Harvard University, racing ahead of America to its demographic future, admits, for the first time in its history, a majority-minority class. Some minority groups cheer the means by which Harvard achieved this louder than others.
A group of Asians filed suit, in litigation described this week by the New York Times as “clearly aimed for the Supreme Court,” against Harvard several years back for discriminating against them in admissions policies. The ongoing litigation exposes uncomfortable truths about diversity that puts it in the category of sausage and laws.
Asians amount to 5.6 percent of the U.S. population but 22.2 percent of Harvard University’s incoming freshman class. For bean-counting simpletons who imagine fairness as a sort of proportional symmetry, the numbers indicate anything but discrimination against Asians. How could such an overrepresented group cry foul?
The New York Times piece points to a so-called “Asian tax” that suggests that members of the group need to score 140 points higher than the average accepted white student on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to gain admission to Harvard. So as not to offend the gods of political correctness, the newspaper of record does not record the disparities between Asians and blacks or Hispanics. But given that blacks score an average of 100 fewer points per section than whites on the SAT, and Hispanics fall short of whites by a smaller albeit large amount as well, it’s safe to assume that Asians must outscore other minority groups by hundreds of points on the SAT to enjoy an equal shot at Ivy League admission.
The discrimination against Asians recalls similar admissions-office social-engineering attempts that harmed Jews a century ago at Ivy League schools. Few now argue that the Ivy League treated Jews fairly because they admitted them in proportions greater than their proportion of the general population. The salient point remains that schools such as Harvard capped their numbers by whim. Those who crusade against the discrimination of our forebears often forbear the discrimination in front of them.
When a finite number of spots — for a job, for admission, for a grant — exist, helping one group always comes at the expense of hurting another group. And when the less qualified beats out the more qualified, the entire group — all of us — get hurt in some sense. (Who wants an affirmative action surgeon, pilot, or defense lawyer?) Beyond this, thinking that sees only groups and not people misses something important. Harvard does not admit groups. It admits students.
Why should an individual receive punishment or privilege based on the performance of others who share superficial characteristics?
The benefits of affirmative action, like so many social programs, go in no small part to its engineers, who too intently watched Webster, Diff’rent Strokes, Dangerous Minds, and other pop-culture offerings that lionize whites who take on minorities as mascots. The sought-after Henry Higgins-Eliza Doolittle dynamic ultimately fails, as anyone — no matter the preference given — admitted by Harvard resided at the right end of the bell curve long before stepping foot in Cambridge. Harvard’s affirmative action beneficiaries exclude C-student ghetto denizens and generally privilege already economically privileged blacks and Hispanics. But the percentage breakdowns look good on paper and make for a United-Colors-of-Benneton vibe in school brochures. They validate the virtue of the gatekeepers.
The doppelganger of self-righteousness, hypocrisy, predictably hangs out in Harvard Square, too. Earlier this summer, a faculty committee recommended the abolition of single-sex campus clubs. But the institution, which only went co-ed 40 years ago, continues to regularly exclude and include from its club based on sex, race, and other characteristics unrelated to merit.
Harvard takes public money. Its single-sex clubs remain completely private. In what alternative universe does the discrimination of the former get a pass and the discrimination of latter result in the death penalty? Cambridge.
You can always tell a Harvard man. But you can’t tell him much.