Through unlimited federal student loans, the intricate and expansive network of federal patronage, rent seeking, and the tax benefits of nonprofit status, the U.S. government has built a cushy nest for the modern American university. The endowments of the biggest elite schools are, in effect, tax-preferred hedge funds.
Sitting on all this cash and privilege, America's elite universities were bound to become bullies. Power corrupts. And in the case of Harvard, power fueled by moral superiority corrodes.
The groundbreaking suit against Harvard University, alleging a unique and pervasive bias against Asian-American applicants, went to trial yesterday. The plaintiffs contend that Harvard's only subjective category for evaluating applicants — the personality test — blatantly fails the Supreme Court’s mandated "strict scrutiny" standard established in Fisher v. University of Texas. In short, Fisher established that while affirmative action is allowed to open opportunities for underrepresented populations, it may not unfairly discriminate against overpopulated ones. In systemically granting poorer personality scores to Asian Americans, the suit claims that Harvard fails to employ the least discriminatory standard to enhance diversity, as every demographic but Asian-Americans consistently score higher, even when holding all other factors equal.
Harvard's discrimination against Asian-Americans today barely differs from its discrimination against Jewish students preceding World War II or African-American students a century ago. From a purely objective standard, the case that Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans writes itself. Based on Harvard's own internal analysis, Asian-Americans would have comprised over a quarter of Harvard's undergraduate class if it removed the personality portion of evaluation instead of the 19 percent portion that Harvard actually admitted.
A couple of solutions: Asian-Americans must receive a penalty if other demographics receive a bump, so long as Harvard admissions are a zero sum game. But why should they be? In the past 40 years, the country's population increased by 50 percent. Harvard's undergraduate enrollment increased by just 5 percent. If the American taxpayer must continue to fund Harvard through grants and unlimited student loans with effectively no collateral, why shouldn't the government begin to send a clear and compelling message that Harvard must begin to admit more qualified students at the risk of losing all federal funding?
Further, it's worth asking who even benefits from Harvard's affirmative action. Originally, affirmative action was designed to correct centuries of injustices inflicted upon African-Americans through centuries of slavery and legal discrimination. But over half of Harvard's black student population are immigrants. The New York Times reported that a decade ago, only one-third of Harvard's black students had four grandparents born in America.
All of this ignores a simple, amoral fact about affirmative action: It doesn't actually break down the barriers that keep out marginalized groups. Harvard, like all of elite academia, remains a fortress.