Sunday, November 30, 2014

Racial quotas equal racism then and now

First Jews, now Asians

One of the uglier chapters in the history of academe is the way many of our top universities, led by Harvard, adopted de facto quotas on Jews after World War I because of concerns their rising numbers of Jewish would “ruin” their schools. 
Today a group called Students for Fair Admissions is suing Harvard, arguing that the folks up in Cambridge are at it again. But this time, they say, the target isn’t Jews but Asians, who are losing out from admissions policies based on race.
Students for Fair Admissions is also suing the University of North Carolina — now in the midst of another scandal involving academic fraud for the benefit of athletes — as well as Harvard. But we’ll concentrate on Harvard here.
The applicant it cites is a first-generation Asian-American who ranked No. 1 in a high-school class of 460, attended a high school ranked in the top 5 percent of US high schools, had perfect 800 scores for his SAT II history and math, was an AP Scholar, National Scholar and the like and captained his varsity tennis team — in addition to other volunteer and extracurricular activities that included helping Chinese students learn English. But he was rejected.
The legal charge is straightforward: Harvard is intentionally discriminating on the basis of race in clear violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
The argument is that, in pursuit of “diversity,” Harvard admits less academically qualified students from some racial and ethnic categories at the expense of more qualified applicants from other racial and ethnic groups.
It helps to remember that when affirmative-action programs were advanced, the nation and the wrongs being addressed were very different. 
Much of the civil-rights focus of the 1950s and 1960s was to open up institutions that had been arbitrarily and unfairly closed to African-Americans. And the categories involved were basically black and white.
Today we live in a much different America. Jim Crow has long been outlawed, and even the definition of diversity has changed with the growth of, for example, America’s Latino and Asian communities. 
The old racial categories will be even more difficult to defend as intermarriage further erodes what were once clear divisions.
So we’re with Clarence Thomas here. As the Supreme Court justice has written, “the lesson of history” is clear: “Racial discrimination is never benign.” 
A lesson, unfortunately, that still hasn’t taken up at Harvard.

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