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Do Elite Colleges Discriminate Against Asians? (priceonomics.com)
230 points by guimarin on Apr 24, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 407 comments

Well... They probably do, I'd be surprised if they didn't.

But let's not pretend that Ivy League school operate on anything resembling merit. The reason you want to go to those schools is not their top-notch academics, which you can get that in many other places, but as a shortcut to the old-boys networks. Unfortunately those old-boys networks don't serve as patrons out of the goodness of their hearts, so they require that many of their otherwise unworthy offspring to get admitted.

It's a tough nut to crack. If Ivy Leagues started admitting based solely on merit, they'd lose much of what makes them desirable, hence they need to add vague criteria so admissions personnel can safely discard and let in the right people.

Basically, Harvard is Harvard not because the exams are tough, but because the scions of the rich and powerful go to Harvard. So how can you have both the scions of the rich and powerful go there AND admit people based on merit?

There's a study that concluded that Ivy League schools don't really add value (in terms of lifetime earnings) to non-black, non-latino, non-poor students.

Here's a summary: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/revisiting-the-...

Here's the paper: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17159

The study worked by looking at students that got in to a more- and less-prestigious school and chose the less-prestigious one.

In short, being good enough to get in to Harvard is what matters, not actually attending.

Being non-black, non-latino, and non-poor probably helps lifetime earnings, too.

...that's the point.

"The reason you want to go to those schools is not their top-notch academics"

I assume you didn't go to an Ivy League school. Most of the people who are there by academic merit genuinely are at the top of their academic year/class. If you can handle it, you can take math classes with IMO medalists, chemistry classes with IChO medalists, etc. And this holds true for most departments.

The hardest part of getting an Ivy League education is getting into an Ivy League school. The coursework at those schools isn't really much harder than their less prestigious counterparts.

At the lower levels, sure. But once you start getting into more specialized fields, there are generally more courses and more professors compared to less prestigious counterparts.

It's not that there aren't sharp people at less prestigious schools, but that there are generally more at more prestigious schools.

In CS, at least, I haven't seen that. The Yale CS department, for example, has some very smart people, but is not that large, and the specialties concentrate in certain areas. As far as I can tell, the undergraduate education there is roughly on par with the quite small and non-Ivy school I attended (http://www.hmc.edu). Possibly even somewhat lower standards due to undergraduate education there being a lower-priority focus for their faculty (their tenure cases are evaluated based primarily on graduate supervision and research, not teaching), and more grade inflation meaning that it's virtually impossible to fail.

edit: Though to be clear I'm not really claiming "Yale is worse than [X]", just that past a certain level it depends more on what you care about. Do you care about small class sizes? About the opportunity to engage in undergraduate research? About big projects happening in your department? Do you care about AI, compilers, graphics, or theory? About practice-oriented programming or software engineering? Depending on your preferences there are more like 50 schools that will provide a top-notch education, not 8.

Harvey Mudd will give you a first-rate CS education, so I'm not surprised by your experience. It shouldn't be surprising that its on par with Ivy schools. I bet you'd get something similar from CMU or MIT too.

(Disclaimer: Not an alumni of any of these schools, but know and have worked with many people who attended them)

HMC academically is as strong as the Ivies in engineering fields. Not really a good school to make your point with.

I suspect Caltech beats Yale hands down in I direct comparison of the student body's intelegence. But, if you want to go into politics Yale is a far better choice. Rich may be well educated, but it's got little to do with raw intelegence.

> I suspect Caltech beats Yale hands down in I direct comparison of the student body's intelegence.

That's extremely funny if intentional, even funnier if not :)

My point wasn't really the amount of smart people that exist at either schools. It is more so that existence of smart people does not equal a more challenging or more educational experience.

Although I agree with you that the further you get in a field, the more likely a prestigious school will be better. But I would credit that to having a more direct relationship with professors. When you are actually helping a professor with their research, the quality of the research matters more than when you are simply being lecture by that same professor.

>It is more so that existence of smart people does not equal a more challenging or more educational experience.

Huh. I don't have any hard data, but I always thought the opposite. I mean, I didn't go to school, but I put a lot of effort into being around people who are better (at things I want to be good at) than I am, and I attribute much of my success to surrounding myself with people who are better than I am.

I mean, I agree about the second bit... my understanding is that undergrad at a prestigious school offers little contact with the (usually very good) professors (thus, my assertion that it's all about the quality of the other students.) - thus, grad school there, where you get more contact with the (very good) professors would be even better.

Perhaps I am unqualified to say, because I didn't go to school. On the other hand, I managed to learn enough without school to get a job that often requires a degree, so maybe I am qualified?

In my experience (Brown undergrad), literally every undergrad I know who wanted to do research with a professor has gotten to. And usually they had plans on working with specific people by their freshman or sophomore year. And this is in fields as varied as Sociology, CS, Chemistry and Comparative Literature. Though, this may not be a function of going to a prestigious school, so much as a school that has 2000 grad students and 6000 undergrads, so professors are forced to interact and teach undergrads.

I don't think that is the case in many engineering fields at least. A greater presence of smart people sets the bar that much higher for grades/tests/projects.

Most engineering courses are based on a curve. If the rest of the class is brilliant, it's significantly harder to compete and get a good grade.

the coursework may be the same, but your peers are smarter and more hardworking.

Which means that exams need to be much more difficult. When I was a grad student Teaching Assistant at Harvard we had a newly hired professor who'd spent the last decade at Cal Berkley. He decided to give the same midterm exam he'd given many times before at Berkeley. When we TA's saw the exam we politely told him he needed to change it or the whole class would ace it. "Nonsense!" he said, "Harvard students aren't that much smarter than Berkeley students." We had to write and administer a second midterm because everyone scored 98, 99, or 100 on his Berkeley test.

This is the problem with anecdotes: your experience seriously does not mirror my experiences with top colleges and UC Berkeley. I took several math classes at Stanford and had to repeat them at UC Berkeley, and they were significantly easier (coursework and testing) than the equivalents at UC Berkeley, even considering the fact that when I took the classes at Berkeley I had already covered the basic foundation of the material at Stanford.

If this was an exam for a freshman/sophomore course, I might believe it since lower-div classes at Berkeley have an exceptionally wide audience with non-uniform levels of prior mathematical experience. However, if this was an upper-div course, I highly doubt your anecdotal experience holds true in general. Source: majored in math at Berkeley, went to MIT for grad school.

This reads like one of the countless anecdotes about atheist professors that get bandied about Facebook.

Berkeley is a top school, and I don't think you'll find much of any evidence to the contrary.

I don't believe you. Who was the professor?

Depends where you draw the line. Compared to a public state school, the Ivy League course cover far more material faster in more depth, because the students are better prepared harder workers and can handle it.

Harvard has 4 levels of Multivariable Calculus, for example, whereas most schools have just 1. The 2nd-highest level is basically Real Analysis, except (a) it is more deep/accelerated than the actual Real Analysis class, and (b) it is only taught to first-years.

The highest-level class was designed for students who were expected to learn an undergraduate math degree curriculum "on their own time" and pursue more advanced topics in clads.

I did go to an Ivy League school, and I didn't go for the top-notch academics, even though I was at the top of my class in my department.

And even if your reason was actually the top-notch academics, you still benefit very much from a strong old boys' network of professors and researchers.

certainly, but those top notch academics are more relevant for graduate research than undergrad courses. with the swarm of ivy graduates going to work on wall st, I doubt the advanced botany course with a medalist in the field is as relevant as the name of the school.

I went to Penn, my sister went to Yale, and our mother went to Columbia and we all had very different experiences from what you describe here. None of us went for the "old-boys network" nor have we really seen that there is that much of one. Yes, there are a lot of monied alumni but I really dont believe that is what many of the students who want to go to top schools are thinking about.

We went for the academics and the reputation. I wanted to work in finance and so Wharton was a good place to go. My sister went to Yale I think solely based on the fact that she liked the campus. Our mother only applied to NYU and Columbia back in her day and that was a pretty easy decision to make at the time.

"and the reputation"

"I wanted to work in finance and so Wharton was a good place to go."

That's what the old-boys-network IS. It's not literally people smoking cigars, it's the preferential treatment you receive for having the brand name on your degree.

Would you say that electrical engineers from MIT benefit from an "old-boys-network"?

Yes, in the sense that an EE degree from MIT is a heuristic of sorts. It's got some differing qualities, but at the end of the day that heuristic will make a difference for two otherwise comparable job applicants, say.

Konstantin Guericke, one of the co-founders of LinkedIn, now offers coaching and mentoring to students and would-be entrepreneurs. But because he's deluged with requests, he tends to give preference to students from his alma mater, Stanford's engineering school.

"I don't feel a Stanford student is better than another one," he said. But "since there are so many, I use that as a filter."


They must because that is the only reason anyone goes to a top school.

I do hope that is sarcasm. MIT has the reputation of giving a world class, rigorous, education. People who attend MIT attend it because they know they will have the opportunity to receive that education.

Any school that is capable of giving an education of similar quality has a similar reputation. Claiming that the point of an education from a school like MIT is the "old-boys-network" is in essence confusing the effect with the cause.

It is definitely sarcasm. I said that in reference to a conversation I had with someone elsewhere in the comments here about my education at Wharton.

I think we need to separate out the term "old boys" from "network." One of the most valuable things you get from going to a top school, whether MIT, Ivy League, or otherwise - is exposure to a network. They're not necessarily the "old boys" you guys are picturing, with money and power and political connections, but the folks who are starting companies, doing the most cutting-edge research... if you go to a school like MIT, you're surrounded by people like this - and you'll be able to reach out to these people for the rest of your life. And this can be very useful... when you're looking for a cofounder, or a guest speaker in a specific field to talk to a group of students, or you want someone to pass on your resume at company X, for example. If you go to a lower tier school, no matter how smart and motivated you are, it will be much harder to forge the same kind of network.

No I dont think that's what it is. I wanted to go to Wharton because it is the most rigorous undergraduate finance program in the country. And that is why it has a good reputation.

As someone who works with someone who got an undergrad degree from Wharton, I seriously do not believe you. But I'll assume you are telling the truth - even if so, it certainly does not apply to 90% of Wharton's student body. By my co-worker's own admission, finance is all about prestige, and the primary reason he went to Wharton is because of the name and how it gets you into IB jobs, not because of its rigor. In fact, he didn't want to go to a rigorous school but liked Penn because it was more of a party school than other Ivies.

I'd like to add that there are about a dozen other concentrations at Wharton that are not related to finance. Most people at Wharton dont concentrate in finance partly because there are a lot of very douchey people, like your coworker, who do in an attempt to get rich or something. Most people at Wharton are there for the rigor. Your coworker went to Wharton for the wrong reasons and thinks everyone else did too.

Again, I'd like to point out how useless anecdotes are. Your arguments only reinforce that point.

Business is just as prestige driven as finance (management consulting, Fortune 500, etc.).

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

It's about recruitment. Every IBank and top tier consulting firm recruits heavily from the Wharton graduating class. That's what you're paying for.

You're also getting the opportunity (not guarantee) to get a top tier education - but that can be gotten anywhere. Study for the CFA tests if you really want to know finance. Go to Wharton if you want to get a job.

Was going to jibe about "high paying" job, but that's not really it. It's just any competitive placement benefits from active recruitment.

So how can you have both the scions of the rich and powerful go there AND admit people based on merit?

The dirty little secret is to rank feeder schools vary highly in the admissions process. Few poor people send there kids to 30+k / year private high schools.

My experience makes me think otherwise. I didn't attend an elite university, but visited friends that did. I saw a disproportionate number of gifted and extremely hard working people. More so than at my college, which itself was highly ranked.

it doesn't matter what you saw there. the point of TFA is there are many equally (if not more) hardworking candidates that don't find their ways to these schools because of existing prejudices and non-transparent admission policies.

>So how can you have both the scions of the rich and powerful go there AND admit people based on merit?

If you wanted to design a system such that the families in charge of the country will always be in charge, you probably couldn't do better than the Ivies. You have the rich and powerful mingling with (and marrying) the smartest people in the country. I'm not ready to believe it's all deliberate, but that's how things play out.

Someone has to do the hard work of keeping the rich people rich. It's not easy.

Yeah, no. Did you go to an Ivy or any elite university? My guess would be no, because you're wrong.

A former admissions officer of a good medical school in California once told me that the way it works is that they separate applicants based on ethnicity, and they then look at the top 5% of each stack. His words were "so if you're Asian with a 3.9gpa, good luck, you're a dime a dozen. But if you're an African American with a 3.4gpa, you're getting in." On top of that, many who share my ethnicity -- a minority in even our native country -- put down African American or, what's now the trendy thing to do, Underrepresented Minority, because they know it gives them a huge edge over the competition. I don't fault them for it. The whole application process is one big game and they're learning how to play it to their advantage.

The procedure you describe was declared illegal in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, so I doubt that the statement you heard accurately describes the medical school's admission procedure. The first comment I posted in this thread, which links to an extensive FAQ about college admission procedures in the United States, gives the citation for the Supreme Court cases on the issue and the current federal regulations.

AFTER EDIT: If, on the other hand, the statement is factually correct about that school's procedure, some denied applicant has a very good basis for a lawsuit under current federal law.

I don't think that case applies at all to what I'm saying. What I was told was that the applicant pool that gets looked at is comprised of the top 5% of every ethnic category. There was no implicit or explicit mention of seats allotted for minorities, which seems to be the subject of the lawsuit you mentioned.

Tokenadult, what the parent said is not necessarily a quota. For many good medical schools, if you sum up the top 5% of every ethnicity of apllicants, you still get far more applicants than there are spaces.

edit: what I said about public schools is incorrect.

When my eldest daughter had her visit at Princeton, it was pretty obvious that there was no cap at 5% Asian. On the other hand, why should they?

My youngest daughter was adopted from Korea, but our family heritage is almost entirely Swiss-German ... She's been part of our family since she was 11 months old, and she loves the ethnic German foods we eat (mostly Pennsylvania-Dutch type cooking), but is also fond of many Korean dishes (such as Bulgogi). What should an admissions office consider her ethnicity? A twist on the classic nature versus nurture conversation.

This is what we call surface diversity. The minority student who gets in to Princeton was adopted by white parents or grew up in a wealthy suburb. It's common enough and a noticeable phenomenon.

kyro did not claim there was a 5% cap on the proportion of Asians at schools. He claimed that the admissions pool was drawn out of the top 5% of each ethnic bracket. Those are two different things.

Thanks for pointing that out ... I missed it as I read the article. In that case, I can tell you that the pool of WASP kids (like my daughter) at Princeton consisted of those who had "almost perfect" SAT scores, documented extra-curricular activities, proof of social awareness (best shown by volunteer work with disadvantaged populations) and good interview skills. I'd say it's pretty hard to get into that population as well.

WASP stands for White Anglo-Saxon Protestent. It sounds like your daughter doesn't qualify on at least two counts, and even a biological daughter would fail on at least one.

N.B. Decendents of the Jutes, Angels, and Saxons who remained behind when those tribes invaded England are not referred to as Anglo-Saxons.

> WASP kids (like my daughter)

white nope anglo saxon nope, and not even if she were your biological daughter. protestant ... maybe. is she religious?

I was referring to my biological daughter.

If this is the same daughter, I think you just told us that she is not a WASP! (Maybe a 'P'!)

I almost made that same mistake. I was thinking "are there even 20 racial groups"?

Acceptance rate at Harvard is 5.9% for instance. So you get almost 20x applicants than you can accept.

Actually I'm talking about medical schools, which often have admit rates below 5%. Taking the top 5% of every ethnic group is the same as taking 5% of the entire applicant population, so this only applies to med schools with admit rates below 5%.

I'm not talking about undergrad.

> Taking the top 5% of every ethnic group is the same as taking 5% of the entire applicant population

Except you get an entirely different applicant pool; if the numbers from the article are accurate, the former gives you far fewer Asians and Whites and far more African Americans and Hispanics than the latter.

That's because Bulgogi is simply amazing. I'm yet to master the recipe.

In seriousness: I think they'd classify her as "Asian". Whether that's good or bad, I don't know. I think it's a shame we "need" to classify anyone at all.

All other things on parity, your daughter stands to edge ahead of her peers applying to elite universities due to her unique upbringing and the element of life experience quotient it adds to her candidacy.

Unless of course she is in competition with hordes of similar cases of transplanted adoptees.

Medical schools have some of the strongest affirmative action:


Why is that?

Do they implicitly acknowledge that it doesn't take a smart person to become a doctor as long as they get admitted and can get a loan?

one justification I've heard is that doctor like to serve communities they came from. thus, affirmative action ensures minorities have access to doctors.

To the person below me--admissions are based on geography. One way they do it is with ridiculous out-of-state fees. When I was thinking about transferring to NEOUCOM in Ohio the tuition was $110k/yr for out of state for the 3rd year...compared to 40k/yr in state. However, thats only one aspect of it. See: https://www.amherst.edu/campuslife/careers/students/gradstud...

I think it's that, but there's some subtlety to it. A minority person seems to be more likely to open a clinic to serve low-income people, perhaps as a side job to doing surgeries. There's also the trust issue between patients and doctors, so having someone who understands a community's needs might achieve better outcomes.

Another interpretation is that it appeases politicians.

Why not make admissions based on geography, then?

It's easy to game this, and there's overwhelming evidence that this already happens in related fields. In countries with state schools with geographic catchment (i.e. most of most English speaking countries), the housing market becomes a proxy for education choice.

This entrenches class concentration. You end up with entire geographic regions that are exclusive, and others that are outcast. People who want their kids to be able to be at a certain school value catchment housing higher than others would. As a result, there's a slide of people who care about their kids' education towards certain regions. By consequence, there's a drain of people who are focussed on their kids' education in poorer areas. This pushes parents who would otherwise have been easy-going to join in the same game, which re-enforces the pattern.

There are plenty of crazy people with a burning, status-seeking ambition to have their child go to medschool (regardless of the wishes of the child). They would absolutely move their address to a catchment for easy access to med school. In the list of the crazy things these crazy people do, this would be among the least surprising.

Regarding schools - there's a policy that would kill this and lead to better schools, called vouchers. In this case, parents apply to schools (anywhere) and the schools choose who they take.

But it's very difficult to introduce this when you have a large, highly educated segment of your voting population who are struggling with a huge mortgage that they took on to secure their children access to a certain school catchment. As they see it - they've paid for something, and now the evil government is stealing that from them and leaving their children to compete on an even footing with the children of parents who haven't made the same sacrifices. "Outrageous!"

Teachers unions also come out hard against vouchers, because it makes the sector more competitive, and that leads to bad teachers getting fired, and wage discrepancy, which undermines the union interest of bringing the sector towards collectivised bargaining.

There's social-engineering arguments that say it's better for people use facilities near them to reduce load on transportation or the like. This is petty rubbish, and also often wrong (mass transit gets more efficient and nicer to use with scale, and that leads to less cars), but it gets trotted out in vouchers debate.

Public universities tend to operate on a voucher arrangement at the moment. Their example is a tangible example that vouchers is good policy, and that is very valuable in the campaign to bring good policy to public schools.

> Teachers unions also come out hard against vouchers, because it makes the sector more competitive

No they are against them because the money for vouchers comes out of the public school budget. In poor areas this can be quite devastating. Unlike the Harlem Children's Zone, most school districts don't have a rich, billionaire uncle giving them millions of dollars each school year. Teacher's also recognize that charter schools have one ability they do not, unload disruptive and under-performing students before test time.

> Public universities tend to operate on a voucher arrangement at the moment. Their example is a tangible example that vouchers is good policy, and that is very valuable in the campaign to bring good policy to public schools.

Please explain? I've gone to public universities and don't remember vouchers at any point. You were accepted on merit. Tuition was paid based on merit and need. But, unlike public schools, they were free to kick you out at any point.

From some of your criticism, I think you're arguing against a particular attempt to introduce vouchers (one that I'm unfamiliar with) rather than the policy of vouchers.

    No they are against them because the money for vouchers
    comes out of the public school budget
Maybe they did in a particular campaign. But the public school budget is not a fixed amount of money, and there's no reason that a drive to vouchers couldn't be accompanied by a net increase in money to schools. Your argument is not against vouchers.

    Teacher's also recognize that charter schools have one
    ability they do not, unload disruptive and
    under-performing students before test time.
You don't need to have both models. All schools could be voucher schools. Eventually the better ones will chase the others out of business. For disabled students, have a special voucher load for them and let schools specialise.

    Please explain? I've gone to public universities and
    don't remember vouchers at any point. 
It changes from region to region. But in general, there is an applications process where potential students indicate an intention to enter a university. The university has a certain number of spaces available, and tries to fill them. If students don't meet a standard, or it has more demand than there are places, it rejects people. It gets funding based on how many students it gets in. That's a voucher model: student choice + school choice + per-unit funding.

From memory, in Swizerland, it's more pronounced. I think students say where they want to go, and the university has to accept them and find a way to make it work. But they get commensurate funding for it. If this is correct, this is quite remarkable. If you live in Switzerland and want to go to the most prestigious university, you just say so and you're there. They're not obliged to give you passing marks once you're there. It takes all the snobbery out of things!

If you live in Switzerland and want to go to the most prestigious university, you just say so and you're there. They're not obliged to give you passing marks once you're there. It takes all the snobbery out of things!

Interesting way to do things. I think as long as standards weren't watered down, it would be a way to make it work. People could fail fair and square, and it would cut down on "I coulda been a contender" sour grapes.

However, in the case of medical education, it's extremely expensive to have everybody who thinks they might want to be a doctor "give it a try". So the college grades and extracurriculars is a way to filter people out who would not likely be successful.

No they are against them because the money for vouchers comes out of the public school budget.

I know of one state in which vouchers were opposed by the teachers' union, even though public schools would still receive full funding for every voucher student they didn't have to educate.

"Teacher's also recognize that charter schools have one ability they do not, unload disruptive and under-performing students before test time."

Actually, there are a fair number of social programs around the country that like these students since they tend to generate more revenue (you get paid more for disabled / problem). It happens a lot in social programs (I remember a lecture by a man from Chicago). I can see this working well for a voucher system if properly done.

"money for vouchers comes out of the public school budget"

Technically, it comes from the taxpayers. If the public school was good, then they get to keep the money.

Serving the community is a different thing than serving in a community. "The" community tends to be "people like the people I've grown up with and lived around most of my life." I can find a community almost anywhere I live.

In other words, a Hispanic doctor from LA might find a comfortable life in Miami serving the Hispanics there[1], whereas he may be completely uncomfortable serving a largely white, affluent neighborhood in the LA basin.

1. I have no idea if this is true or not; I'm just laying out the hypothetical of my GP.

By "geography" do you mean separate urban neighborhoods as well as large rural tracts? Not everyone goes home after they graduate.

the numbers are pretty misleading without context. you gotta compare it to class composition (very low for blacks/hispanics) and raw admissions numbers, not just percentages out of who applied. med school really is a holistic admissions process and that's not just code for affir action. you have to write tons of essays on your values, experiences, obstacles, and interview everywhere you want to go - this is a huge part of the admissions process and a lot of smart kids can't interview for shit. Not to say that it divides along race lines, but the only two metrics listed are GPA and MCAT which aren't the most telling or important things and it's likely that certain groups have more justifiable excuses for low performance than others which are taken into consideration.

As the medical school, they decide what it takes to become a doctor. I wouldn't mind it terribly if they decided doctors must be smart people.

Which is scary as hell.

That's a potentially life-saving bit of information. Thanks! I shall take steps to avoid letting any doctor who might possibly have been a beneficiary of affirmative action treat me or mine.

Were you planning on using this site for anything other than spreading your racist, sexist, and xenophobic views? Because looking through your posts so far that about sums them up.

Throw in some homophobia and you can try for bigot of the year.

Your question isn't really a question, just a clumsy attempt to use shame to stifle open discussion, a technique that goes WAY back. Priests in the Middle Ages used it to keep the peasants in their place, although I imagine that they employed it more effectively than you do.

But here is a real question, one that actually rises to the level of being thought-provoking, just for you:

You have a six-year-old girl who has recently begun to complain of headaches, dizziness, and double-vision. Tests show that she has a tumor in an especially difficult-to-reach part of the brain. If left untreated, she will die, but any attempt to remove the rapidly growing mass has a significant chance of leaving her a vegetable. You must choose between two neurosurgeons, both of whom seemingly have very similar resumes, but one of whom is non-white/non-Asian, the other of whom is white/Asian. Do you choose the former to operate on your little girl, knowing that affirmative action policies may well have greased the skids for him all the way from college to medical school to his residency, or do you pick the latter, for whom no such programs exist?

If you pick the former, then your commitment to egalitarianism is on a par with Abraham's to Yaweh when he bound Jacob to the sacrificial altar.


Then I guess brain surgery isn't exactly brain surgery, if you know what I mean.

I was kinda shocked when I saw you didn't fault people for putting down african americans... until I re-read your comment and realized you didn't mean put down as in "insult" them... you meant put down as in write down in the college application that they are african american when in fact they really weren't.

Well, I'm referring to Egyptians specifically, who aren't technically African-Americans. According to the consensus, we're Caucasian.

An Egyptian who immigrated to America fits the criteria for being considered African-American.

IMHO Skin color isn't the only designation.

The term African-American is just out-and-out silly. I've seen American media refer to a black British model who worked in France as 'African-American' - despite her being neither African nor American. Born in England, but labelled American because of her skin. Isn't that an own-goal?

Heh heh. Who was it that referred to people in Chad as "African American Africans"? Some politician.

And who is more African American that someone like Teresa Heinz Kerry, who was born in Mozambique and is a naturalized citizen?

Yeah, it's a stupid term.

I hear it is a particular problem for jamaican people as well, with their shall we say, complex relationship to african identity.

I disagree. Arabs are considered Caucasian in some parts.

An anecdote: Egyptian friend studies abroad in the US, gets arrested visiting New York state for very overdue parking tickets he was unaware of (studying elsewhere in the US). They bring him to the station, and the cops attempt to fill in the paperwork, and they admit to my friend they are not sure what to fill in. In the end, they look in their procedure book, and said he is Arab and that is considered a subset of Caucasian in their definition. I was actually surprised by this.

Whether Arabs are caucasian or not is not GP's point: it's that someone who was born in Africa, and lives in America, can fairly consider themselves to be African-American, just on that basis.

For most of these cases, skin color is the lowest common denominator that allows them to game the system.


We do live in America, so your actual ethnicity matters, but not as much as what people think you are on first glance (i.e. police, interviewers, etc).

Race is something that affects people's lives in the real world, beyond boxes on applications. This argument is becoming a little academic.

I thought Egyptians were ethnically Arabs?

Arabs are classified as Caucasian

Race in America is such a messy clustering of arbitrary phenotypic and cultural features. I wonder what our "racial" categories would look like if people treated these groupings as a statistical problem, rather than some sort of given natural phenomenon. Maybe we'd just give up on the concept all together?

People do display distinct genetic clustering based on ancestral geography. If someone has your DNA, they can tell with high certainty where your ancestors came from.

Of course, a substantial number of white Americans would be surprised by discovering they had ancestors from Africa in the recent past. (Most African-Americans, on the other hand, wouldn't be too surprised to find out many of them have European ancestry.)

>People do display distinct genetic clustering based on ancestral geography.

For sure! But I suspect the most meaningful coarse clusters might end up being some large number of divisions of sub-saharan africa and then everyone else. Definitely not the "White", "Black", "Asian" categories people in the states take for granted. And even ignoring the amazing diversity of Africa (compared with the rest of the world), did the Irish become more genetically white when they became culturally accepted as white? Did Latin Americans of European descent become less genetically white when people further North stopped viewing them that way? Why do some races trump others (i.e., why is Barack Obama considered black)? The boundaries of these categories seem very arbitrary and not derived by any rigorous means at all.

I think i have seen this before, it came out basically pretty well aligned with the generally accepted racial groups, except there were i believe 2 groups for sub saharan instead of one group of 'blacks'. Has been a few years since i saw the study so dont quote me on it.

Find the citation please. I'm not even sure what you mean by generally accepted racial groups. In the UK, unlike the US, you would probably distinguish between Indian & Pakistani vs. all other Asians. You might also distinguish Irish as a separate ethnicity and probably would not think of Arabs or Turks as white. This stuff is very culturally dependent and I don't know which set of "racial groups" would be considered canonical.

One of the main confounds seems to be "large immigrant group". For example, even ethnically-100%-Spanish Latinos in the U.S. are considered different from "Anglos", in significant part because it's a large group. That sometimes leads to significant differences between countries. I'd say that for the past 50 years or so, Greek-Americans have been considered part of the undifferentiated majority "white" population. But Greek-Australians are still considered different in Australia, not really properly white, or at least white with an "ethnic" asterisk.

Despite a lying Senator, checking the Native American box is a pretty simple exercise. Are you enrolled with a federally (or state in some cases) recognized tribe? Yes, check box. No, pick something else.

"I wonder what our 'racial' categories would look like if people treated these groupings as a statistical problem, rather than some sort of given natural phenomenon."

The outcome would no doubt have a lot in common with the ugly and ill-fitting suit made for Gulliver by the tailors of Laputa, who used quadrants, rules, and compasses rather than a simple tape measure.

What if you put down "underrepresented minority" and you aren't one?

I mean, I could claim that there are "too few" (whatever that means) Estonians in a given medical school and claim minority status.

Given that this is illegal, either they're making it up, or this is why they are no longer an admissions officer.

Is there a verification process after application process ends?

This issue is pretty close to my heart because I'm a high school senior this year. I'm also Asian, play an instrument, have perfect SAT scores, and applied for a STEM major (well, half STEM).

I was also rejected/waitlisted from every one of my top choices.

To be honest, I'm not really sure now to respond to this article. From the point of view of a student applying to college, these "discriminations" exist pretty universally, and not just to Asians. The notion that race, gender, wealth, etc play a role in college decisions is very widespread among my classmates and peers at other schools. I don't view it as particularly bad, though, even if these colleges will never publicly admit such a thing.

College is not a completely merit based system. I think that we all like to believe that it is, but colleges also have duties outside of admitting the best students. They have to keep their alumni happy, somehow obtain outside funding, keep its population diverse enough (this is ambiguous and controversial, but I think it's a legitimate concern). Most importantly, a college also has the duty to improve society, and that's where a system like Affirmative Action comes into play. It's not perfect, but it does allow for a great deal of social mobility where society would otherwise resemble something like plutocracy. After all these considerations, there's only a fraction of each year's class that they have for purely "merit" based acceptances. And at the level that these elite colleges are at, it's almost impossible to differentiate between candidates. So this small group of accepted students is essentially random (or I like to tell myself).

There was a quote by a Yale admissions officer who lamented that he could've filled 3 identical classes with students on the waitlist.

Perhaps I'm naive, but I think that one of the benefits of our society, especially in the entrepreneurial community, is that success is ultimately the result of hard work and talent. College is not the end-all and certainly not the determinant of your future.

Man you sound like me 15 years ago :) I am Chinese American, got almost perfect SAT scores, top of my class, etc. I got rejected from all the schools Asian parents like (Harvard, MIT, I think Yale, etc.)

I ended up going to Cornell (I think my other choices were UPenn and CMU). Anyway, it ended up great. There were tons of things that interested me in school; I got very high grades but didn't concentrate on them. I played in bands and partied. I developed a reputation for being the guy who stayed out all night and still got 100 on all the tests people were cramming for. There is freedom in not trying to compete with others.

Like everyone, I had some rough years after college, but with a decade of hindsight it all turned out great. I also did better on the Asian parent metric of making more money than peers who went to Harvard, etc. I think it was mainly by valuing honest work (i.e. problems people actually have) rather than working on things that are supposed to be hard or prestigious. If you follow the advice of a lot of Asian parents, you'll end up working hard and not smart.

It sounds like you have a great head on your shoulders, and a great outlook on the situation, so good luck to you!

Cornell is a great school. There are certainly easy majors and easy courses available, but I was able to find courses that would kick my ass, and made lifelong friends with people who were hard working and incredibly bright.

Getting into college is only the starting point; the key is to find a place where you have room to grow and that will challenge you, and where there is an overall good work ethic. Those are the things that will really determine your trajectory later in life.

Yeah, I also meant to say that one of the things I appreciated most about Cornell is that, unlike almost all prestigious schools, it is outside the normal "east coast metro area" mentality (i.e. Boston - NY - DC).

Alan Kay (who I previously bashed here) has said "perspective is worth 80 IQ points" and that definitely applies to your education.

LOL only in asianparentland does cornell count as some kind of consolation prize.

You're definitely not naive, yours is actually one of the most thoughtful comments in this thread thus far. You can look through a lot of the posts above and easily identify who is defending the status they feel was conferred upon them by their undergraduate acceptance letter.

In addition to the comment you mentioned that Yale could have filled 3 identical classes from their applicant pool, I've heard quotes from Harvard admission officers saying 95% of their applicants would be capable Harvard students.

Another thing that is important to remember is that not only are some of the admission decisions arbitrary but they are differentiations among young people whose lives have been vastly shaped by their family and schooling. Whatever merit is, at the undergraduate level students are already being evaluated on resume and preparedness. This is not at all a competition on equal grounds for students across the country, let alone across the globe as elite US undergraduate admissions are increasingly a global competition.

Echoing your last point, instead of arguing that undergraduate admissions decisions are significant judgments we should be thankful that we live long lives that allow us to do great work outside of a system that at its highest levels does not have the volume or capacity to discover meaningful distinctions between applicants.

> filled 3 identical classes from their applicant pool, I've heard quotes from Harvard admission officers saying 95% of their applicants would be capable Harvard students.

so why aren't more position made available for these applicants? Isn't the root cause of the problem one of not enough spaces for the number of applicants? If each applicant paid their own way (either through their own, or borrowed money), how come there isn't enough spaces to satisfy everyone? A more educated society is a better society.

There are more positions made for these applicants but they are at other less prestigious schools. And I don't mean that as a negative. There are tons of schools that aren't Ivys where you can still get a great education. And I'm not talking about MIT & Stanford. There are a lot of great liberal arts schools and state schools that don't have sub 10% admission rates but still provide an amazing education.

You don't need the prestige of the Ivies to get a great education.

I was in your shoes about a decade ago, but without the perfect SAT scores (though still top notch). While applying to colleges, I got an interesting piece of advice from friends I met during math and science competitions (these are all people who are in the top 1% of US high school students in these fields). They said to pick one of the schools in my list of top choices and apply directly to their engineering (or equivalent) school. Then fill in the major field with something that fits my credentials perfectly even if I'm still unsure what to pursue.

Their reasoning goes that the engineering sections of Ivys often don't attract the very best candidates (Ivy League engineering << MIT, CMU, etc.) in these fields. So by applying in this manner, you end up competing against an "easier" pool of applicants. The major bit adds icing to your application as it makes you appear to be a focused student and allows the school to fulfill career diversity goals. Of course, all of this is just speculation but for the Ivys that rank their engineering schools separately, it is pretty clear that it would be much easier to get into those schools.

So I took this advice and that one school ended up being the only school that didn't reject/waitlist me (none of my waitlists even panned out). Once you get in, just bust your ass freshman year and "transfer" into the general school. Or if you decide to do engineering anyway, change majors (what I ended up doing).

This is just one anecdote and admissions may very well be fair. However, I don't think it is naive for anyone to think otherwise because the perception is shared by many educated people.

> I think that one of the benefits of our society, especially in the entrepreneurial community, is that success is ultimately the result of hard work and talent.

Benefiting who, exactly? Success at what, exactly?

Great attitude, kid! Everyone can see themselves as a victim at any point, but it's people like you who don't always read much negativity into the decision-making of others and instead focus their energy into making the best of their opportunities who go on to do great things.

Don't worry if you don't make it into your top choice. You can always apply to grad school there. :)

That is a very rough story, I'm sorry to hear this. I hate to hear successful students like yourself not get into their schools of choice.

Where did you end up getting accepted to? Did you do things like sports in school, or did you dedicate yourself to academics?

I played varsity lacrosse and track :)

Wow, so you had everything across the board, and you still didn't get into a top notch school? That sucks, I'm really sorry to hear that! What are your plans now, which college are you going to attend?

Private colleges don't need to be merit-based. They choose who they want.

You're right about diversity, and accepting the impact it has on the process. You should probably be pissed about the legacies, though. Why doesn't Yale set up a second school called, say, "Yale Legacies", and fill it up with the same?

While it is a very easy "excuse" to hide behind, I believe in holistic admissions qualifications. I think charts of SAT score x race x admissions are as good of a metric of assessing a potential student as college GPA are of assessing a potential employee. To some degree there's a baseline expectation for the practical purposes of filtering (with lots of outliers for various reasons), but at the end of the day it doesn't say much about how intelligent or capable someone really is. Intelligence and capability can't be reduced to a test-taking skill.

I am Asian-American and I went to an ivy league university. I think (hope) that essays hold particular importance for admission to the most competitive schools because academically there's very little variability between most serious applicants. Everyone was the valedictorian, everyone had a 4.0+, everyone had 1500+ on the SAT (out of 1600). Everyone played an instrument, everyone was in every honor society, everyone performed hours of community service. When you get that far as an applicant you know how to play the academics "game." So in the midst of a lot of redundancy -- "“Another piano playing, hard working kid, with perfect SAT scores" -- you have to stand out for other reasons. Like the passions that will ultimately lead to a student body that enriches itself rather than one where everyone is constantly holed up in their room studying non-stop for the next exam.

It's an interesting counter-point. The allegation is that admissions committees are looking at intangible factors in order to discriminate against Asians. But it's possible that they're forced to consider these factors because so many students have "maxed out" the traditional metrics.

But the question remains, are admissions committees negatively weighting stereotypically Asian activities (e.g. violin) to reduce their enrollment? Anecdotal evidence is insufficient.

If the problem is simply that too many students are getting 1600s on the SATs (and similar criteria), it surely should not challenge the collective minds of the elite 1% of US universities to devise a more difficult test that has more room on the top end. As a matter of fact, as I recall, I took a number of such tests in high school.

This isn't the problem. In fact SAT scores were "re-centered" in 1995 to boost scores.

One problem is that too many people think the SAT is some amazing indicator of applicant quality. In fact it has biases. In fact it can be coached and responds to test prep and experience.

Another problem is that it's easy to lose the forest for the trees when you feel you're being discriminated against. There is a great society wide wrong that affirmative action is meant to partially redress. Some Asians having to go to Columbia instead of Yale is not an equal wrong to kicking in the doors to provide opportunity.

Finally, diversity does matter. I learned a hell of a lot from the hispanic and black students I lived with. And they certainly would not have been there without affirmative action. The same thing in classes (although there's less certainty on whether they were beneficiaries of AA).

It cannot be coached very easily. See http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/Briggs_Theeffectofadmissionst....

"Does test preparation help improve student performance on the SAT and ACT? For students that have taken the test before and would like to boost their scores, coaching seems to help, but by a rather small amount. After controlling for group differences, the average coaching boost on the math section of the SAT is 14 to 15 points. The boost is smaller on the verbal section of the test, just 6 to 8 points. The combined effect of coaching on the SAT for the NELS sample is about 20 points."

"It cannot be coached very easily."

(1) This is not a universal conclusion.

(2) Many forms of "coaching" are lumped together here. In fact some may only add 30 pts or less while others add over 100.

(3) Controlling for self-selection is self-defeating here since poor black/hispanic/native american kids don't have the same opportunity to self select into say private schools with test prep programs.

(4) Taking post PSAT gains ignores coaching received prior to this.

(5) This only measures indirect coaching. The effects of a superior school itself could be large.

The effect "could be large". Do you have any data to support this?

Some forms of coaching "add over 100". Do you have data to support this?

Poor black/hispanic kids don't have test prep programs in school. So they are unable to get privately provided test prep or have no incentive to do so, and therefore receive a smaller amount of test prep than other racial groups. Do you have any data to support this?

The effects of a superior school "could be large". Do you have any data to support this?

You also say that you learned a lot from black and hispanic pupils. Would you have learned less from white pupils?

Do you really contest that private schools have better outcomes on the SAT? Or that poor kids have less test prep? Maybe you should do some basic googling on the subject before you start tossing around strident conclusions.

Having a worthwhile discussion requires a basic standard of reasonableness. Some of the perfectly reasonable claims I made could have also benefited from citations, sure. OTOH you've given me at least 5 data points that say you've just decided to be a pedantic troll about this topic. Good luck with that.

Participating in "red state" leadership activities in high school among white students such as ROTC or 4-H have been shown to reduce admissions rates in Ivy league by about 50%[1], all else being equal. More important than being smart is to be the right race (non-Asian, non-white). And most important of all is to be an urban liberal.

[1]Espenshade (2009) pp. 92-93.

And here's Espenshade himself tearing down his research being used like this:


In a recent article, Ross Douthat claims that America’s elite private colleges and universities are discriminating against white, rural, working-class applicants, especially those from “Red” states, and he cites work that Alexandria Radford and I did on college admissions to support his argument. Douthat seizes on one relatively minor finding in the entire book to push an interpretation that goes far beyond the bounds of the actual evidence.

We find that applicants who demonstrate a strong commitment to career-oriented extracurricular activities while in high school have a slightly lower chance of being admitted to a top school. This outcome affects only students who have won awards or assumed leadership positions in these activities, not those known for their extensive involvement. These extracurriculars might include 4-H clubs or Future Famers of America, as Douthat mentions, but they could also include junior ROTC, co-op work programs, and many other types of career-oriented endeavors. Participating in these activities does not necessarily mean that applicants come from rural backgrounds. The weak negative association with admission chances could just as well suggest that these students are somewhat ambivalent about their academic futures.

... students who apply from “Red” states appear to have an advantage in the process. Compared to otherwise similar applicants from California, those from Utah are 45 times as likely to be admitted to one of our elite colleges or universities. The advantage for applicants from West Virginia or Montana is 25 times greater, and nearly 10 times greater for students from Alabama. Because top private schools seek geographic diversity, and students from America’s vast middle are less likely to apply, it stands to reason that their admission chances are higher. On the other hand, coming from such “Blue” states as Virginia or Colorado lowers the odds of admission.

Many state schools have geographic quotas also, which then heavily biases towards kids from rural areas (red states, or red parts of blue states). Being "urban liberal" is actually not that useful, since so many other applicants are "urban liberal." The only advantage to being "urban liberal" are better schools and more opportunities for academic enrichment, but as we all know, applicants in such a category are a dime a dozen these days.

I have no idea if the Ivy's aim for geographic diversity; since they are not taxpayer funded, they probably don't have that mandate.

>Participating in "red state" leadership activities among white students such as ROTC have been shown to reduce admissions rates in Ivy league by about 50%.

ROTC was only allowed on campus recently:

"Yale, Harvard and Columbia all signed agreements this year [2011] to bring back ROTC"


It's tough to do ROTC when you have to go to another campus every week.

He was referring to JROTC, the high school activity.

ROTC is also a high school activity.

Uh, LOTS of folks in the admitted class at Harvard Business School each year is military officers.

Ivy League admissions for both undergrad and graduate programs is NOT what most people think it to be. There are MANY factors they consider and it's not all about grades/test scores/sports.

Are you seriously going to 1) extrapolate graduate admissions to undergrad admissions, and 2) go against hard data with an anecdote?

For #1, grad schools are looking for extremely different things than undergrad. In fact, the plurality, if not majority, of grad admits at top schools are internationals. As another example, most PhD programs care about your research almost to the exclusion of all other factors. Extracurriculars? Don't matter very much.

Business school programs most heavily weight your work experience (followed by test scores, essays, and extracurriculars), which is why a lot of military officers get in, because of their impressive leadership-related work experience.

My point was to answer the comment that red-state extracurriculars serve as a black mark in the Ivy League. I think it's clear that they don't.

And data is not what you're basing your argument on. It's an interpretation of some data that might be flawed in collection methodology, reporting errors, false conclusions from over fitting and other common errors that occur in studies.

For the record, I served in the military, and earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard and know of many others who did the same. Painting the Ivies as somehow anti-military kinda rubs me the wrong way.

ROTC is a plus at elite engineering schools like MIT, though.

What do you think made you stand out? What does the list of "other reasons" look like?

your argument hardly talks to the bias laid out in this article. The problem is not that a white student with perfect SAT's will gain an admission, but that the same student with a lower score can gain admission while an asian with perfect scores cannot. Essays are important , but they are a tool to hide behind. if the existing tests are not good markers of excellence, why dont harvard and stanford have their own entrance examinations? it is a common practice in universities around the world.

Wouldn't an easier solution be to re-balance the SAT? Or to follow the french/british model, and add competitive exams for admission to the most prestigious universities.

Everything you say rings true to me. However, the notion of "well rounded and compassionate because that's what it takes" makes me feel a little queasy.

Asian-born student life sounds like it involves a lot of after school classes, and group cramming sessions. Maybe this leaves less time for community service and class representative. If Asians do less of this they'd not be chosen compared to all the other 'equally' 'perfect' applicants.

The question I think is how we are weighting extra-curriculars. How does piano compare to... say.. windsurfing? I'd put both about on the same level as far as merit goes (one taxes the mind and dexterity, the other taxes the body and dexterity, both are fairly out of reach for the underprivileged).

If the "holistic admission" thing is being used to disqualify Asian candidates I would expect that two students with equal grades would be disadvantaged if they played piano rather than windsurfed.

From my anecdotal experience, I find this very plausible. (I'm a white guy who had extraordinarily poor grades in highschool yet was accepted to the school of my choice. My Asian peers almost universally far outclassed me in academic skill (proper student discipline in general); if you told me that I was accepted because I was on the swim team instead of another student with better grades who played the piano (both forms of self-improvement, not community service), I would not be surprised. Very disappointed, but not surprised.)

What about diversity of extra-curriculars? I don't know how it breaks down, but maybe they felt they had enough Asians (or anybody) who play the piano. Maybe you got in because they didn't have that many people who swam as an extra-curricular.

As far as I am concerned, a sport is a sport. I primarily swam, but I did some track as well, and did and continue to do casual weightlifting. They work different muscle groups but they are all fundamentally the same (all have very low leadership/teamwork opportunities, all require a decent amount of drive and dedication, etc. These are all fundamentally "selfish" sports; most participants will spend most of their time competing against themselves). The other class of sports, the "team sports", are fundamentally different of course but also essentially all the same.

So do universities honestly think they have too many classical musicians, but not enough casual athletes? I don't think so. That seems incredibly implausible. I don't think they are thinking anything at all along the lines of "we better introduce some athletic viewpoints into our student body, lest all the musicians dominate discussion."

I think they are arbitrarily classifying hobbies as "well rounded" or "square" to allow themselves to shape their student body demographics to their liking.

As an Asian-American: no, it doesn't involve those things.

Oh, I guess you speak for all of them

He doesn't need to. He only needs to speak for one to show that tobylane doesn't speak for all of them.

The problem is now you're stereotyping. It's like as if I said something patently untrue like "Black student life is just playing basketball" [and that's too "black" and not well-rounded] or something like that.

EDIT: Agreed with jlgreco, added [] to what I said earlier.

As I understand it, the assertion is that admissions people are, in order to unfairly disqualify Asian applicants under the guise of "holistic application", negatively weighting stereotypical Asian extracurriculars.

If we are saying "Black student life is just playing basketball", then that is clearly an unfair stereotype. If however college admissions start disqualifying anyone who has ever played basketball, then I think it would be prudent to ask if perhaps the admissions people are attempting to disadvantage black applicants (particularly so if the "has played basketball" metric is accompanied by a series of other metrics that have a relationship to stereotypes).

Some basic facts about college admission in the United States:

1) Most colleges admit large numbers of students who are officially reported as "race/ethnicity unknown." (The graphic in the submitted article, showing race/ethnicity questions from a college application, is dishonest by omitting the part on the application that says that whole section is optional, as it must be by federal regulation.)

2) The definition of "race" categories in current United States regulations is arbitrary, acknowledged by the Census Bureau to be unscientific, does not match categories used in any other country, and has changed several times in my lifetime.

3) "Jewish" has never been an officially regarded category in the United States for tracking data on the issue of college admission, but Jews once faced considerable barriers getting into many colleges.

4) The subset of United States high school students who are college-ready by what courses they have completed during high school has a much different "race" composition from the general United States population.

Several of the replies in this interesting thread speculate about details of the practice of colleges in the United States, so I will refer here to the definitive FAQ about "race" in United States college admission,


so that those of you who like to look up reliable sources and check facts are able to do that about this contentious issue. The FAQ will have to be revised, of course, after the Supreme Court issues its opinion in a pending case (cited in the FAQ). Full references to the facts listed above can be found in the FAQ.

A nice, if lengthy, article on that topic: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-...

TL;DR Asians are "the new Jews" and are discriminated (often implicitly) - for example they ace at high-school STEM competitions, yet they don't make that many undergrads as they should (with a notable exception of Caltech).

For a critique of Unz's data analysis, see Andrew Gelman's blog post here: http://andrewgelman.com/2013/02/12/that-claim-that-harvard-a...

Did you read the analysis? I mean, the length of his critique should already tip you off, since Unz's article takes at least 2-3 hours to read. Gelman only criticizes Unz's assertion that Jews are overrepresented.

Gelman says in that critique that he agrees there is an underrepresentation of Asians.

Have you been following this since then?

That's not actually Gelman's analysis. He's just relaying some criticisms that were sent to him by Janet Mertz. Ron Unz responds to this, corrects some of his own errors, and shows his claims still hold. Then Gelman (proxying for Mertz) and Unz go back and forth way too many times, using way too many words and almost no data.

Eventually Gelman gives up, so Unz moves on to reviewing Mertz's old work. Let's just leave it here: http://www.ronunz.org/2013/03/16/meritocracy-dangerous-cance...

The full TL;DR of that article is that Jews are "the new WASPs" (e.g. are over-represented relative to recent performance on measures like STEM competitions) and both Asians and non-Jewish whites are "the new Jews."

The author suggests that top Asian students are being discriminated against (implicitly or explicitly), and it's unclear whether top non-Jewish white students are being discriminated against, or whether they apply in much smaller numbers to the Ivies.

Which part of the article says that Jews are over-represented? It says that blacks (and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics) are over-represented, but all it says about Jews is that they were under-represented and that this effect starting fading in the 50s.

I assume you're referring to the Priceonomics blog post, while the comment you replied to was talking about Ron Unz's article in The American Conservative.

In the article from The American Conservative, the claim that Jews are over-represented is rather hard to miss.

Ah, thanks for clarifying, my mistake.

I think freyr is commenting on the ron unz ("Myth of American Meritocracy") article, not the priconomics blog entry.

I can't speak to whether admissions officers are, consciously or not, discriminating against Asians.

What I can contribute, however, are my (admittedly anecdotal) experiences with Asian households, and my own personal experience with the college application process. I am not Asian.

Probably because of my own interest in sciences and mathematics, many of my friends in high school were Asian. They tended to excel in schoolwork, in no small part because they were under huge amounts of pressure from their parents. I'm not saying that all Asian families "force" their children to study ad-nauseum, but the "high expectations Asian father" Internet meme is at least somewhat based in truth, stereotyped or not.

Because of this pressure (and supportive culture of success), Asians tend do incredibly well in school, as well as on standardized tests... but the more they study, the proportionally less time they have to do other activities that make students "well-rounded," which is one of the qualities that top-tier universities value.

My personal college application process involved SAT scores that were very good, and a GPA that was solid but somewhat average. However, I had done several sports in high school, done a considerable amount of community service, had three technical jobs (two as a developer, one as a security analyst), and released open source software--all while passing my classes. I was passionate about computer science, and I believe that that helped me gain admission to very good universities.

I'm not trying to "blame the victim" with this comment--it may very well be that admissions officers harbor prejudices against Asians--but I also think it's worth noting that when you're talking about the top-tier of our education system--the Stanfords, Harvards and MITs of the world--great grades aren't enough to gain admission.

"but the more they study, the proportionally less time they have to do other activities that make students 'well-rounded,' which is one of the qualities that top-tier universities value."

"Well rounded" is code for "like the WASPs we used to admit in years past." Look at the kinds of things colleges value: community service, sports, etc. These are the things that used to in years past set people of good breeding apart from the regular people who were too busy keeping a roof over their head.

100% agreed. People take "well rounded" to mean "better person." In most cases, what it actually means is a person who has never known what it's like to feel hunger.

>"Well rounded" is code for "like the WASPs we used to admit in years past."

No it isn't. "Well rounded" is in fact code for any activity that has completely subjective merit which admissions offices can use to create quotas without officially having quotas.

Trying to experience a bit of everything isn't a WASP thing, it's bona fide Humanism. As Montaigne put it : « I like better a well rounded head than a well filled one ». Western Universities are (or should be) the heirs of this tradition.

Montaigne is a WASP thing.

I am Asian.

What I've noticed is that the kids who have to be "forced" to study ad-nauseum usually aren't the top performers. They're around the middle, but their families desperately want them to be the top.

The top students are much more self motivated. They tend to be more or less equivalent to their supposedly more-well-rounded white counterparts.

I agree. As a high-school student, I notice that the top few percent of the class is comprised primarily of individuals who either 1) are innately intelligent (to the extent that innate ability exists at all. Obviously, there are many confounding factors in most of the criteria used to determine intelligence, and in many cases people misinterpret privilege with actual tallent. The people who are "innately smart" are those that can perform well with minimum effort, for whatever reason) or 2) work hard but are intrinsically motivated.

Few people manage to get ahead solely through being compelled to work hard. It's very difficult to force someone to sacrifice four years of their life to attain a goal that they themselves are ambivalent about.

I'm willing to believe that this is what US universities are aiming for (i.e., "well-roundedness", passion vs. nurture, etc.) However, believing than an Asian kid did well on his scores / science competitions simply because a lot of Asian kids are pressured at home is called prejudice and extremely unfair to the kid in question. One (Asian) acquaintance of mine had great passion to be a computer scientist and pursued it against the wishes of his parents... who wanted him to be a doctor.

No, it's stereotyping, which is not quite the same. He's saying that parental pressure is a major factor in why a lot of Asian kids do well on their tests (hence the, yes, stereotypical "Asian father" meme); not that every Asian kid who does well does so only because of parental pressure (which would be prejudice).

Explaining away someone's personal success because of their race is a particularly nasty thing to do to someone. Unfortunately, I see it happen all the time.

The article discussed this extensively: these well-rounded-ness requirements are arbitrary, having been introduced in the 20's with the sole purpose of keeping out jewish students. While it may very well be true that the average asian applicant plays less sports than the average white applicant, it doesn't have any relevance to the applicant's aptitude for computer science.

I agree with you completely; however, if Harvard (for example) wants to find the next "leaders in business, innovation and politics," they are likely seeking people who've shown drive in their chosen fields.

For example, when I look to hire developers who are recent or soon-to-be college graduates, I may glance briefly at their GPA. While I care that they didn't flunk their classes (and aptitude in their language of choice is certainly important), I check to see what projects they did on the side. What open source software did they release or contribute to? Did they launch mobile or webapps while studying? Are they conversant in current events around their field of choice?

To me, passion is more important than grades or even degrees--in business. My question, which I believe is the same one posed in the article, is whether it is appropriate for schools to evaluate on that metric, too.

My hiring process is very similar to yours. Every one of 6 devs in my office has a history of side projects if out of college, failed startups if older, etc. I don't know if I would apply the same standard to a high-schooler though.

To give a specific example, I've always thought that community involvement is one of those developmental stages that happen later in life. Bill Gates is a great example: obviously a "leader in business, innovation and politics", who went from active, principled disdain towards all charity when he was younger to the world's biggest philanthropist today. Whenever I see community involvement coming from a high schooler, I always "blame" parents, college admission coaches, church, etc.

Similarly, serious commitment to more than one sport makes me think "ambitious parents" and "affluent" rather than "drive". I just don't buy that a high-schooler, all by him/herself, has the wherewithal to manage multiple athletic training programs. I did serious ballet before I went to college, and let's face it, while I did all the sweating, my mother gets more than half the credit.

I agree with your comments here, particularly bits about detecting drive in someone that young. I may have taken my personal experiences (I did say my original comment would be anecdotal!) and applied them too broadly to the difficult and complex issue at hand.

What this boils down to, to me, is the inability for admissions boards to release their exact criteria for admitting a prospective student. If, say, MIT released the exact formula for their perfect student, then people would immediately game the system (more so than they do already).

As some other users pointed out, and as you alluded to here, how can we tell the difference between 'drive' and 'trying to appear well-rounded'? How can we tell if a high schooler wanted to do those five-hundred hours of community service, or if they were coerced into doing so by a parent or school?

I personally believe that there is more to a successful academic (and professional) career than grades, so my initial dispute was the use of standardized test scores and GPA to indicate discrimination when it may have simply been another variable skewing the results.

It would be a very interesting case study for a university to release their full (objective) admissions criteria, however--while, sure, it would result in applicants trying to game the system, would it end up resulting in a more cohesive student base? What would the main factors be? How do you weigh passions vs., as you stated, ambitious parents?

I don't have any of the answers to the questions I posed in this comment (nor in my earlier ones), but it's an interesting thought experiment nonetheless.

> how can we tell the difference between 'drive' and 'trying to appear well-rounded'? How can we tell if a high schooler wanted to do those five-hundred hours of community service, or if they were coerced into doing so by a parent or school?

that's a good question - and this same question needs to be asked by a prospective employer during hiring interviews. In other words, you have to try and understand the applicant, and see if they really want it, or is only wanting it for extrinsic reasons (which i deem to be a bad reason for wanting to study).

I played football over the strenuous objections of my parents, who would have preferred I be involved in music.

You play sports to get laid, not because your parents make you.

You're severely overestimating the ability of Harvard admissions officers to evaluate those traits based on college applications. You can at least narrow the scope to a single professional area in which the candidate must excel to do the job well. Do you think an average Harvard admissions officer can evaluate open-source projects? Or similar types of accomplishments in other specialized areas? They are looking in a vacuum and they hardly have the expertise to evaluate how passionate someone must be to have accomplished some line item in their application. They also have virtually no ability to question the applicant on anything.

This entire "holistic evaluation" thing, at this point is pretty much gamed out and the savviest parents and students know what the admissions officers are looking for, which means it plays out very much like the tests and the grades - people who really, really want to get into the top schools and will put in the effort are the ones who get in.

I'm going to generalise a little bit from your statement about sports: it is dangerous to disregard the body (Sports) and focus mostly on the mind (Where things that would allow someone to excel in CS are). You don't need to be a sports star. Even just someone who exercises casually or plays sports socially.

Someone's physicality (Let's move on from just thinking about sports only) can/does have relevance to someone's aptitude for CS, or, their ability to do well.

"Someone's physicality (Let's move on from just thinking about sports only) can/does have relevance to someone's aptitude for CS, or, their ability to do well."

citation needed.

"Exercising casually" is not the sort of "well-roundedness" that colleges select for. They look for "team captain", which, by the way, is far more common when your (expensive, private) school has 100 students instead of 1200 like a common public school.

The Stanford & Harvard's of the world have a very real interest in ensuring that their demographics are preserved. "Well rounded" is a cop out, and your anecdote is a false dichotomy.

The high achieving students you're describing aren't not participating in extra curricular activities. That just sounds bizarre. Anyone who's intensely focused on getting into a top school also has their application filled with extra curricular engagements.

The problem with this view is that there are tons of Asian kids who don't fit this mold and it's even harder for them to get into top schools.

I don't get is, how is this surprising?

When affirmative action is letting more people from some group in than they normally would, then isn't it kind of obvious that other groups will take the hit?

It's not some magical force... when A + B is to be constant (total capacity), then increasing B decreases A.

When I got to Penn my freshman year I very quickly came to the very unscientific conclusion that the admissions office probably could have filled the entire freshman class with very smart Asian students who had better grades and test scores than me. I am black and was never a stellar student in high school but I had great test scores. I often felt that if I had been Asian or white I may not have been admitted.

How does that impact your view on the position or carrier you have obtained? Is it all part of the game? Just curious how affirmative action is viewed in your eyes, as someone who believes they benefitted from it.

To be honest, I have never put much thought into it. There were so many kids at Penn who were legacies, athletes, or from very wealthy families that I never felt like I may not have "deserved" to be there. There may have been affirmative action for minority students but there were similar types of things for many white and Jewish students as well. A lot of kids go to college every year based on something other than merit or race and so it never really bothered me that my race may have helped me get in. Does that make sense?

I think so. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Dude, did we read the same article? White students are favored over Asians with better scores. Asians are being penalized for being Asian.

Just as latino students are "favored" over whites with better scores, and (at the top of the SAT range in the graph) black students are "favored" over latinos.

You can't win here. Colleges admissions desire a diverse mix of students. Identifiable ethnicities have different median qualifications. So someone has to lose in that tradeoff.

The point upthread was simply that usually when you see this argument made it's a complaint that whites are being "penalized". This time it's asians. But despite being a novel spin, it's still the same story.

"Colleges admissions desire a diverse mix of students."

They could try looking for actual diversity, then, instead of just an aesthetically pleasing mixture of superficial skin colors. Accepting 100 multiracial kids who all attended the same boarding schools is going to be way less diverse than a selection of 100 kids from different levels of income. Actually, I believe income quite dominates race in terms of predicting academic success these days--the interracial achievement gap looks quite small by comparison. (As well it should, in a country currently headed by a black president.)

That does nothing. You just swap out "my" arbitrary definition of "diversity" for your equally arbitrary one. Any definition that doesn't have a 1:1 frequency map with "objective stuff we otherwise use for admissions qualification" is subject to the same thing. And of course those objective measure are themselves subject to debate and (gasp) subjectivity.

There's no winning here. Don't fool yourself into thinking you know the right way to do education selection, and stop sneering at all the people who want different things than you do.

Yes, a white kid from a $500,000/year household clearly has SO much more in common with a white kid from a $20,000 a year household than he does with his black classmate who also lives in a $500,000/year household.

Race based discrimination supporters love to pretend that race is everything when it means less now than it has in the entirety of US history. You can throw yourself in with the "gravity is a social construct" people if you want, but at least there's hard data to back up my beliefs, instead of just collectivist guilt that punishes truly disadvantaged people for the crime of being born with the wrong skin color for that particular decade.

> Race based discrimination supporters ...

Go away.

If calling it what it is makes you feel uncomfortable, you should probably think about why that is.

The right way to do "education selection" is to pick the best students from your applicant pool. I don't see what would be wrong with that method.

If that is the case, then why do Asians underperformed compared to Whites? If affirmative action is meant to help underrepresented groups, shouldn't the overrepresented group be the one "taking the hit"?

Over represented by what metric?

Asians underperform? Please explain.

Asians are the overrepresented group.

Overrepresented? Is the Asian to non-Asian ratio is higher fir college students than for qualified applicants to those colleges?

You'd have to define "qualified" first to answer that question... but anyway, that's not what overrepresented means.

What does it mean then?

There is a higher proportion of X in Y than there is of X in the total population.

That's like saying children of age 6 are overrepresented in kindergarten, because there is a higher proportion of kids of age 6 in kindergarten than in the total population!

The "natural" (equally-represented) proportion isn't that in the total population, it's the proportion in the population of interest, which in this case is the set of qualified applicants.

The meaning of words does depend on context of course. Regardless, rest assured that when you hear someone say "overrepresented" and they are talking about higher education, they are using the definition I gave you above.

Well then the word is quite uninteresting and meaningless.

The novel thing is that non-white students are being negatively affected.

Well, if minorities are being positively affected, then majorities (in this case, Asians + whites) must be negatively affected.

How is that novel? The effect is the same as ever, whoever is part of the majority takes the hit.

If white and Asian students are the majority, they should be selected against based on their proportion of that majority. I believe some are suggesting that Asian students are being unduly discriminated against when compared to white students.

You don't get it - the parent's point is that your argument doesn't explain why Asians take a much bigger hit than whites.

"Asian applicants have 67% lower odds of admission than white applicants with comparable test scores."

In the Myth of American Meritocracy[1] Ron Unz shows that non-Jewish white students face 5x as much discrimination as Asian students in comparison with their proportion of the general population, and 2x as much when compared with their proportion of national merit scholars.

I don't think it matters to anyone, though, because they're white kids.


Although this article is interesting and worth a read, it is very difficult to verify that your source backs your claim. It is unclear whether the reader is supposed to perform some calculations upon some figures in the source material to arrive at your claims or whether, by exhaustively searching many different paraphrasings of your claims, one could eventually find the same claims made in the source.

Sorry, commenting on the go. non-jewish white % in ivy league is about 30%, in general pop it is about 65% for a ratio of about 0.5x. asian % in ivy league is about 15% and general pop about 5% for a ratio of 3.0x.

Asian ivy league pop % / merit scholar % given by Unz is about 70%. Same for non-jewish whites is about 35%

Asians are getting the short end of the stick, but non-jewish white kids are getting it worse.

how do they statistically account for 'non-jewish white?' - is there a box on the admissions paper asking how many Jewish grandparents you have or something?

I mean, I've seen forms asking for my race, but I've never seen one asking if I considered myself Jewish. (and it seems, well, pretty slippery, as nearly all the people I know who identify as Jewish also identify as "White (non hispanic)" - And I've seen several studies saying that without cultural context, even experts can't tell Jewish faces from non-Jewsh faces from similar parts of the world.)

Seems to me like there are a lot of people who could identify one way or the other, who will answer the question differently, depending on how they think you want the question answered.

What's the Asian to White ratio of qualified college applicants? i.e. are there more Whites or Asians who would be accepted based on factors other than their race?

If it's > 1, then obviously Asians will take a bigger hit, since they're the majority, that's the whole point of my comment.

If it's <= 1 though then yes, the situation is very interesting indeed.

That ratio cannot possibly be > 1 considering that there are more White students than Asian students at these colleges.

Wait, what? I asked about candidates who would be accepted, you're talking about candidates who are accepted. When the whole question is about discrimination in the admissions process, you can't just assume those two are similar quantities without backing it up.

Consider the following true statement:

IF there were more qualified Asian applicants than qualified White applicants (ratio > 1) _and_ admissions was not racially biased, THEN there should be more Asians than Whites in the student body.

We know that there are more Whites than Asians in the student body of these colleges, so look at the contrapositive:

IF there are more Whites than Asians in the student body, THEN there more qualified White applicants (ratio <= 1) _or_ admissions was racially biased.

I don't get it. If you agree with me that admissions could be racially biased, then what makes you think "That ratio cannot possibly be > 1"?

I meant racially biased against Asians.

Look carefully at the logic statement I wrote - it means that one of two things must be true:

1. There exists racial bias specifically against Asians in admissions. 2. Qualified White applicants outnumber qualified Asian applicants.

If you concede (1), then your point that Asians get treated more harshly because they're majority is moot. If you concede (2), then, as you said, your argument doesn't work since "ratio < 1".

I don't know how to make this more clear than by using propositional logic.

I'm sorry, I'm just not understanding how my point is moot.

Maybe it's just because I'm running low on sleep, but consider this scenario:

1. Qualified Asian applicants outnumber qualified White applicants.

2. A higher percentage of qualified White applicants are admitted than that of qualified Asian applicants.

3. There are more Whites than Asians in the admitted student body.

Can you tell me which sentence of mine this scenario runs counter to, or which logical impossibility you think it results in?

Your second statement shouldn't be true unless Whites and Asians are treated differently in admissions.

Yeah exactly, that's the entire point. Asian DO seem to be be treated differently, that's the premise of the entire discussion. How is that surprising? What's so impossible about that possibility?

That's neither a sentence of mine, nor a logical impossibility. It's a perfectly valid, logically sound scenario, but for some reason you think it's a logically impossible scenario.

Just because you think it's false doesn't make it logically impossible! And here I was arguing with propositional logic as if I'd claimed 2+2=5.

Are you trolling?

Your original premise was that the article was unsurprising since _someone_ (Asians and Whites) must bear the downside of pro-minority AA:

> Well, if minorities are being positively affected, then majorities (in this case, Asians + whites) must be negatively affected. > How is that novel? The effect is the same as ever, whoever is part of the majority takes the hit.

Then, asdfologist clearly points out that the interesting part is that Asians, a "minority", get affected worse than Whites (a majority):

> You don't get it - the parent's point is that your argument doesn't explain why Asians take a much bigger hit than whites.

You then claim that this could because Asians are actually the majority of qualified candidates (the whole ratio > or <= 1 thing), which I admit was an unconventional but valid challenge of assumptions:

> What's the Asian to White ratio of qualified college applicants? i.e. are there more Whites or Asians who would be accepted based on factors other than their race?

So then I point out the logical issue with your argument there, which I guess you had some trouble understanding.

But now you say that Asians do, in fact, get treated differently than Whites in admissions, so I guess we actually do agree that there probably exists some racial bias against Asians vis-a-vis Whites in elite college admissions. Cheers?

I'm not trolling, I hope you're not either.

> But now you say that Asians do, in fact, get treated differently than Whites in admissions

> logical issue with your argument there, which I guess you had some trouble understanding.


What I'm not understanding is, when did I ever claim or imply that that is not true? When did I ever claim Asians are treated the same as whites? There was no inconsistency in my logic as far as I can see, I think you just made too many assumptions.

> Cheers?



> Asians comprise < 5% of the US population, so the first option strikes me as highly unlikely.

It doesn't strike me as highly unlikely. Asians tend to have much higher education levels than Whites: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0229.p...

The unofficial ethic is that minority students must be treated fairly or have a bias in their favor. This is the first time that a minority group is negatively effected by racial preference policies, so it is newsworthy.

This unusual event happens because Asians are an outperforming minority. Most minorities suffer from the "cultural bias" of the education system and do worse than whites. But Asians just seem to kick ass regardless.

Affirmative action was designed to come at the expense of majority students only. Now that minority students are negatively affected, we have to rethink the justice of it.

This is the first time that a minority group is negatively effected by racial preference policies, so it is newsworthy.

You must not be in the US. The history of the US has been policies against minorities. It's only been since the early 60s has there been policies that favored minorities. And even then it has pretty much been relegated to schools (and most just undergrad college) -- it's never been very effective in the workplace. And affirmative action has been pretty much dead for the past decade.

> affirmative action has been pretty much dead for the past decade.

According to the article, being black is like getting 450 extra points on your SAT compared to an Asian student. I don't think AA is as dead as you think it is.

If I thought the SAT was a useful metric you might be on to something. I used to be an SAT coach (back when the top score was 1600) and I could typically raise someone scoring between 1000 to 1300 by 200 points in 6 weeks.

IMO it's just not a useful test, and I suspect the Harvard admin committee knows so as well.

That said, it can be used as something to see how much work people are willing to do. In which case I think the delta over their HS peers is more useful than anything else. A 1500 at Andover would be a lot less impressive than a 1300 at Crenshaw.

In reality it is simply not possible to create such gains on average. SAT score is still a very good predictor of future academic performance.

"Does test preparation help improve student performance on the SAT and ACT? For students that have taken the test before and would like to boost their scores, coaching seems to help, but by a rather small amount. After controlling for group differences, the average coaching boost on the math section of the SAT is 14 to 15 points. The boost is smaller on the verbal section of the test, just 6 to 8 points. The combined effect of coaching on the SAT for the NELS sample is about 20 points."


The SAT is highly g-loaded, and highly correlated with all other measures of intelligence. 450 points on the SAT is a big deal, very significant, especially when dealing with large populations.

For a large population I'd agree that it is significant, because a large population doesn't prep for the SAT. For Ivy class schools I think it's counter intuitively not that big of a deal if one portion of the population hasn't prepped.

Furthermore the data isn't really believable (remember the article used pretty much made up data). Data from actual schools disputes that. For example:

"Harvard's Asian Americans in the Class of 1995 have average SAT scores of 1450, Blacks averaged scores of 1290, whites scored 1400 and Hispanics averaged 1310, the report states. "

"Asian-American students who enrolled at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina in 2001 and 2002 scored 1457 out of 1600 on the math and reading portion of the SAT, compared to 1416 for whites, 1347 for Hispanics and 1275 for blacks, according to a 2011 study co-authored by Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono."

"Asian-Americans admitted to the University of Wisconsin’s flagship Madison campus in 2008 had a median math and reading SAT score of 1370 out of 1600, compared to 1340 for whites, 1250 for Hispanics, and 1190 for blacks, according to a 2011 study by the Center for Equal Opportunity"

And I suspect if you control for recommendations, geographic, and socio-economic diversity the gaps would shrink, not grow.

It's pretty clear the point is not that discrimination against Asians is a secret. The point the author is making is that this kind of discrimination is wrong.

Being an Asian American that fits the model minority stereotype, I already expressed my thoughts on Quora, specifically on affirmative action and racism which you can read here: http://qr.ae/TEVfO

It's fairly obvious to me that colleges do discriminate against Asians, and that this reverse racism does need to stop whether it's intentional or not.

Everyone here talks about how Asians are like this or like that... the reality is that Asians are a pretty diverse group of people, and while you do have your nerdy, book worm types, you also have Asians who were captains of their basketball team or who played football or another major sport. Most people who are at the top of their class are extremely gifted in more ways than one and good parenting isn't the only factor that gets them there. I have cousins who have 'tiger-mom' parents but their grades are still suffering. We need to stop generalizing everyone into the same buckets, that's part of the problem.

I'm all for diversity, I would love to see colleges adopt a race blind admission process and focus on all the criteria that they value and see what happens. I almost guarantee that we will see the Asian acceptance rates rise even with the focus on "diversity". Right now, it seems like it's straight forward discrimination at play that is guised as diversity seeking... since by diversity, what they're really saying is that we want less Asians in our top schools.

I don't disagree with you, but I'm curious how you explain the test performance disparity across races. If you look at the top public high school, TJ, blacks/hispanics compose 4% of the class at 25% of the population while asians make up 60% of the class at 5% of the population. Is it because asians are that much more naturally gifted?

I realize with regard to affirmative action that race is a poor proxy for socioeconomic status, but it is statistically practical with regard to cultural values. You mentioned "I went to an Ivy League school, I fit the Asian model minority stereotype pretty well." How much did your parents influence your priorities in weighing education?

One of the issues seems to be that colleges are attempting to address institutionalized racism too late in students' lives.

If a child grows us with a crummy culture with regards to education, has he experienced "institutionalized racism"?

I feel like the english language is being rapidly perverted.

Well black kids were first let into white schools in 1960. That's 50 years ago. You don't think that exclusion shaped cultural views toward education?

" Is it because asians are that much more naturally gifted?"

Why not?

There is no such thing as reverse racism. It is just racism.

> "by diversity, what they're really saying is that we want less Asians in our top schools."

Actually, it means they want fewer whites and Asians.

Yes, the term commonly used is NAM (non-Asian minority).

As you correctly point out, AA typically privileges NAMs at the expense of Whites and Asians.

So much tiptoeing. The answer is 'yes.' They do.

I had a tougher high school course load, a better GPA, significantly higher SAT I and SAT II scores, and comparable extracirriculars to everyone in my class who got accepted to elite university X.

Thing is, I'm Asian, and they were all more coveted minorities.

The good news is, your university does not determine your future. You do. Once class is out and you're in the real world, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is PRODUCING VALUE.

What's interesting to me is that elite colleges are doing this under the pretense that qualifications other than SAT and grades, like life experiences, character, community involvement, etc, matter greatly, but statistics suggest that Asians without the scores and the grades are even more out of luck when it comes to the top schools.

Admissions officers are not some kind of mind reading wizards who are able to churn through thousands of applications and figure out who are amazing people despite bad test scores and grades and who are frauds despite high test scores and grades, merely based on short descriptions of what they did outside of classes. They are underpaid paper pushers forced to judge people who are likely smarter than they are, with very little information. There are two main reasons for the holistic evaluation. One, to give themselves plausible deniability when they need to tweak the student body to fit institutional purposes. Two, to introduce sufficient randomness into the process to reduce the incentive to game the process.

The truth is that top private schools are in the business of soliciting donations from wealthy donors and selling an image of prestig while avoiding major controversies. Having a heavily Asian-dominated student body doesn't serve any of those goals. They are politically weak, not a threat to organize and are seen as foreign by a large portion of the population.

> “Harvard College welcomes talented students from all backgrounds, including Asian-Americans… The admissions committee does not use quotas of any kind.”

Yes, because using quotas would be illegal.

But I don't understand how "does not use quotas" translates into equal treatment.

Wasn't the whole point of the UC v. Bakke case to say that quotas are illegal, but race is still a legitimate factor to consider in admission? This sentence means nothing.

Is there any functional difference between a system that considers race and a system of racial quotas? As far as I can tell, the difference is that one of them will have a very slight random deviation from the other.

It is simple to construct a non-quota admissions system from a desired set of quotas (though one would probably do well not to write down the desired set of quotas). Each year one could adjust the bonus/penalty assigned to each race to target admissions levels at the hidden quotas. Conversely, given a set of per-race bonuses and penalties and admissions data for a particular year, one could calculate what (non-quota) admissions level was most targeted by the set of bonuses and penalties.

Edit: It is perhaps even more troublesome to hear "There is no formula for admission. We look at the academics, leadership, activities and references about the applicant's character." If a school explicitly states that it is not looking for anything in particular in its candidates, it would be very difficult for any investigation to find that it is turning away qualified candidates on the basis of race.

>But I don't understand how "does not use quotas" translates into equal treatment.

You don't understand it because it doesn't translate into equal treatment. "Diversity" is a legal dodge they use to keep out Asians and whites and accept less qualified people of other races. It's a de facto quota system that would never survive a court challenge if you rearranged the races a bit.

>"Diversity" is a legal dodge they use to keep out Asians and whites and accept less qualified people of other races.

The problem with this reasoning is that it presumes that GPA + test scores is the definition of merit. These schools say this isn't the case. They want the stand-outs. If you are a part of a group that all has perfect GPA/SATs, then that simply isn't enough anymore. Cluster analysis is a valid technique to identify outliers.

> The problem with this reasoning is that it presumes that GPA + test scores is the definition of merit.

So let me get this straight: GPA + test scores don't show merit, but race does?

> These schools say this isn't the case. They want the stand-outs.

So let's accept less qualified people just because they're doing better than even the lesser-qualfied people of the same race, even though there are perfect candidates we could be choosing instead?

I think you (like many Americans) are completely misunderstanding the point of affirmative action.

It has nothing to do with "encouraging diversity" or anything like that. It's trying to right a historical wrong, discrimination against certain groups based on race. "Diversity" is just a nice word to use to appeal to emotion so they just use that, but it's irrelevant to the purpose of affirmative action.

Race is a proxy for all sorts of cultural differences, hardships, experiences, etc. Being an outlier of your group with similar cultural disadvantages is an indication of leadership. I read an article recently about the origin of extracurriculars in the college admissions process. Basically they turned from defining the system on a GPA/SAT basis to one that tried to predict future leaders. The college that lead in this change, Harvard, is now the most prestigious university in the world. It was precisely because they stopped defining "merit" based on just test scores that it is what it is today.

The point is, it has been a long time since merit was GPA/SAT scores for top-tier college admissions. The criteria changes frequently as kids pattern their lives after what they assume the current criteria is. If you are one of a million (Asian) kids with perfect GPA and SAT scores, well, you're likely not going to get in. You are not owed a spot in any sense.

> If you are one of a million (Asian) kids with perfect GPA and SAT scores, well, you're likely not going to get in. You are not owed a spot in any sense.

You're owed exactly as much of a spot as anyone with the same qualifications as you, which is exactly equal to that of a Black or White kid with the same qualifications.

You're still defining "qualifications" and GPA and SAT scores. This is a bias on your part that is no longer appropriate at the elite universities. These schools are not selecting for the smartest or the most studious. They are selecting future leaders. GPA and SAT scores are not in and of themselves good correlations to what they are looking for. You really need to accept this, or at least formulate an argument as to why this is inherently unfair. But your assumption is plainly wrong.

You can define qualification to be leadership skills or whatever else you want, I'm not claiming they're just looking for good test scores. I'm just saying that race isn't a qualification.

But race combined with other factors can be a predictor of leadership skills, which is the only thing that really matters. Talk of qualifications and merit are muddying the issue. The question is about probability that this person will obtain significant power in the future, and thus increase the brand of the university they came from. Race is a legitimate factor in such a discussion. It's up to those who don't like it to prove that its inherently wrong to consider race in their calculation.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the fact that colleges always say they're looking for "diversity" is a blunt admission that they're their reason for looking at race is "diversity" (a.k.a. affirmative action), not to determine leadership skill.

Even if that's a goal, it doesn't seem to be the main one. Frankly, I've never heard a college admissions official say they look at race to determine leadership skills, even if they really do do that.

If they do that, then it's fine for them to do so, but that just doesn't seem to be the issue here. And to the best of my knowledge, it didn't seem to be the issue in the Bakke case either, which nevertheless got the Supreme Court's nod toward promoting "diversity".

>Correct me if I'm wrong, but the fact that colleges always say they're looking for "diversity" is a blunt admission that they're their reason for looking at race is "diversity" (a.k.a. affirmative action), not to determine leadership skill.

It can certainly be read this way, but it's not obvious that this is so. Diversity creates an atmosphere that will most likely mirror the world in which these future leaders will be required to navigate. That in itself is enough of a justification for diversity, assuming their goal is to educate future leaders. Also, there is the fact that leaders of ethnic groups tend to be of that ethnic group, so maximizing some proportion of diversity is increasing that schools chance of educating a future leader.

> educate future leaders

Er, you changed the subject from determining which future leaders are accepted into college to educating future leaders after they've been accepted.

That's a whole another discussion which I wasn't intending to get into. All I will say is that the status quo seems to point toward the use of race as a way to fulfill affirmative action requirements, not as a means for determining aptitude.

"Educating future leaders" and "determining who are future leaders so that we can be the ones to educate them" are expressing the same exact sentiment. To be fair, I understand how it can be read in the way you implied.

>> The problem with this reasoning is that it presumes that GPA + test scores is the definition of merit. >So let me get this straight: GPA + test scores don't show merit, but race does?

I think he's implying that cultural differences could be coming into play that skew the curve while looking like racial discrimination. Just like Academic scores differ between races, I'm sure Athletic honors differ between races as well, as well as Club honors, and Arts (band/choir/etc) Honors, and so on.

If you want to argue that Academic merit is all students should be judged on when colleges are considering applications, that is a separate argument, but GP is probably just saying that GPA + test scores doesn't singlehandedly define "merit" to a college because things like community service and athletics and student council and... and... and... all altogether factor into the cumultive merit of any given applicant in addition to GPA and whatnot.

> It's trying to right a historical wrong, discrimination against certain groups based on race.

It's been almost sixty years since discrimination based on race (or sex) was legal. It's time to let affirmative action die.

I wasn't taking a stance toward affirmative action, so... okay, I guess.

I think you just confirmed my point.

Would quotas be illegal for a private university?

I don't think this has ever been challenged in court, so technically I guess we don't know.

But "In the 30 years since this ruling, public and private universities have crafted affirmative action programs consistent with Bakke's requirements" [1], so I assume it probably would be, otherwise they wouldn't go through the trouble.

1. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_regents...

Even for completely private businesses that receive 0 public funding, there is stringent anti-discrimination laws already.

There is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but that only applies to employment. It doesn't apply to something like students. Most universities are covered by Title VI, which applies to students at institutions that receive federal funding, but theoretically, they could avoid all federal funding, including federal grants and loans for their students, and then they would be allowed to discriminate based on race.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race to programs receiving government money.

Even were a given university to forgo all government money, it would lose it's tax exempt status if it discriminated on the basis of race (see Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983)).

So as a practical matter -- yes.

They accept government funds and grants so I think that the government can force them to do almost anything.

That's not true. They couldn't, for example, demand editorial constraints on the Harvard Crimson. Private organizations don't give up their rights, including their right to free association, just by accepting government dollars.

No, but the government could attach strings to the money. Now, freedom of speech is well understood and well protected, so it would probably be difficult for the government to gag the Crimson this way, but it's not hard to see how certain "equal opportunity" or "diversity" requirements for admissions could find its way in.

You misunderstood what the parent was saying.

By "force them to do X" he meant the government can refuse to fund them if they didn't do X (which forces them to abide by the government's rules if they are accepting its funds), not that the government can legally mandate them to do X unconditionally.

Conditions placed on the recipients of government expenditures are not unrestrained by Constitutional limitations. Witness the Supreme Court throwing out some of the strings attached to ACA's Medicaid expansion.

You are going on tangent after tangent as if to prove something. No one said that "unrestrained by Constitutional limitations" are ok.

Suppose you have the right to exclude Blacks or Asians from your college (freedom of speech, associations or whatever)

Once you take even a penny of federal dollars, directly or indirectly, you may have to agree not to discriminate. So YOU give up that right voluntarily. No one forces you to take the government's money.

see Rumsfeld v. FAIR: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumsfeld_v._Forum_for_Academic_....

Those government dollars most certainly can be conditioned on associating with certain people (military recruiters, in that case).

You picked one narrow thing that no one even suggested. No one even hinted that the government would tell the Crimson not to criticize, say, Obama but that's the route you went.

Now more on topic, the being able to discriminate as a private uni one:


Q: Why doesn’t Hillsdale accept any federal or state taxpayer subsidies? A: In 1975, the federal government said that Hillsdale had to sign a form stating that we did not discriminate on the basis of sex. Hillsdale College had never discriminated on any basis, and had never accepted federal taxpayer subsidies of any sort, so the College felt no obligation to comply, fearing that doing so would open the door to additional federal mandates and control. Our trustees pledged two things: first, that the College would continue its long-standing policy of non-discrimination, and second, that it would not accept any encroachments on its independence. The case went to court, and Hillsdale College won a partial victory, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals did rule that Hillsdale College was an “indirect recipient” of federal funding because of participation in federal grant and loan programs. In 1984, Grove City College in Pennsylvania fought and lost a similar legal battle. The case then went to the Supreme Court, and in Grove City v. Bell, it was determined that if even one student received a federal grant or loan, it made that institution a direct recipient of federal funds. To avoid the hassles of government control, Hillsdale College announced its decision to end participation in all federal financial aid programs in 1985. In 2007, Hillsdale announced that it would no longer accept State of Michigan taxpayer subsidies earmarked for student financial aid, thereby making the College completely independent of taxpayer support.

Basically once you take their money you agree to their strings.

With no limiting principle?

As far as I know, the only federal mandates they have to accept are the ones in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. These basically just forbid discrimination based on race or sex.

Hang on, I am going to ignore the topic at hand and spend the next 4-5 weeks to discuss every possible constitutional /anti-constitutional scenario just to please you.

sorry for the sarcasm but he keeps going

I'm not the one who insisted taking a "penny" meant "the government can force them to do almost anything."

This is an absurd principle, and you've offered little but snark to defend it.

You take advantage of government largess every time you drive on a Federal highway. That doesn't mean the government can make your travel on that highway contingent upon giving up completely unrelated rights.

If this kind of practise were done against Blacks, Aboriginals, LGBT or women instead of Asians, would you still say it was ok? Instead of universities, if it were some restaurants in your neighborhood practicing policy akin to this, would you still say it was ok?

I never said it was okay (or for that matter, not okay) against Asians to begin with. I was just stating the facts behind the Bakke case, not attempting to take a stance.

It is wrong to discriminate against any non-white racial group.

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