'Yellow Peril' Redux

Most people are familiar with so-called affirmative action policies that favor blacks (purportedly to redress past discrimination) and Hispanics and penalize whites. Racial preferences are discriminatory toward individuals of Asian descent as well.


According to Bloomberg, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating complaints that Harvard and Princeton discriminate against Asian students in admissions.

Naturally, the schools deny the claims. Harvard “does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants,” spokesman Jeff Neal told Bloomberg. “Our review of every applicant’s file is highly individualized and holistic, as we give serious consideration to all of the information we receive and all of the ways in which the candidate might contribute to our vibrant educational environment and community.”

Asian students typically have a higher level of academic success and tend to be overrepresented in colleges and universities, particularly in California. Asians are about 5.6 percent of the U.S. population (Asian only and Asian multiracial) and 13 percent of California’s population, but they account for about 30 percent of undergraduates in the University of California (UC) system.

In 2009, UC’s Board of Regents voted to change the admissions policy, which included eliminating the requirement that applicants take two SAT subject tests, effective this year. The obvious intent of the changes is to expand the black and Hispanic applicant pool. The Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus said the new rules would reduce the percentages of Asian Pacific Islanders from 32.6 percent to 25.2 percent of the eligibility pool.


Asian families also have complained about these changes and believe the new policy will negatively impact their children, who tend to do well on standardized exams. It’s obvious why a school that wants to increase diversity would eliminate or reduce the weight of such exams. Blacks generally tend to do worse than other groups.

In 2009, Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton University professor, and Alexandria Walton Radford, who holds a doctorate from Princeton, published a study that revealed students of Asian descent faced discrimination at elite colleges and universities. An Asian student needs to score 140 points higher than whites on the math and reading portions of the SAT, 270 points higher than Hispanics, and 450 points higher than blacks to have the same chances of admission. If that’s not racial/ethnic discrimination, what is?

“[A]ll other things equal,” Espenshade told Insider Higher Ed, “Asian-American students are at a disadvantage relative to white students, and at an even bigger disadvantage relative to black and Latino students.”

After analyzing Espenshade’s research, Russell K. Nieli, who works at Princeton, wrote this at Minding the Campus:

Asians, unlike blacks and Hispanics, receive no boost in admissions. Indeed, the opposite is often the case, as the quota-like mentality that leads college administrators to conclude they may have “too many” Asians. Despite the much lower number of Asians in the general high-school population, high-achieving Asian students — those, for instance, with SAT scores in the high 700s — are much more numerous than comparably high-achieving blacks and Hispanics, often by a factor of ten or more. Thinking as they do in racial balancing and racial quota terms, college admissions officers at the most competitive institutions almost always set the bar for admitting Asians far above that for Hispanics and even farther above that for admitting blacks.


Nieli concluded that Asians, poor whites, and people like military veterans and aspiring military officers usually don’t fit elite schools’ criteria of “diversity.”

The Office of Civil Rights’ investigation into discrimination against Asians is particularly relevant as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to review Fisher v. Texas, a case in which the plaintiffs allege that the University of Texas (UT) rejected their applications because they’re white.

“It’s good that the issue of anti-Asian discrimination is getting a high profile at the same time the Supreme Court is considering whether to revisit the issue of racial preferences in higher education,” the Center for Equal Opportunity’s Roger Clegg said in an e-mail. “It underscores how untenable it is to have such preferences in a nation that is increasingly multiethnic and multiracial.”

In its amicus brief written for the Fisher case, the Asian American Legal Foundation claims that Asian students face discrimination at UT and accuses the school of engaging in “racial balancing without any remedial purpose. It is similarly denying applicants access solely because they are of the ‘wrong’ race or ethnicity.”

When you take away the smoke and mirrors and euphemism of the pro-preferences position, we’re left with the plain and unconstitutional practice of penalizing individuals for having the wrong skin color or racial/ethnic group membership. Although federal law bars racial discrimination, our U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the law to allow it in Grutter v. Bollinger. If the court takes the Fisher case, perhaps the federal government’s investigation into the claims against Harvard and Princeton will be persuasive. It certainly can’t hurt.




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