The Harvard discrimination lawsuit

By now, anyone who follows education in this country knows about the lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard University (“Harvard on Trial,” The Weekly Standard, Oct. 22).  It charges that Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans by holding them to a higher standard than students of other races.

I’m one of the few educators who believes that academics alone should be the sole basis for admission to private colleges and universities.  If that results in a far less racially diverse student body, so be it.  It’s not that I don’t see the benefits of having students from diverse backgrounds.  All I care about is the ability of students to handle the work

Consider the California Institute of Technology.  It uses no racial or legacy preferences in admissions.  Not surprisingly, its student body is more than 40 percent Asian-American.  Are students there being shortchanged by not being in a school with more students of other races?  Perhaps, but I maintain that the price they may be paying is worth it in light of the school’s high academic standards.

Put differently, how are students who lack the aptitude and ability to handle complex material helped if they are admitted on the basis of achieving diversity?  I believe that everyone is good at something.  The challenge is finding what it is and then pursuing a career.  You don’t have to go to Harvard to do that.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

4 Replies to “The Harvard discrimination lawsuit”

  1. I strongly oppose college admissions offices using race, religion or nationality in making admissions decisions. But, it’s reasonable for college admissions offices to use factors other than academic achievement/ability in making admissions decisions.

    Colleges — obviously — provide academic training. But, colleges also provide other kinds of training and/or advance society’s goals in areas other than traditional academics. Colleges prepare students for business, govt, community leadership, the arts, professional sports and other areas — including just being functional members of society and parents.

    It’s obvious — to me, at least — that an applicant’s high school GPA and/or SAT/ACT scores are not necessarily the best predictors of how successful an applicant will be in these other areas or how much an applicant can contribute to the college’s preparation of students for success in these other areas. Race, religion and nationality have little/no relevance to these other areas. But, an applicant’s demonstrated leadership, athletic skills, art/music/theater skills, organizing skills, community contribution experience, “grit”, and many other credentials will be relevant to these other areas. It is reasonable for college admissions offices to consider these other credentials — although any selected applicant should have demonstrated at least a likelihood of being able to handle the academic workload competently if not brilliantly.

    There is also the always-lurking issue of a college’s needs as a business. Although most colleges are not-for-profit or state schools, they all still must balance their income and expenditures. This consideration cuts very strongly in favor of giving an admission preference to children of alumni, particularly to children of affluent alumni who have made or are likely to make substantial financial contributions to the college. Likewise, in some cases, colleges will have a rational financial incentive to give an admission preference to outstanding athletes where the presence of these athletes will result in a net financial gain to the college via ticket sales, TV revenue or alumni contributions — the latter of which are surprisingly sometimes tied to a college’s strength in relatively obscure sports (like squash, tennis or golf) that are very important to a small but very involved set of affluent donors.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: I agree that test scores alone are not highly predictive of academic success. But if standards are to be maintained, applicants need a minimal aptitude. Otherwise, they can’t handle the work assigned. Admitting them on non-academic factors sets them up for failure. Let them apply to less rigorous schools, where they can graduate and have a bright future. The obsession with marquee-name schools like Harvard is an ego thing. You don’t have to graduate from Harvard and other elite schools to have a good life.

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