012. Among the Science Talent Search finalists, Asians were 22% of the total in the 1980’s, 29% in the 1990’s, 36% in the 2000’s, and 64% in the last two years.
There’s much more in Unz’s article (and the eight online appendixes that go with it), but consider just these two final comparisons. Caltech is acknowledged to have the most strictly meritocratic admissions criteria in the country. During the same period from the mid 1990’s when the Ivies converged on the 16±2% solution, Asians at Caltech rose from 28% to 39% of the student body. If Caltech is too narrowly science-oriented for you, consider the comparison between Stanford, which uses the same “holistic” admissions procedures as the Ivies (“holistic” means considering the whole applicant, not merely academic achievement) and Berkeley, the most elite of California’s public universities, which is required by law to have a transparent set of criteria for admission. Stanford’s Asian enrollment averaged 23% from 1995–2011. Berkeley’s Asian enrollment averaged 41% during the same period—almost double Stanford’s.
The Ivies would have us believe that their holistic admissions policies limit Asian admissions because Asian applicants tend to be one-dimensional, obsessed with academics to the exclusion of all those wonderful other personal experiences that the Ivies value so highly. I submit that this is nonsense. An abundance of Asian applicants have punched all the right extracurricular and community-service tickets to go along with their sensational academic credentials, and there’s no reason to think that Asian young people are, on average, any less compassionate, charming, industrious, or otherwise of good character than applicants of other races.
I propose this challenge to any Ivy League school that denies it has a de facto quota for Asian admissions. Let a third party—any number of highly respected research organizations could handle this task—randomly select a large sample of applications from which the 2012 entering class was selected. Delete all material identifying race or ethnicity. Then, applying the criteria and the weighting system that the university claims to be using, have expert judges make simulated admissions decisions. Let’s see what percentage of Asians get in under race-blind conditions. I’m betting 25% at least, with 30–40% as more probable.
None of the Ivies will take me up on it, of course. The people in their admissions offices know that their incoming classes are not supposed to have “too many” Asian faces, and part of their job is to make sure that they don’t. I just want them to admit publicly what they’re doing, and state their rationale, which presumably goes something like this: The Ivies are not supposed to be strict academic meritocracies. They need students with a variety of strengths and personality types. And even 16% Asian students is more than three times the Asian proportion of the American population.
I don’t have a problem with the need for a student body with diverse strengths and personality types. Harvard is a better place because it does not select a class consisting exclusively of applicants with perfect SAT scores. But a candid statement of the rationale that has led to the 16±2% solution can’t stop there. It needs to say that apart from the need for a variety of strengths and personality types, the Ivies have decided that they just don’t want too many epicanthic folds in their student bodies. Because there’s no getting past the naked fact that students from an ethnic minority are now being turned down because they have the wrong ethnicity. It is exactly the same thing that Ivy League admissions officers did to Jewish applicants in the 1920s, when it was decided that too many Jews were getting into their schools. They too had a rationale for putting a quota on Jews that they too believed was justified. What I don’t understand is this: Why do we all accept that what the Ivies did to limit Jewish enrollment was racist and un-American, while what they’re doing to limit Asian enrollment is not even considered newsworthy?
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