Call me an idealist, but I believe that every institution in America should be 100% race-blind. No one should be judged for how they were born, whether on account of race, sex, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, deeds of their parents, or anything beyond their control. We should treat everyone as an individual first and foremost and not as the various classes or populations to which they belong that are beyond their control.
It’s under this outlook that I strongly disagree with Affirmative Action in university admissions. As an Asian-American myself, I’ve always seen it as simply racism that Asians are required to meet a perform better on standardized tests relative to all other racial groups so that racial quotas are maintained.
However, two specific issues have come up that made me reassess, mitigate, and modify my position.
- Harvard’s class of 2022 is made up of 36% legacy admissions, and legacy applicants are five times more likely to be admitted. This is representative of other elite universities but will consider Harvard from here due to a specific lawsuit brought against Harvard admissions.
(Source: CNBC Harvard’s freshman class is more than one-third legacy — here’s why that’s a problem)
- The widely-publicized college admissions bribery and fraud scandal involving wealthy and famous actresses like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman along with other wealthy people in powerful positions working together with admissions insiders at the universities themselves.
The very reason I was against Affirmative Action in university admissions in the first place was how strongly it conflicted with my sense of fairness and idealism about what meritocracy should look like in America. However, upon further reflection and evidence, I’ve determined my previous views were incomplete and limited.
Even though Affirmative Action in college admissions is neither ideal nor fair, legacy and wealth-based admissions are far less ideal and far more unfair relative to providing special race-based advantages to the greater numbers of lower-income Blacks and Hispanics. I’d even go so far to say that the discrimination against Asians, although still an injustice, is far less injustice in the broader context of meritocracy in America.
I will consider here why wealth and legacy-based admissions may be far worse than Affirmative Action and consider some ways to address it.
Discrimination Lawsuit Against Harvard University
Edward Blum, President of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA)
There was a recent high-profile case brought against Harvard University by “Students For Fair Admissions”, an organization spearheaded by conservative activist Edward Blum.
“Students for Fair Admissions is a nonprofit membership group of more than 20,000 students, parents, and others who believe that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.
Our mission is to support and participate in litigation that will restore the original principles of our nation’s civil rights movement: A student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.”
The basic premise of the case against Harvard University is that its admissions criteria unfairly discriminate against Asian-Americans, using such other criteria beyond standardized test scores to consider “personality factors” simply to meet racial quotas.
I’m 100% in agreement with Blum and the ideologically-conservative position here since they conform with my own sense of fairness.
I do believe they are correct, but not “completely” correct since by the same reasoning we’d also have to factor in wealth and legacy admissions and the special privileges that they enjoy that poor and/or minority applicants may not have, and that may go far beyond Affirmative Action.
Let us now consider the specific merits of the case.
Merits of the Case
Asians are minorities, but they’re not the ideal minorities to satisfy the narratives of racism in a White Supremacist America and therefore throw a wrench into the simplistic and untenable vision of a utopian society with attendant racial engineering to satisfy egalitarian Leftist ideology.
Let’s consider the crux of the debate, the admissions criteria. Below is a list of the per-section average SAT score of admitted students by race. Asian-Americans clearly perform far better than the rest, including Whites.
The same gap between Whites and other minorities is completely reversed between Whites and Asians. This comparative average SAT score graph is pretty clear evidence that race is used as a large factor in admissions, with Asians having to meet a much higher standard than all other races including Whites in order to be admitted.
The Outcome of the Lawsuit
The FFSA vs. Harvard University case was just recently decided in favor of Harvard University.
(Source: NPR Federal Judge Upholds Harvard’s Race-Conscious Admissions Process)
The court decision in this specific case is somewhat irrelevant since this is just a test case to be appealed with the intention to ultimately bring it before the US Supreme Court as a case against Affirmative Action in general.
Although I’m indifferent about the outcome because of its immediate practical irrelevance, I completely disagree with the reasons given that Federal District Judge Allison D. Burroughs cited:
“The Court finds no persuasive documentary evidence of any racial animus or conscious prejudice against Asian-Americans.”
I view that Asians are clearly discriminated against and the SAT score comparison above provides one very clear cut data point of that discrimination.
The lack of discrimination against Asian-Americans shouldn’t have been the rationale for the ruling in favor of Harvard admissions. Instead, the rationale should’ve concerned the special privileges that the wealthy enjoy and how Affirmative Action is one imperfect institution to help disadvantaged minorities.
What are Meritocracy, Equality, and Fairness?
“The opposite of a true statement is a false statement. The opposite of a deep truth may be another deep truth.”
— Niels Bohr
Asians as the New Jews
Beyond standardized test scores, Asians tend to do very well in and there’s a gap between Asians and Whites in the opposite way with respect to important indicators such as educational attainment and income.
Let us be more precise that “Asians” in success metrics tend to be East Asians and Indians (South Asians), and not Southeast Asians. In fact, Indian-Americans are the highest-earning ethnic group in America with a median income of $100,000. There’s more to unpack, such that neither “East Asian” nor “Indian” can be construed to be a monolithic group, but a broad category themselves since, for example, the Indian sub-continent can be viewed as effectively dozens or hundreds of smaller entities with different racial, linguistic, religious groups.
Effectively, Asians are treated effectively like Jews were in earlier times in this country. Better not have too many of them for everyone’s benefit since they can become too successful. They may have undesirable personality characteristics. All the anti-Semitic attitudes are now just mapped onto Asian Americans, with the difference being that it’s even easier to distinguish Asians by their appearance since many Jews are phenotypically indistinguishable from Whites.
Socioeconomic Status, Not Education
It is no secret that elite universities like Harvard are not simply just places to obtain an education since the same education can be obtained elsewhere for free that can be just as good or far superior, such as Stanford University professor Andrew Ng’s online classes on Machine Learning on Coursera.
Rather, elite universities are institutions to preserve family wealth and influence or for upward social mobility in both wealth and positions of influence.
They’re expensive and exclusive places where the children of the American Aristocracy can meet, mingle, and mate and ride on the inertia of wealth. That expensiveness could also go back to expensive preparatory schools costing over $50,000 per year, with some over $60,000 per year.
(Source: Business Insider. The 50 most expensive top private high schools in America)
It was only as an adult that I knew about the disadvantaged position I was in. Both of my parents’ combined pre-tax annual income was not enough to pay for a year there. I had absolutely no clue growing up how far behind I was.
Thus, with wealth-based legacy admissions constituting 36% of the entering class, almost a third, and the probability of acceptance of legacy admissions at five times, it is far worse an issue than Affirmative Action in elite Universities. This may be especially so since those minority students don’t even have family wealth to fall back on and could furthermore be every bit as academically deserving or superior as the legacy admissions.
Despite my disagreement with his political ideology, I do admire President Barack Obama as a person and for his accomplishments far more than George W. Bush or Donald J. Trump who were born already on mile marker 26.1 of a 26.2-mile marathon.
Effectiveness of Government Institutions
Those who go through elite universities are highly likely to become wealthy or get into positions of influence in government.
Technically, they’re more realistically likely to become “more” wealthy since they were most likely already wealthy. This may be a problem with fairness and envy, but it doesn’t have as much of an impact in broader society since it doesn’t affect the functioning of the government.
However, when the wealthy become influential and take office in government, then it may become a problem since we may not have the brightest minds rising to the very top, such as George W. Bush with his mediocre intellect and poor academic performance.
Another “Hidden” Group That’s Hurt
So far, we have wealth-based and historical legacy criteria to benefit the wealthy, and Affirmative Action that tries to mitigate historical injustices towards minorities to level the playing field.
In doing so, there exists another group that is hurt beyond the high-scoring Asian-Americans, and that group is poor (non-Hispanic) White people. These poor White people face a triple whammy in that they have none of the following.
- The economic resources of the wealthy
- The legacy of their family
- Race-based Affirmative Action policies to mitigate these disadvantages
The cumulative unfairness to poor Whitess may be far more than Asians, even if Whites are not explicitly targeted for discrimination in the way Asians are. Why? There are “numerically more” poor Whites than Asians of any economic background in the USA, since “all” Asian groups are about 5.5% of the US population, an order of magnitude less than all (non-Hispanic) Whites at 60%.
If we’re striving for the laudable goal of leveling the playing field for the poor Black kid living in the inner city, we must also apply the same reasoning to the poor White kid living elsewhere as well since they both have a stark disadvantage relative to the kids born in mansion in the gated community that’s shipped to $60,000 per year prep schools as the feeder into these elite universities, that in turn are the means for upward wealth and influence.
- Race vs. Wealth
Although Affirmative Action admissions based on race may be problematic, they’re far less problematic than the analogous admissions based on wealth and legacy where a third admitted are wealthy or legacy applicants that are accepted at 5x the rate.
- Test lawsuit on discrimination
The discrimination case against Harvard brought by Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) is a test case for the US Supreme Court. The court ruled against SFFA in favor of Harvard citing no discrimination against Asians, when it should’ve focused more on wealth-based admissions.
- Meritocracy, Equality, and Fairness is highly contextual and may be ill-defined.
What’s missing from most debates of Affirmative Action in university admissions is that the wealthy and legacy applicants also have their own form of Affirmative Action.
So given this analysis of these issues, we are left with the problem of how to address the problems.
I would propose that the focus should be more on economic status than race, in university admissions in particular and elsewhere in government and industry in general in order to realize the following benefits.
- Preserve the Spirit of Affirmative Action
The spirit of Affirmative Action is still preserved since most of those in lower-income and lower wealth economic classes tend to be minorities and they would still get preference, but now based on their and their family’s economic status instead of their race.
- Curtail Advantages for Wealthy
The wealthy should have their advantages reduce since the advantages they enjoy far more violates the concept of equality than racial preferences, especially when they have family wealth to fall back on anyways
- Low-Income Asians and Whites
Those economically poor Asians and Whites who are disadvantaged by both their race racial and lack of wealth will not fall behind on account of their race