The Reappearance of the Poster Child Challenging Affirmative Action

Do our readers remember Michael Wang, the student — now back in the news — who became the self-appointed proverbial poster child of Asian American discrimination in elite college admissions by filing a complaint with the United States Department of Education against Yale University, Princeton University, and Stanford University? As we have long argued on the pages of this college admissions blog and in the press, Asian American discrimination in elite college admissions is very real and very wrong. Yet Michael Wang was always the wrong poster child for the movement to end this discrimination.

And why was Wang the wrong poster child? As Aaron Mak wrote some years ago for Slate in a piece entitled “The Price of Admission,” “[Wang] scored a perfect 36 on the ACT entrance exam, placed third in a national piano contest and first in California for a math competition, competed in national debate tournaments as a finalist, graduated second in a class of more than 1,000 students, and sang in the choir at Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Yet out of the seven Ivy League schools to which he applied, only the University of Pennsylvania accepted him, which he holds as proof of rampant racism in the admissions process.”

Need we say more? You see, Michael Wang likely didn’t get rejected by most Ivy League schools on account of his race (side note: it’s interesting that it was previously stated in the press that he earned admission to only one Ivy but, more recently, the press is running with the fact that he got into two Ivies). Rather, he got rejected by most of the Ivy League schools likely on account of submitting a profile to these schools that is stereotypical and so often associated with his race. In short, Wang didn’t make himself interesting — and, in elite college admissions, that’s the whole ballgame.

Heck, even in a recent segment for CNBC, Wang is featured playing…you guessed it…the piano. Along with the violin, it’s one of the single most common activities on the applications of Asian American applicants. In a process in which differentiation is key, doing the same thing as so many others who happen to be of your same race is not the right move. But instead of realizing his error, Wang chose to seek revenge through his complaint against these revered institutions. To this day, he seeks to dismantle Affirmative Action — and with six conservative Supreme Court justices now in place, he may well get his way.

And that would not serve our nation’s young people because, as we have long expressed, offering preference in admission to underrepresented, historically oppressed groups like Black and Latino applicants does not come at the expense of Asian American applicants any more than does offering preference in admission to legacy applicants or development cases or recruited hockey, squash, and water polo players. To attack a practice designed in the spirit of equity while not attacking a practice that overwhelmingly favors wealthy, white applicants is deeply misguided in our humble view.

Harvard University has long been defending its consideration of race in admissions decision-making.

Edward Blum, the leader of Students for Fair Admissions, the group currently suing Harvard University in a case that will likely reach the Supreme Court, is a gentleman we’ve previously deemed the one-man band challenging Affirmative Action. He’s quoted in the CNBC piece, “Asian Americans have the highest grades, SATs, and the most fulsome extracurricular activities, but they are downgraded, they’re given demerits, on their personalities by Harvard’s admissions officers. They are deemed less likable, less courageous, less honest, have fewer leadership capabilities…” Fulsome? By what definition? Playing the piano may be “fulsome” to Edward Blum. But when admissions officers at elite universities see applicant after applicant who plays the piano, they yawn and likely reject the applicant. Does that make them racially biased? Maybe. It also makes them human.

Have a comment? Let us know your thoughts by posting below. There is no topic covered on our college admissions blog that elicits more heated discussion than Affirmative Action. So just please keep your comments kosher. If you do, we’ll be sure to publish them whether or not we agree with you.


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  • Deroy Bumgartner says:

    I don’t see 6 conservative justices on the Supreme Court. They may have been labelled that way by the media to pressure all the justices to vote with the liberal wing, but they did not need to. All the Trump appointees are pretty moderate. Did they hear Trump’s case challenging the Pennsylvania case? Nope! Did they entertain any part of Trump’s election challenge? Nope! Neil Gorsuch sided with the court’s liberals in affirming that LGBTQ Americans are protected by workplace anti-discrimination laws and Roberts made sure DACA maintained the status quo. As for Obamacare, the ‘conservatives’ made sure it remained in place and Gorsuch and Kavanaugh allowed for the possibility to investigate Trumps tax returns. I think Liberals circa 1960 would be very happy with today’s ‘conservatives’. But todays ‘liberals’ are not traditional ACLU liberals- they are more like activist communists in search of total destruction of the American way of life. One prominent black conservative called today’s liberal agenda Satanic. I think he is right.

  • SpiritOfMLKJr says:

    I posted a comment here that moderators I presume didn’t allow through (though I admittedly forget which pen name&email I used for that one, I have multiple ones). I’d suggest those who run a site about education should learn why the ACLU used to say that the best remedy to bad speech is more speech: not censorship. If someone posts an opinion you disagree with: the best response is to post a dispute. The issue is: others may agree with the opinion that someone posted but not bother saying anything. If you post a response: then you stand a chance of reaching those people. If you simply censor a comment: you’ve lost your chance to address these people and those who are aware that you censor simply assume you aren’t capable of actually disputing the opinion. They may make others aware of what you did: even if you never hear about it. You may have lost customers without ever realizing it since many Americans dislike censorship on principle: even if they disagree with the statement. True: many poorly informed people or those who aren’t capable of adult intellectual discourse childishly silence other people and may high five those who do so also: but its unclear those are really your core market.

    On the original topic: there are many people that still back MLK, Jr’s idea of judging people based on the content of their character rather than their race: even if pseudo-intellectuals attack such views as “racist” as a way of trying to silence those whose views they wish to avoid debating. Then again: I perhaps pseudo-intellectuals infest bureaucratic occupations like admissions (or they’d take on more challenging jobs) and those who coach people about admissions.

  • Fourffthree says:

    Blum is a one man band? He has more than 20,000 real individual members in his SFFA , not to mention several hundreds of Asian organizations.

  • Stanley Sporkin says:

    @SpiritOfMLKJr and@SpiritOfMLKJr: I agree 100%! Great points! And I will say Ivy Coach trends liberal, but they are pretty fair about posting opposing views. And they are traditionally liberal- not the new ‘In your face I will kill you if you disagree with me’ liberal. Those people- who we have seen in the BLM and Antifa movements- are VERY SCARY and need to be prosecuted when they threaten/harm persons and property- but, so far, they have not been- so they keep on with their criminal ways. It would be nice if traditional liberals called them out, but we have-not seen that from anyone- including the ACLU. THAT is shameful.

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