I propose this challenge to any Ivy League school that denies it has a de facto quota for Asian admissions. Let a third party—any number of highly respected research organizations could handle this task—randomly select a large sample of applications from which the 2012 entering class was selected. Delete all material identifying race or ethnicity. Then, applying the criteria and the weighting system that the university claims to be using, have expert judges make simulated admissions decisions. Let’s see what percentage of Asians get in under race-blind conditions. I’m betting 25% at least, with 30–40% as more probable.
None of the Ivies will take me up on it, of course. The people in their admissions offices know that their incoming classes are not supposed to have “too many” Asian faces, and part of their job is to make sure that they don’t. I just want them to admit publicly what they’re doing, and state their rationale, which presumably goes something like this: The Ivies are not supposed to be strict academic meritocracies. They need students with a variety of strengths and personality types. And even 16% Asian students is more than three times the Asian proportion of the American population.
I don’t have a problem with the need for a student body with diverse strengths and personality types. Harvard is a better place because it does not select a class consisting exclusively of applicants with perfect SAT scores. But a candid statement of the rationale that has led to the 16±2% solution can’t stop there. It needs to say that apart from the need for a variety of strengths and personality types, the Ivies have decided that they just don’t want too many epicanthic folds in their student bodies. Because there’s no getting past the naked fact that students from an ethnic minority are now being turned down because they have the wrong ethnicity. It is exactly the same thing that Ivy League admissions officers did to Jewish applicants in the 1920s, when it was decided that too many Jews were getting into their schools. They too had a rationale for putting a quota on Jews that they too believed was justified. What I don’t understand is this: Why do we all accept that what the Ivies did to limit Jewish enrollment was racist and un-American, while what they’re doing to limit Asian enrollment is not even considered newsworthy?