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Higher Education Watch
Dept. of Ed.: Princeton Does Not Discriminate Against Asians

In a decision that highlights the growing number of stakeholders in ongoing debates about affirmative action in college admissions, the U.S. Department of Education has rejected Asian American students’ claims that Princeton University illegally discriminated against them in the application process. Inside Higher Education reports on the decision, which Princeton announced yesterday:

Rejected Asian applicants and some Asian-American groups have had high hopes that the investigation would find bias. They have pointed to the very high academic qualifications of Asian-American applicants who are rejected, even as some applicants from other backgrounds and seemingly lesser credentials have been admitted.

Those who complained to OCR, for example, pointed to research by two Princeton scholars, published in Social Science Quarterly, that looked at admissions decisions at elite colleges. The scholars found that without affirmative action, the acceptance rate for African-American candidates would be likely to fall by nearly two-thirds, from 33.7 percent to 12.2 percent, while the acceptance rate for Hispanic applicants probably would be cut in half, from 26.8 percent to 12.9 percent.

The investigators from the Department’s Office of Civil Rights did not address these or any other studies in the 20-page decision, instead focusing narrowly on whether Asians were subject to an explicit quota, and whether students were “sorted, read, or processed according to the race of the applicant.” Based on OCR’s reasoning, it appears that a university wouldn’t be punished for taking race into account so long as it can show that it “engaged in a holistic review process that considered each applicant as an individual.” In other words, universities do not run afoul of Supreme Court precedent if they penalize Asians in their admissions processes, so long as they do so in the context of a “holistic process” that takes many factors into account, rather than segregating all Asian applicants into their own pile and disadvantaging them automatically.

The fact that existing affirmative action law is such a mess might be one of the reasons that the Supreme Court announced in June that it would consider the issue again in the coming term. The case before the Court—Fisher vs. University of Texas—involves a white plaintiff. But if the justices decide to strike down or curtail affirmative action, it is probably Asian students like the plaintiffs in the Princeton case who would benefit the most. This means that affirmative action debates are likely to get even more politically tangled, since they will pit various Democratic-leaning constituencies against one another. It’s unclear how long this system can last.

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  • Andrew Allison

    College entrance should be based on merit, pure and simple. The complaining students, Asian or Caucasian are, rightly IMO, complaining that they are being discriminated against by being denied places for which they are better qualified than those gaining them. There are lots of colleges with less exacting entrance requirements.

  • Anthony

    Don’t know facts of case but idea of Affirmative Action and its negative reverberations to sundry plaintiffs is red herring. At bottom, we are discussing identifiable elite U.S. Colleges/Universities – essentially we’re addressing class/status/mobility seeking (LCD) in layered America. I agree in theory with Andrew but no honest American believes that’s how its completely done. Additionally, I write this not as a defense of so called “Affirmative Action” but to point to what “some” of this striving is truly all about ( social competition under guise of education furtherance). Moreover underlying admissions criteria is reality that, the very process of selection allows the cultural and political biases and class interests of the selector to operate as a censor. That is, admissions are both selective and inferential to some inescapable degree. As some wayward thinker once commented, this is all to do about nothing – people who want to maintain or further their positions within the social hierarchy become committed to the hierarchy’s preservation (and become viable to selectors wittingly or unwittingly).

    • Beauceron

      What nonsense.

      It’s a nice way of saying “I am a racist, but trust me, I’m the GOOD kind of racist.”

      • Anthony

        I don’t know if it’s a nice way…but in the spirit of Pope Francis “All of Us or None” (and because something is called nonsense does not make it so).

  • Fat_Man

    Yes, Princeton does discriminate against Asian American students, if by discriminating against them you mean rejecting the applications of many Asians whose academic qualifications far exceed the academic qualifications of the whites, blacks, and Hispanics, that they do accept. Of course, academic qualifications are only relevant if you think the purpose of undergraduate education is education.

    The colleges want you to believe that education is their purpose. They are however lying*. Education is not and never has been (at least since the early 20th Century) their purpose. Their purpose is finding potential members of the governing elite, teaching them the (mostly by unconscious social pressure) the mores and attitudes of the governing elite, and delivering them to the institutions where they will begin the cursus honorum that will lead them to positions of power and influence in the country’s governing institutions.

    Academic talent is not, and cannot be, the sole criterion for this process. But, it will not do to have dunces go through the process. They would not be able to function at Goldman Sachs or Davis Polk. However, it is also incompatible with true genius, the sort of world altering mind represented by an Einstein or a Spinoza. A major purpose of the process is to stamp out all traces of originality or critical thought.

    Princeton’s admissions policy, like that of the other elite institutions, is structured toward the purpose described above. More than half of the entering class consists of athletes and legacies. They are largely drawn from private and elite public schools in the northeast, and they are the core of the matrix Princeton uses to mold their students. 10% of the class consists of Asians because they are too smart and ambitious to exclude. On the other hand excessive numbers would dilute the process. They need a percentage of blacks as a pay off to the Democrat Party and to allow them to engage in moral preening. Fortunately, they really help the football and basketball teams. For Hispanics, they can use Cuban Americans and the children of upper class Mexicans.

    Princeton, like other selective schools (other than Cal Tech) uses “holistic evaluation” to pick its students. It allows them to hand out their goodies to maintain their purpose. Going to a strictly academic system of grades and test scores would engender tremendous political opposition. For an example read “Asians’ Success in High School Admissions Tests Seen as Issue by Some” by Kyle Spencer on October 26, 2012. “As Asian students succeed in the admissions test for New York City’s elite public high schools, they point to family motivation, but others say the test discriminates against some students.”

    If you really wanted to attack the elite colleges, a rule of strictly academic criteria would face fierce opposition from the colleges, but also from the ethnic enclaves of the Democrat party. The only system that I can think of that would be fair and would limit the backlash to the colleges themselves, would be a lottery. You might be able to argue me into the idea that there should be some academic threshold for entry into the lottery. E.g. a minimum GPA of 3.5 and SAT scores of 1200. But, it should not be higher than the lowest high school academic credentials of the most recent class of on time graduates.

    *Novelist Walter Kirn (“Up in the Air”) wrote “Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever” a memoir centered on his undergraduate sojurn at Princeton. Don’t believe me. Read Kirn.

    • Beauceron


  • Beauceron

    As I white male, what can I say to asians, but “Welcome to the party. Now shut the hell up.”

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