The U.S Department of Justice has signaled it will lend its might to support litigation brought by the Asian American Coalition for Education against Harvard University aimed at attacking the practice of Affirmative Action so as to curb discrimination against Asian American applicants. It seems simple enough. Colleges like Harvard admit underrepresented minorities, among them African American and Latino applicants, with often lower grades and test scores than Asian American applicants who are denied admission.
Now don’t get us wrong — Asian Americans are absolutely discriminated against in highly selective college admissions. We at Ivy Coach have been calling for an end to this wrongful discrimination for many years. But correlation does not imply causation. To suggest that the practice of Affirmative Action is responsible for this discrimination — to single this practice out — is analogous to suggesting that the New York Knicks haven’t been good in nearly twenty years because they recently overpaid for one mediocre shooting guard (hi Tim Hardaway, Jr.!). The New York Knicks have been overpaying for players, hiring the wrong management, and have been under the direction of the single worst owner in professional sports for this entire span.
Legacies, the children of alumni of highly selective colleges, often have lower grades and scores than do many of the Asian American applicants who are their competitors in the admissions pool. Legacies comprise a sizable percentage of every incoming class at these institutions. These are children of (at least some) privilege, children whose parents had the good fortune to attend an elite institution years before. So why attack underrepresented minorities, the very groups supported by the practice of Affirmative Action, as opposed to attacking the practice of legacy admission?
Or how about the children of major donors? The children of major donors can have a significant edge in the highly selective college admissions process. And as Richard Kahlenberg has long asserted — and as we’ve long echoed — it is conceivably a violation of law in these United States. A violation of tax law that is. After all, these folks are making tax-deductible donations to universities. When folks make tax-deductible donations, they’re not supposed to receive anything in return. And yet they are receiving something in return — their children are more likely to earn admission. They are receiving preferential treatment in admissions.
There’s recruited athletes, too. Recruited athletes, particularly applicants who play big-time sports like football or basketball, quite often have lower grades and test scores than do many of their Asian American competitors in the applicant pools of highly selective colleges. Pick ten football players admitted to an Ivy League school at random and pick ten Asian American applicants at random who were denied admission to that very institution and our bet is the grades and scores of the latter batch will be higher. And we say this with conviction.
So why attack Affirmative Action, why attack groups who need to be lifted up rather than pulled down instead of attacking the whole system which discriminates against Asian American applicants? There will never be a perfect college admissions system. But to single out and attack the groups in need of the most protection rather than to attack the whole system in the hope of making it a better system is shortsighted and misguided.