Sunday, August 05, 2018

Harvard lawsuit divides many in Asian American community

Asian-Americans may be at the center of a discrimination lawsuit against Harvard University, but the case has left them deeply divided about whether they are penalized in elite college admissions and whether affirmative action policies are at fault.

In intensely personal stories and sweeping accounts of past legal battles, Asian-American students and organizations from across the country staked out positions on the case in court documents filed this week.

Some argued that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies hurt Asian-American applicants and compared their treatment to the anti-Semitism that Jewish applicants encountered at the Cambridge university in the first half of the 20th century. Others insisted that affirmative action helped land them a coveted spot at Harvard.

“The discrimination in education against Asian-American applicants causes real and tangible harm,” the Asian American Legal Foundation and the Asian American Coalition for Education said in legal filings that backed the complaint against Harvard’s policies. “It causes Asian-Americans to feel that they are not valued as much as other citizens. It causes many young Asian-Americans to feel a sense of inferiority, hopelessness and anger.”

But Thang Diep, 21, a rising senior at Harvard whose family immigrated from Vietnam to Los Angeles when he was in elementary school, said he believes race-conscious admission policies gave him a boost. Diep recounted how as a young boy he would stick a pencil between his teeth and read hundreds of books aloud just so he could improve his pronunciation and minimize his accent.

Harvard says the group suing the school over alleged admissions discrimination has created “900 paragraphs of supposedly undisputed facts — many of which are neither undisputed nor even facts.”

“When I applied to Harvard, I had good grades, but I did not have competitive SAT scores,” Diep said in court filings. But he did discuss his struggles as a Vietnamese immigrant in his personal statement for Harvard. “I benefited from Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy because it allowed the university to look at me as a whole person and take into account the adversity that I have overcome because of my race.”

The lawsuit, brought by Students for Fair Admissions on behalf of some Asian-American students, alleges that Harvard’s race-based selection process discriminates by limiting the number of Asian-American students it admits every year — a contention that Harvard has denied.

Students for Fair Admissions points out that its review of six years of Harvard admissions data and internal documents found that Asian-American applicants across the academic spectrum received lower ratings on their personal traits, such as courage and kindness, from the university’s admissions office than their peers.

The organization also contends that a preliminary report by Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research in 2013 showed that Asian-Americans face a penalty in the admissions process. Harvard has said that report was incomplete.

Harvard has rejected allegations that it discriminates against Asian-American applicants. The university has defended its use of race to ensure a diverse campus as legal and fair. It said its admissions rate for Asian-Americans has grown by 29 percent in the past decade and accused Students for Fair Admissions of cherry-picking data.

Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, who has been involved in anti-affirmative-action cases and most recently backed a challenge to race-based admissions at the University of Texas that centered on a white student, has also been the target of criticism. Harvard and its allies claim that because Blum and his organization failed to persuade the Supreme Court to overturn the use of race in college admissions in the University of Texas case, they are now trying again with Asian-Americans.

The case is scheduled for trial in US District Court in Boston in October, but experts anticipate that it will eventually be decided by the US Supreme Court.

The lawsuit has highlighted longstanding splits within the Asian-American community based on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and political persuasion.

“A lot of Asian-Americans are feeling really torn; they don’t know where people are coming from,” said Sally Chen, 21, a rising senior at Harvard who was among about two dozen Harvard students to submit declarations in the case.

Chen, a Chinese-American who grew up in San Francisco living in a one-bedroom apartment with her parents and three siblings, said she worries that the lawsuit oversimplifies the experience of Asian-Americans. Students for Fair Admissions emphasizes a myth of Asian-Americans as the “model minority” who perform well academically and don’t need affirmative action and are harmed by it, Chen said in an interview.

But that masks the situation of many Asian-Americans who are struggling, who may have fled war and have gaps in their education, or who may live in poverty and attend under-resourced high schools, Chen and other Asian-American students said.

For example, more than one-third of Laotians, Cambodian, and Hmong adults in the United States don’t have a high school diploma, according to the US Census.

“We are still impacted by racism,” Chen said, calling the lawsuit “misleading and harmful for Asian-Americans.”

But Harvard’s data about how Asian-Americans are scored on personality traits used by admissions officers suggest that the university’s policies are harmful and discriminatory, said Lee Cheng, an attorney for the Asian American Legal Foundation.

Cheng, a Harvard graduate, said he has spent 25 years conducting alumni interviews of applicants for the university and believes that Asian-Americans must meet a higher bar.

“Out of 100 students I have interviewed, I have never interviewed an Asian-American who has gotten in,” Cheng said. “In some cases, it was shocking.”

He questioned the Harvard students who said they had benefited from race-conscious admissions and said these students were an anomaly, considering the analysis of the admissions data by Students for Fair Admissions.

And, he said, because they benefited from Harvard’s procedures and got in, these Asian-American students also don’t have a right to speak out about these policies that others see as unfair.

Cheng said it would be akin to a child of a slave-owner arguing that slavery should remain in place, or a beneficiary of segregation arguing in favor of it.

“You can’t say there’s any legitimacy to a beneficiary of an unfair program,” Cheng said. “They don’t have a right to speak for all those other kids who haven’t gotten in.”

But Asian-American Harvard students who have filed court documents in support of the university said they felt compelled to speak out about what they’ve seen of the university’s admissions process and what a diverse campus community has meant to their college experience.

Many also stressed that Harvard can still be an isolating place for minority students, where elite clubs charge exorbitant fees for membership and exclusive social spaces are still dominated by white students. For years, students have been urging Harvard to develop an Asian-American Studies academic track but have seen little progress. And many are concerned about the lower ratings given by admissions officers to Asian-American applicants on their personal qualities and urged the administration to consider additional training against bias.

Jang Lee, 21, a Korean-American from Texas, said the lawsuit has sparked conversations among his friends about race and Harvard, issues that many have shied away from because they can be controversial and polarizing.

“This is one of the biggest issues for Asian-Americans that has come up in years,” Lee said. “For me, it’s been empowering to talk about it.”


Trump administration seeks deregulation, innovation in higher education

The Trump administration plans to discuss overhauling the rules governing higher education’s accrediting agencies, a move officials think will inspire more innovation.

Reducing compliance requirements for accreditors and clearly defining their sphere of influence are Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ main goals, according to Undersecretary Diane Auer Jones.

The department plans to “promote greater access for students to high-quality innovative programs,” including online programs and competency-based education models. In the past, the rules governing accrediting agencies disincentivized them from approving similar models that fall outside of the higher education norm.

In a rule-making session to “rethink” the roles of accreditors in higher education, the administration will discuss the requirements for online education and the standardized definition for academic coursework – the credit hour.

Interestingly, Jones said that “the credit hour probably interferes with innovation [in higher education] almost more than anything.” Defined as one hour of classroom instruction and two hours of out-of-class work, institutions must offer programs meeting a minimum number of these hours in order to be approved.

As higher education changes, however, measuring all institutions by the same metric makes less sense, especially as the credit hour does not mesh well with online education. Yet, these educational institutions may have even more data on student mastery and faculty instructional hours due to their digital footprint than do traditional brick-and-mortar institutions.

Yet, focus on educational quality will still be a core goal of accrediting agencies, even if they are given more flexibility in other areas of oversight.

A near reversal of the Obama administration’s approach, which empowered accreditors to be tougher on non-traditional programs, the Trump administration believes that reconceptualizing their role will encourage higher education institutions to innovate without fear of being shuttered.



Some good wisecracks below

College football season is just around the corner. It was a mild, wet spring in the South, great for growing SEC [South Eastern Conference] football players.

Nick Saban at Alabama reloaded his talent and is the preseason number two again. During the recruiting season, the Discovery Channel decided to suspend “Shark Week” as the sharks were distracted watching “Nick Saban Week.”

The SEC dominates college football. That doesn’t look like it will end this year with Georgia ranked number one, [Ala]Bama number two and Auburn number five.

Football is akin to a religious experience in the South. Psychiatrists will tell you that football satisfies the primal human thirst for war. But government goes ahead and gets us in a bunch of wars too, just to be on the safe side. It’s the modern-day “bread and circuses” to placate the citizens.

The non-SEC contender is either Clemson or Oklahoma. Oklahoma got rid of the Confederate flag and changed the names of schools named after Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Then they surprised everyone when they legalized marijuana, showing they’d do anything to get a recruiting edge over Georgia and Bama.

College football is a great business model. Brand loyalty is built in and labor is free. If it hosted a TV signing day, I’d suggest for symbolism that it be held at Colonial Williamsburg. Coaches observe preseason practices and games from a high tower in case any players get any fancy ideas about escaping.

And while NFL players continue to damage their brand by kneeling during the national anthem, college football continues to shine. The only way a Southerner kneels during the national anthem is if his bourbon flask slips out of his sock. Southerners believe that a “silent protest” has no place outside a marriage.

In other football news, in this hyperbolic P.C. world the left has created, Papa John’s Pizza founder John Schnatter just got in trouble for purportedly racist comments and had to step down. Long associated with football advertising, the pizza chain is trying to do damage control over its brand. The Papa John’s lawyers even asked Peyton Manning to tone down his Southern accent until this all blows over.

I kid Peyton, who has a great sense of humor (I hope) and is a wonderful representative of the SEC. He holds many records, chief among them that he was the only player drafted in the same year by the NFL and for the Vietnam War.

To sum up the preseason rankings, aside from the perennial powers like UGA, Bama and Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi State surprisingly cracked the top 25 this year.

Lore has it that Ole Miss redshirts Miss Americas, but they are down this year. They have yet to recover from their holy-roller coach resigning after escort phone service numbers were found on his cell phone. It was profoundly embarrassing to the SEC when a head coach in a college town like Oxford, MS had to pay women to sleep with him.

Being an SEC coach is a non-linear job, a feast-or-famine gig. You are either making millions landing five-star athletes or, if you don’t, driving fans to games in hopes of them giving you a five-star rating on Uber.

My favorite team, Vanderbilt, is academically pricing itself out of the SEC. Nashville’s liberal mayor had to step down after it was discovered she was paying her lover with tax money. Now Nashville can continue its liberal trajectory by becoming a sanctuary city for bad football teams.

As a libertarian and free-market person, I am all for paying these players. If you watch “Last Chance U” (and I suggest you do), you learn that most of these kids are overwhelmed by college and the workload of football. It blurs a university’s stated academic goals, is run by egghead college presidents, and structurally invites corruption. The NCAA, started in the Roosevelt era, has not seen the football since the kick off. They got so mad at UNC for cheating, they put Alcorn State on probation.

Football schools need to admit that they lower academic standards for athletes. If you are Alabama, it’s hard to pretend to be an academic powerhouse when one of your most famous alumni is Forrest Gump.


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