Is the Ivy League’s Admission Bias a ‘Trade Secret’?
Princeton sues to block the government’s release of documents that could show discrimination.
by Jason Riley at the Wall Street Journal:
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s dispiriting decision last year in Fisher v. University of Texas, which upheld the use of racial preferences in college admissions, Gallup released some encouraging poll results. More than 6 out of 10 white, black and Hispanic respondents said they disagreed with the ruling. And 7 in 10 people—including 76% of whites, 61% of Hispanics and 50% of blacks—said colleges should admit applicants based “solely on merit.”
Of course, the Supreme Court’s job is to interpret the commands of the Constitution, not opinion surveys. Still, the polling results are a reminder that the courts and the college administrators who cheered the ruling are much bigger fans of racial double standards than are the general public—even those who supposedly benefit from race-based affirmative action.
But the Gallup poll also illustrates how our national discussion of racial preferences in higher education has gotten so dated. Nowhere mentioned in the survey—and only glancingly referenced in the Fisher majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy—are Asian-Americans, though they are the country’s fastest-growing racial group and have become increasingly fed up with their treatment at elite colleges.
“The old paradigm of affirmative action being about white versus black has been completely upended,” says Edward Blum of Students for Fair Admissions, a group that opposes racial preferences. “California, Arizona, Texas, Florida—these are states that are becoming majority-minority, multiracial, multiethnic. We’re competing as different racial and ethnic groups that really have less and less meaning in our multiracial and multiethnic society.”
In 2006 Jian Li filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights after he was denied admission to Princeton University. Mr. Li, who emigrated from China at age 4, had a perfect score on the SAT and graduated in the top 1% of his high school class. He alleged that Princeton violated civil-rights laws banning discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. The complaint was initially rejected, but Mr. Li appealed and the government reopened the investigation in 2008. Seven years later, in 2015, the Obama administration, which strongly supported the use of racial preferences in college admissions and obviously took its sweet time reviewing Mr. Li’s case, issued a report exonerating Princeton.
Last year Mr. Blum’s organization filed a public records Freedom of Information Act request with the Education Department to gain access to the same documents that the federal government used to clear Princeton of any wrongdoing. Mr. Blum’s organization represents a group of Asian plaintiffs who are suing Harvard University over its admissions policies. The judge in that case has ordered Harvard to turn over six years of admissions records, and Mr. Blum suspects that the data will show that Harvard is unlawfully capping Asian enrollment.
America’s Asian population has exploded in recent decades, and Asian attendance at highly selective schools with colorblind admissions, such the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, reflects this demographic trend. At Harvard, however, the percentage of Asian undergrads has remained remarkably consistent for an institution that claims race is not a determining factor in who is admitted. Mr. Blum suspects that Princeton engages in similar shenanigans, but the school has been pressuring the Education Department to deny him the information that he requested more than a year ago.
Concerned that the government was finally going to fulfill the FOIA request, Princeton sued the Education Department on March 17 to block the release of the admissions documents. The suit argues that the material being sought is exempt from FOIA, a claim that the government has rejected. The school also maintains that releasing the data would compromise student privacy, and it likened its admissions process to “trade secrets” that, if exposed, would put Princeton at a competitive disadvantage in attracting students.
Don’t believe it. Admissions officers switch schools all the time, presumably taking knowledge of admissions procedures with them, and the criteria used by elite institutions to evaluate applicants is not the equivalent of an iPhone patent. Nor is student privacy an issue since names, addresses and other personal information can be redacted. Mr. Blum’s organization simply wants the number of Asians who have applied to Princeton, their SAT scores and grade-point averages, and other information that the school used to analyze applicants academically.
What really concerns Princeton is a potential discrimination lawsuit. What ought to concern the rest of us is the apparent determination of elite colleges to punish Asians students for their academic success. Asians have long been the forgotten victims of liberal affirmative-action schemes, subject to unwritten “just for Asian” admissions standards that recall the treatment of Jews in the first half of the 20th century. Princeton wants them to shut up about it. Let’s hope they don’t.
Appeared in the Mar. 29, 2017, print edition.