The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating a complaint that Harvard and Princeton universities discriminates against Asian-Americans, according to a report filed today by veteran higher-ed reporter Daniel Golden at Bloomberg.
The investigation began with a complaint from an Indian-American student in California who was near the top of his high school class but was rejected at both schools. Golden writes:
“Like Jews in the first half of the 20th century, who faced quotas at Harvard, Princeton, and other Ivy League schools, Asian-Americans are over-represented at top universities relative to their population, yet must meet a higher standard than other applicants based on measures such as test scores and high school grades, according to several academic studies.”
The civil rights agency doesn’t discuss the substance of pending cases, so there’s no telling what evidence the Indian-American family might have to support a discrimination claim. Mere rejection - - by either Harvard or Princeton - - likely would not suffice, as both schools routinely reject students with perfect SAT scores and grade-point averages.
An OCR spokesman told me in a statement that the complaint was received Aug. 22 and the allegations “accepted for investigation” on Jan. 11. The complaint alleges “discrimination against Asian-Americans on the basis of race/national origin with respect to the university’s admissions process,” he said.
A Harvard spokesman told Golden the institution does not discriminate. Asian-Americans make up 16 percent of Harvard undergraduates.
Asian-American students have challenged Ivy League admission policies before.
Jian Li, a Chinese American, filed a civil rights complaint after Princeton rejected him in 2006. He’d scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT and graduated in the top 1 percent of his class, yet had been rejected at several Ivies.
Golden reports that the agency received a fresh complaint in September targeting Yale, subsequently withdrawn.
It’s questionable, though, whether any student could prove discrimination by those schools without access to stacks of admission data.
Harvard’s admission rate has dipped to 6.2 percent, and Yale and Princeton aren’t far behind. There is simply no guarantee of admission, no matter one’s credentials, as dozens of rejected students from Whitman, Churchill, McLean and Thomas Jefferson high schools (and some of my neighbors in Garrett Park) can attest.
There’s plenty of research to suggest, though, that Asian-American applicants must bring higher test scores and GPAs than whites, Hispanics or Blacks to gain entry.
Golden cites a 2011 study of admissions at Duke: Asian-American enrollees scored 1457 on the reading and math sections of the SAT, compared to 1416 for whites, 1347 for Hispanics and 1275 for Blacks.
But remember that Asian-Americans outscore all other racial and ethnic groups on the SAT. A college where Asian students have lower SAT math scores than whites would be a statistical oddity.