Remember that Yale freshman (and soon-to-be Harvard transfer) who filed a civil rights complaint against Princeton because he believed that Old Nassau had rejected him for being Asian? After which The Daily Princetonian mocked the complainant by, um, making fun of him for being Asian? 2006: stellar year for race relations in the Ivy League!
Minus the race-baiting Prince column, it’s happening all over again, this time with an unnamed Asian-American of Indian descent, who has filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights against Harvard and Princeton for discriminating against Asian applicants. The complaints have stirred sundry responses of equally mild outrage. Even the more right-wingy op-eds read as though their authors are posed in perpetual shrugs.
There may be a decent explanation for the befuddling lack of concern, as Daniel de Vise of the Washington Post argues. The entire basis for the 2006 complaint, and the current complaints against Princeton and Harvard, is that Asian applicants whom either school admits almost always possess the highest SAT scores of their class. However, as de Vise points out:
[R]emember that Asian-Americans outscore all other racial and ethnic groups on the SAT. A college where Asian students have lower SAT math scores than whites would be a statistical oddity.
Which means the whole problem is more likely found in that sinister totem of elite colleges: holistic admissions. As both a phrase and an idea, “holistic admissions” is sort of misleading: it describes the method whereby colleges admit a carefully calibrated freshman class, not individual applicants. Such a process contradicts the bizarre caricature that statistical studies paint of college admissions. To draw a meaningful conclusion from, say, this Princeton study, you’re required to imagine that admissions committees serially pit the applications of two students against each other, much like an episode of Celebrity Deathmatch. (Which would be really exciting to watch, no?)
Probably the biggest concern is that if Harvard and Princeton can be found to discriminate against Asians based on statistics alone, then pretty much every elite college (with the exception of Berkeley, and apparently CalTech) can be found to discriminate against Asians. If that’s true, it would be an enormous (and very newsworthy) conspiracy. And if it is a conspiracy, then Harvard and Princeton appear to be exceptionally incompetent conspirators: though Asians account for some 5% of the U.S. population, they make up, respectively, 17% and 19% of Harvard’s and Princeton’s undergraduate bodies.