Do enrollment data really show a cap quota against Asians at Harvard? Maybe not. | #IAmNotYourWedge

Photo credit: NY Times
Photo credit: NY Times
There is an extremely popular New York Times infographic that Asian American opponents of affirmative action often share to suggest that elite Ivy League universities have implemented a cap quota on Asian American enrollees. In a nutshell, the infographic (shown above) illustrates that the enrollment of Asian American students at Harvard and other Ivies has fluctuated at around 16-20% for the last twenty years, while enrollment at Caltech has increased since 2000. An overlay of the growth in Asian Americans aged 18-21 suggests that Caltech’s admissions is keeping pace with the growth in the Asian American population, whereas Asian American enrollment at East Coast Ivies are being unnaturally depressed. This is the work of affirmative action, suggests the infographic.

The associated New York Times opinion piece (“Statistics Indicate an Ivy League Asian Quota“, penned by uber-conservative anti-affirmative action lobbyist Ron Unz) makes the same argument more explicitly.

To Unz’s credit, this infographic is superficially compelling. I’ve been writing in detail about affirmative action for the last year or more, and even I never really questioned these data. I just sort of accepted this graph, if not its larger conclusions.

That is, until today, when I sat down and asked myself whether or not Unz’s assertions really made sense mathematically? And y’know what, guys — turns out that everything we thought we knew about this infographic is wrong!

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#IAmNotYourWedge: Lawsuits against Harvard & UNC assert anti-Asian discrimination in admissions

Edward Blum, the mastermind behind Monday’s newest anti-affirmative action lawsuits, claims his latest campaign was not intended to target and exploit Asian Americans. His Harvard-focused website begs to differ.

On Monday, a newly formed group called Students for Fair Admissions which was created by Edward Blum — a Republican on a one-man mission to end affirmative action in university admissions, and the man behind the Fisher case — filed two new lawsuits against two of the nation’s elite universities. The lawsuits come after over a year of Edward Blum canvassing for “just the right Asian”: rejected applicants to Harvard, Univeristy of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC) and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Blum was looking for Asian Americans willing to become the new Abigail Fisher: someone willing to be exploited as the next public face of the affirmative action debate. The screen-caps in this post are from those microsites and make clear Blum’s racialized intent in making that new face an Asian American one.

Blum’s lawsuits, filed on behalf of an Asian and a White plaintiff respectively, assert that Harvard and the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill employ discriminatory admissions practices in their affirmative action policies; in contrast to the Fisher case, these two suits argue that affirmative action policies constitute discrimination against both Asian American and White applicants.

The suit against Harvard University involves an Asian American applicant who presumably filled out the form above. The suit describes the applicant as having scored highly in GPA and standardized test scores, but was denied admission to Harvard. The suit then alleges that the reason for the student’s failure to receive admittance was because Harvard treats race as “a defining feature of [an] application”, which is not permitted under Supreme Court rulings.

Yet, the evidence for this assertion appears scant.

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