Asians In The Ivy League, Or Not

[NOTE: Cross-Posted at the National Association of Scholars, here]
 A few days ago, in “The Ivies: New Quotas?” I discussed a remarkable small group of students who were accepted for next fall at all eight Ivy League colleges (and most of them also at a number of select non-Ivies such as Stanford, MIT, etc.), and one of them, a black student from Memphis, who turned them all down to attend the University of Alabama. What I found especially noteworthy, however, but not noted in other articles about this group, is what can only be described (and so I described it) as the “underrepresentation” among them of whites and Asian-Americans, especially given the often-observed “overrepresentation” of the latter group among the nation’s overachievers.

For example, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and a colleague mined extensive admissions data and concluded, as I summarized their argument here, that 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. Equally striking, in “The Myth of American Meritocracy” Ron Unz demonstrated the uncanny, almost lock-step similarity of the pattern of Asian American admissions in the Ivy League, as though a ceiling had been imposed across the board:

… the share of Asians at Harvard peaked at over 20 percent in 1993, then immediately declined and thereafter remained roughly constant at a level 3–5 points lower. Asians at Yale reached a 16.8 percent maximum in that same year, and soon dropped by about 3 points to a roughly constant level. The Columbia peak also came in 1993 and the Cornell peak in 1995, in both cases followed by the same substantial drop, and the same is true for most of their East Coast peers. During the mid- to late-1980s, there had been some public controversy in the media regarding allegations of anti-Asian discrimination in the Ivy League, and the Federal Government eventually even opened an investigation into the matter. But once that investigation was closed in 1991, Asian enrollments across all those universities rapidly converged to the same level of approximately 16 percent, and remained roughly static thereafter.

In 1992, Steve Chapman reports in the Chicago Tribune, Asian-Americans made up 19.1% of the student body at Harvard. Over the next twenty years “the share of Asian-Americans in the U.S. population rose sharply, and their share in the Harvard applicant pool doubled,” but by 2013 … “they made up 18%.” And, of course, Asians had to score higher than members of other groups to be accepted, A survey by the Harvard Crimson of freshmen entering in 2013 found “East Asian and Indian respondents reported SAT averages of 2299, the two highest of the seven ethnic groups considered in the survey. Respondents who identified as Black and Native American reported the lowest average scores, 2107 and 2142, respectively.”

These statistics are damning, but often individual cases can be even more revealing, once it is recognized that they are not unique sour grapes but part of a pattern. A good, and sad, example follows. In response to my recent piece on those students accepted at all the Ivies (including the one who turned them all down), I received an eloquent email from a reader, George Shen, which I quote in its entirety with his permission. It is a copy of a letter Mr. Shen sent to Peter Jacobs, the author of the Business Insider article on the all-Ivy admits:

Dear Peter,

It’s interesting to read your article about the kid who got into every ivy league school where you said: “It’s easy to see why Nelson got into UA’s honors program and every single Ivy League school. As a student at Houston High School in Memphis, Tennessee, he has a 4.58 weighted GPA, has taken 15 AP courses, and achieved a 2260 out of 2400 on his SAT and a 34 out of 36 on his ACT. He’s the senior-class president of his high school, a National Merit Scholar and National Achievement Scholar, and a state-recognized alto saxophone player.”

I am sorry to say that it’s easy to see why Nelson got into every Ivy but for an entire different reason. The real reason is Nelson is African American. My son who is Asian American born and raised in this country is graduating this year and was rejected by every Ivy school. Such a drastic contrast! And look at his stats: 4.75 weighted GPA, 13 APs (mostly 5’s and a few 4’s), SAT 2310, PSAT 233, National Merit Scholar and National AP Scholar with distinction, 4% in his class at a large competitive pubic high school, the captain of school debate club, the treasurer of science team who raised $1500 for the team by selling food and snacks on weekends, an eagle scout and a regular volunteer at many community service events, church and local hospital, won top 10 national level competitions in debate and STEM, won numerous state level competitions in STEM (multiple gold, silver, bronze medals), 8 years of National Piano-Playing Auditions. He is passionate about debate and cares deeply about many social issues.

Furthermore, the most striking fact, based on your article, is that Nelson’s family seems to be middle class like mine. When first came to this country in 1993 with only $2,000 in my pocket and no financial aid and no scholarship, I had to work and study extremely hard at the same time to put myself through school. What justifies the “extra help” from all the ivy schools given Nelson family’s socioeconomic status? And how to explain Nelson got into every ivy while my son with similar qualifications, if not better, got rejected by all?

Please don’t get me wrong. I have equal problems with legacy preferences and athlete recruits. But the naked racism in this country in the 21st century contradicts the basic American values (e.g. equality and fairness) we want to instill into our kids’ minds and souls. What kind of lesson do we want to teach our kids? Merits and hard work matter less than race?

I hope you write about it….

Awarding a “boost” to some because of their race or ethnicity amounts to imposing an equal burden on others because of their race or ethnicity. One of the saddest things about contemporary America is that Democrats and liberals no longer believe that boosts and burdens based on race or ethnicity are unfair.

I don’t know Mr. Shen, but he must be deeply disappointed that so many Americans today have discarded a formerly core value that I bet was influential in inducing him to migrate here.


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