Harvard gussies up its Asian admissions numbers
White applicants take the hit
Next term, the Supreme Court will consider the case of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. In that litigation, a group of Asian-American students asserts the obvious — that Harvard discriminates against them on the basis of their race in undergraduate admissions. I have written about the case here, here, and elsewhere.
Ever since this litigation got going (it was on hold for a couple of years), the percentage of Asian-Americans in Harvard’s entering undergraduate classes has been moving on up. Asian-Americans made up only 21.7 percent of the class of 2021, whereas they were right around 25 percent of the classes of 2023-25. Now, with the Supreme Court’s poised to hear the discrimination case against Harvard, the class of 2026 will be 27.6 percent Asian-American.
A six percentage point bump in five years isn’t insignificant. However, it doesn’t mean Harvard has stopped discriminating against Asian-Americans. Evidence at trial convincingly showed that if Asian-Americans were judged solely on their academic merit, they would make up more than 40 percent of Harvard’s undergraduate classes.
When the representation of one racial or ethnic group rises, the representation of at least one other such group must fall. Would you like to guess which racial group’s representation has declined as the Asian-American presence has increased at Harvard?
Right, you are.
Whites were 56 percent of Harvard’s class of 2016, 52.2 percent of the class of 2021, and 47.2 percent of class of 2025. This year, whites make up only 42.5 percent of the class of 2026.
As a result of the 5 percentage point decline (in one year) in white representation in Harvard’s freshman class — a drop of about 10 percent — the University was able to boost Asian-American admissions and still keep the representation of “Latinx” (as Harvard puts it) and blacks essentially where it was the year before. (Harvard was also able to increase Native American/Native Hawaiian representation by 2 percentage points.) Favoring minority groups other than Asian-Americans is, of course, the goal of Harvard’s discriminatory practices.
It’s true that Harvard goes about achieving this goal by suppressing the number of Asian-Americans in its student body, and accomplishes this by dinging them for their “personality traits.” But Harvard doesn’t really have anything against Asian-Americans and their personalities, which presumably have not changed over the past few years. The dinging was just a device to prevent Asian-Americans from taking spots in the student body from the minority groups Harvard favors — mainly blacks and Hispanics.
In favoring these groups, Harvard doesn’t care whether it discriminates against Asian-American (which it’s still doing even with the improved numbers), whites, or both. The object is to discriminate in favor of Hispanics and blacks. However, the victims necessarily are Asian-Americans, whites, or both.
And Harvard must still discriminate against Asian-American in order to keep representation of its favored groups at the levels it desires. To bring Asian-American representation to a non-discriminatory level — the level that would exist if academic merit governed — without lowering the presence of favored minority groups, Harvard would have to push white representation down to around one-quarter of the new classes.
Harvard isn’t ready to go that far. Yet.
One can only marvel at an admissions policy that manages to keep the representation of favored minority groups at virtually the same levels every year, even as the representation of Asian-Americans and whites fluctuates significantly. Are we supposed to believe that the grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and “personality traits” of blacks and Hispanics who apply to Harvard are constant over time while those of whites and Asian Americans bounce around from year to year? Are we supposed to believe, in addition, that it’s just a coincidence that the qualifications of Asian Americans are improving in lockstep with the decline of the qualifications of whites?
No rational person could believe these things. The only reasonable conclusion is that Harvard’s admissions officers are gaming the system — manipulating the admissions process with mathematical precision to favor certain racial and ethnic groups over others.
Even Supreme Court cases upholding race-based preferences in college admissions have said that this sort of rigid approach is unconstitutional.
The words of Chief Justice Roberts come to mind:
It is a sordid thing, this divvying us up by race.
Let’s hope Roberts remembers this when it’s time to vote next term in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard.
One last note. The numbers cited in this post are from charts in an article in the Harvard Crimson about the college’s new class of undergraduates. The article basically celebrates the diversity of the new class without ever mentioning the sharp drop in the percentage of white students.
Maybe the authors — Rahem Hamid and Nia Orakwue — hoped no one would notice.
If journalism doesn’t work out for them, they can have bright futures as college admissions officers.