Stossel: End Racial Preferences at Colleges?

Asians sue Harvard for discrimination in a case that may end college racial preferences.


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Asian Americans are suing Harvard for illegally discriminating against them.

The lawsuit forced Harvard to release admissions data which reveal that admitted Asian applicants score 22 points higher on the SAT than whites and 63 points higher than blacks.

Harvard admits to using race as a factor in admissions for the sake of diversity. But the school says it does so without any hard quotas or race-based points system—that they merely consider it informally. Past Supreme Courts have allowed that.

But the Asian Americans suing Harvard argue that the university gives them artificially low personality ratings to keep their admissions rate down. They say Harvard treats Asian Americans as "boring little grade grubbers."

Harvard's data show that a typical Asian applicant is less than half as likely to get a good personality rating in Harvard's admissions process than a typical black applicant.

Lee Cheng of the Asian American Legal Foundation says the data show clear, systematic discrimination based on race.

"Harvard didn't just use race as one of many factors. It was the determinative factor," Cheng tells Stossel.

Many experts say that Harvard's case may reach the Supreme Court. If it does, then the court—with President Trump's new appointees—might strike down all college racial preferences. Ending racial preferences would increase the share of Asian and white students in colleges, but decrease the share of black and hispanic students.

Harry Holzer, an economist and Harvard Alum who studies affirmative action, says that would be a big mistake.

"When you have a long history of discrimination based on race, you have to take race into account," Holzer tells Stossel.

But Cheng says Harvard's preferences don't help disadvantaged people.

"Race based affirmative action helps rich people….70 percent of the students of every ethnic group at Harvard come from the top 20 percent of family income," Cheng tells Stossel.

Holzer responds: "It's okay….Race in America matters at any level of income."

But Cheng responds that when wealthy people use race to get a leg up, poor whites and poor Asians get hurt.

He first became passionate about racial discrimination when he faced it in high school. San Francisco had a strict racial quota for admission to the Lowell public magnet high school. Because there were many Chinese kids in the area, Cheng and other Chinese Americans had to score higher than kids of other races.

"I was just shocked," Cheng tells Stossel. "I was just taught in civics and history that in America everybody was supposed to be equal under the law."

Cheng got in, but he says he saw many of his friends get left behind because of racial preferences.

"The kids who were negatively affected … were the kids of the dishwashers and the seamstresses and who lived in Chinatown, who were very poor."

Cheng eventually sued San Francisco and forced them to end their quotas. Now he hopes the lawsuit against Harvard will do the same to universities.

"I have three kids," Cheng says. "I'll be damned if I'm going to not fight very, very hard to make sure that they don't get treated as second class citizens in the land in which they were born."

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.