In a move that may finally put an end to race-conscious admissions, the Supreme Court accepted a petition to hear Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard on Jan 24.
The case was filed by a group of Asian Americans who allege, with strong evidence, discrimination by the nation’s most prestigious school, for reasons related to ensuring a diverse “racial mix” in the composition of its student body.
The Supreme Court will now begin debate on whether the value of racial diversity can truly trump the constitutional prerogative to not discriminate on the basis of race.
In the case of Harvard, race is not simply used as a tiebreaker in admissions. A 2013 internal Harvard study revealed by the lawsuit showed that had Harvard only considered academics, Asians would make up 43% of Harvard’s student body. Adding legacy, athlete recruitment, “extracurriculars,” and a “personal” score lowered Asians to 26%. Finally, in the years the internal Harvard study looked at, Asians actually made up only 19% of the student body.
Central to the case is Harvard’s especially distasteful method of discrimination: the creation of a “personal score” that, evidence shows, the school manipulates to give Asian applicants the lowest scores. Although this sort of discrimination avoids the blunt edges of explicit racial quotas, such as President Joe Biden’s explicit insistence that he will nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court following Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, it is arguably crueler to those who fall under its exclusion.
Harvard’s discrimination is discrimination via character assassination. For Harvard to suppress the vast quantity of qualified Asians (who make up 50% of the top SAT scores in the nation) from its admissions books, it questions their character and minimizes their accomplishments.
Harvard’s admissions officers conveniently rate Asian Americans lowest in the “personal score,” having never met them, while similarly academically qualified black, Hispanic, and white students respectively score first, second, and third. What is the evidence Asians deserve this sort of treatment in the personality measurement?
The objective evidence points to none. Asian Americans get the highest alumni interview scores, the highest teacher recommendation scores, and the second-highest counselor scores out of all the racial groups. There is simply no objective basis for Harvard’s attack on Asian American “personalities.”
Instead, the admissions officers who make the final judgements on applicants disproportionately label Asians “standard strong,” which is another way of saying “good but not good enough.”
When you get “standard strong” on your Harvard application, “It’s automatic you don’t get in,” says Duke professor Peter Arcidiacono, the expert witness for the plaintiffs who read and analyzed every Harvard application in the case. “And Asian Americans get ‘standard strong’ more often than any other race.”
The use of the personality score for nefarious purposes borrows from Harvard’s history. In 1922, Harvard’s President Abbott Lowell proposed capping Jewish enrollment at 15% of the student body. His proposal was widely criticized and eventually rejected by Harvard’s admissions committee, which opposed an explicit quota. Lowell responded by adding a non-academic “character” evaluation to the admissions process:
To prevent a dangerous increase in the proportion of Jews, I know at present only one way which is at the same time straightforward and effective, and that is a selection by a personal estimate of character on the part of the Admission authorities, based upon the probable value to the candidate, to the college and to the community of his admission.
He targeted Jews with low personal character scores, forcing Jewish Americans to the threshold he desired. Lowell explicitly invented the character evaluation for the sake of racial gatekeeping, and it remains in full force today. Although Harvard moved away from anti-Jewish discrimination, it retains the system and applies it to a new “overrepresented” racial group—Asian Americans.
Harvard’s blueprint of discrimination, if not checked by the U.S. Supreme Court, allows any actor with racially malicious intent to bury their discrimination underneath a fake “character” trait, while gaining full legal immunity in the process. Any lawyer will be able to point to Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard ruling to show that their discrimination is legal.
The primary consequence of Harvard’s discrimination won’t just be Asian American deprivation. It will be the penalization of hard work felt by America’s high-achieving students. Asian American success in education is no secret: They study twice as many hours as the average American and take more challenging courses than other racial groups.
Harvard’s discrimination will teach children not to aspire to be like the highest-achieving kids in their class. Rather, students will get rewarded for playacting a certain victimhood category than they will by working hard and becoming academically competent.
When the Supreme Court hears Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard this year, more will be on the line than just a few admissions spots. The strength of our commitment to the ideals of a colorblind meritocracy, where hard work and drive is rewarded irrespective of one’s background, will be tested.