Is Harvard racist? If you’re Asian-American, their admission policies just might be

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FILE -- In this March 7, 2017 file photo, rowers paddle along the Charles River past the Harvard College campus in Cambridge, Mass.

FILE — In this March 7, 2017 file photo, rowers paddle along the Charles River past the Harvard College campus in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The trouble with helping one group, is it can mean you’re harming another.

Some Asian-Americans claim they’re discriminated against at schools such as Harvard, which have admissions policies that judge different racial and ethnic groups by different standards. And now the Trump administration is getting involved. It’s recently been confirmed that the Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is looking into Harvard’s policies.

This seems to be a reversal of the previous administration’s stance, but it’s all part of a wider, long-running debate on just how far affirmative action programs should go.

Already President Trump is being attacked for threatening “equal protection” for all Americans. But it’s a sign of how the civil rights establishment thinks that, to many in its ranks, equal protection means treating people unequally.

Their argument is that there are certain groups, most notably African-Americans, who are historically disadvantaged, and who face discrimination, and so need a hand up to create a “level playing field.”

This is nothing new. Decades ago, top colleges would limit how many Jews they’d accept. Since many Jewish applicants had stellar qualification, the universities couldn’t argue the numbers, so they’d say it was about character.

Those on the other side believe that you don’t help anyone by lowering standards (and, in fact, placing minorities in schools where they’re far less qualified ends up with them finishing at the bottom of the class and more likely flunking out).

Though this is where the real dispute lies, there’s an awful lot of talk about “diversity.” That’s because the Supreme Court has declared diversity a compelling state interest, and thus an acceptable reason to factor race and ethnicity into admission policies.

What it’s led to in practice, critics claim, is a huge advantage for some groups based on race. (Colleges tend to deny this, but then, they almost have to, in the same way that tobacco companies had to deny their products caused cancer—to admit it is to give away the game before it starts.)

What this also means is the groups not getting special treatment have it tougher. And groups that perform exceptionally well, such as Asian-Americans, have it toughest of all.

This is nothing new. Decades ago, top colleges would limit how many Jews they’d accept. Since many Jewish applicants had stellar qualification, the universities couldn’t argue the numbers, so they’d say it was about character (of both the Jews and the campus). While the statements aren’t as blatant today, the same thing seems to be happening to Asian-Americans.

If the Department of Justice decides to take action, that won’t be the end of it. No doubt they’ll be challenged under Fisher v. University of Texas (2016), where Justice Kennedy wrote that using race in the admissions process is acceptable if the program is narrowly tailored for the goal of greater diversity. The decision also notes that courts will use “strict scrutiny” in judging admissions policies, though critics of the opinion state that strict scrutiny isn’t nearly as strict as it used to be.

Many Americans of all types have serious moral problems with programs that judge people by their race. It’s not only an undesirable way to go about things, it also creates perverse incentives. When groups that underperform are, in essence, rewarded, while groups that outperform are punished, how will things change for the better?

The people who administer these policies don’t seem prepared to change without the government requiring them to live up to the true promise of equal protection. So let the investigation begin.

Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of "Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people named Steve)".

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