I can’t believe we’re dealing with this again.
Less than a year after the Department of Education dismissed a frivolous administrative complaint filed by the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) against Harvard University, the AACE has now announced it will file a nearly identical administrative complaint against Yale University, Brown University and Dartmouth College. In their complaint against Harvard, AACE alleged — absent any significant evidence — that race-conscious affirmative action discriminates against Asian American applicants.
This work bolsters efforts by conservative partisan and lobbyist Edward Blum, who has made a career out of opposing civil rights measures for people of colour. Blum is best known as the architect of the Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court cases, which is the Right’s latest campaign to invalidate affirmative action in higher education. Outside of his interest in ending race-conscious affirmative action, Blum has backed numerous Supreme Court cases to reverse portions of the Voting Rights Act and to silence voters of colour. In the recently defeated Evenwel v. Abbott Supreme Court case, Blum and his fellow litigators argued that districts should be drawn so as to disenfranchise thousands of non-voting citizens, who are predominantly young people and people of colour. (AAAJ-AAJC talks about how Evenwel v. Abbott would have resulted in the disenfranchisement of numerous AAPIs).
Edward Blum is clearly no ally of the AAPI community. So, one must wonder why some Asian Americans would support his causes.
Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for over an hour with regards to Fisher II, the second hearing of the anti-affirmative action case that centers around the plight of Abigail Fisher, a White woman who applied for admission to the University of Texas in 2008, and was rejected. (Incidentally, I am a co-signer of an amicus brief submitted to the Court in Fisher II in support of race-conscious affirmative action.)
The University of Texas employs a so-called “Top Ten Percent Plan”, wherein the school automatically admits students from each of the state’s high schools who score within the top ten percent of their graduating class. The remainder of available slots are filled through a holistic review process that includes race as one of several characteristics used to assess applicants. Fisher — whose high school grades were insufficient to yield her automatic acceptance to the University of Texas — contends that she was rejected under holistic review because she is White and therefore that the University of Texas violated her 14th Amendment rights. However, independent review of her application and the characteristics of other applicants in 2008 demonstrate that Fisher’s application package was weak in comparison to others in her year, and that her rejection likely had nothing to do with the colour of her skin.
In a completely unsurprising turn of events, the Department of Education yesterday dismissed an administrative complaint filed in May against Harvard University by 60+ Asian American anti-affirmative action activists. The complaint alleged that Harvard University discriminates against Asian American applicants in their race-conscious affirmative action admissions policies but little information was provided to bolster these claims.
The Department of Education announced yesterday that the complaint was rejected because it was too similar in content to a pending federal lawsuit, which had been filed late last year by conservative anti-affirmative action lobbyist Edward Blum.
Since the publication in 2009 of his influential study (with co-author Alexandria Walton Radford) on admission patterns in the country’s elite private universities (“No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal”), Princeton researcher Thomas J. Espenshade’s data have been an oft-cited resource for the anti-affirmative action Right. In his study, Espenshade compiled GPA and SAT test scores for selective private institutions of higher education, and compared them to admission rates by race. He reported that Asian American applicants appeared to be admitted at a lower rate than White, Black or Latino peers with comparable quantitative scores. He then extrapolated that into SAT scores, concluding that a hypothetical Asian American student would require a theoretical extra 140 points on the SAT score to achieve the same probability of admission as a White peer, and a theoretical extra 450 SAT points to achieve the same probability of admission as a Black peer.
This finding has found its way into scores of anti-affirmative action articles, amicus briefs, lawsuits, and civil rights complaints. Most recently, it was cited as major evidence of anti-Asian bias during college admissions in the lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admissions against UNC and Harvard by lobbyist Edward Blum. Espenshade also features prominently in the administrative complaint filed to the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Justice by 60 mostly Chinese American groups last Friday against Harvard University.
Espenshade’s work is meticulous and appears to show some sort of disadvantage for Asian American applicants to certain selective private universities; but too often, it has also been overinterpreted, misinterpreted, and misreported. Espenshade’s work is not a direct reporting of SAT score disparities at the nation’s select universities. Asian American enrollees are not actually required to score 450 more SAT points than Black enrollees: at Harvard, the gap between average Black and Asian SAT scores is a mere 190 points on a 2400 point scale.
Furthermore, Espenshade’s findings may not be applicable to public universities, which are far less selective than private institutions. It is not clear that Espenshade considered other factors that will influence selectivity, including for example nation of origin. Correlation is not causation.
But finally, and most importantly, Espenshade’s data deliberately over-simplifies the college admissions process by excluding most of the criteria upon which admissions officers base admissions decisions. By considering only applicant GPA and SAT score, Espenshade necessarily places total (and determinative) weight on these two quantifiable metrics alone, and assumes that the over 900 other factors that admissions officers consider under holistic review are simply unimportant.
Today, a group of between 40 and 50 Asian American organizations will hold two coordinated press conferences in Washington DC and in California to announce the filing of an administrative complaint to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and to the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Justice, alleging that Harvard University’s admission policies discriminates against Asian American applicants.
In response, a coalition of over 135 Asian American, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander organizations — as well as hundreds of concerned AANHPI individuals — issued an open letter expressing support for affirmative action policies in higher education and launched the website AsianAmericanCivilRights.org. That letter reads in part:
Today, the two U.S. Civil Rights Commissioners on the US Commission on Civil Rights who are Asian American — Michael Yaki and Karen Narasaki — issued their own statement on today’s scheduled announcement of a formal civil rights complaint against Harvard.
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!