The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Concern about Discrimination against "Asian Americans" in University Admissions–in 1987!


Do Colleges Set Asian Quotas? Newsweek, February 9, 1987.

With a mix of awe and animosity, students in the Boston area joke that MIT stands for Made in Taiwan. Like many of the nation's most competitive schools, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has experienced huge increases in Asian-American enrollments.

Across the Ivy Legue, Asian-Americans, who make up only 2 percent of the nation's college-age population, account for 11 percent of this year's freshman class. Proud of their high grades and test scores, Asian-Americans say they should be doing even better—and have accused top colleges of imposing ceilings to keep them out. "Asians are being discriminated against," charges Arthur Hu, an MIT alum who has studied Ivy League admissions patterns. "Unwritten quotas are making it more and more difficult to get into selective schools."

Recent admissions patterns do raise troubling questions. The nation's toughest institutions began admitting large numbers of Asian-Americans in the mid-1970s. But as their applications increased—by as much as 1,000 percent—the acceptance rate dropped; at Yale, the "admit" rate for Asian-Americans fell from 39 percent to 17 percent in the last decade. The timing was no coincidence, charges University of California, Berkeley, Prof. Ling-chi Wang. He claims that when worried schools realized what was happening, they began to curb the numbers.

Colleges deny setting ceilings, but they have taken the charges seriously. A Stanford University subcommittee concluded that "unconscious biases" might be responsible for the discrepancy in admission rates; subcommittee member Daniel Okimoto, a political-science professor, found that Asian-American applicants were often stereotyped as driven and narrowly focused….

Brown University, meanwhile, keeps a log of minority admits during admissions season, reportedly to achieve a total of 20 percent. "Asian-Americans should be concerned," says a Brown admissions officer. "We call them enrollment goals, but it works out about the same as a quota."….

"Stanford could become 40 percent Jewish, 40 percent Asian-American and 10 percent requisite black," says emeritus Harvard sociologist David Riesman. "You'd have a pure meritocracy, and that would create problems for diversity and alumni."

Around the same time this article appeared, I recall reading a story along the same lines, but with a specific focus on the UC schools. One thing that stood out to me was that the article related that several parents who happened to be attorneys sent demand letters to Berkeley and UCLA, threatening to sue them for discrimination against their Chinese-American children who had been rejected despite better credentials than non-Asian admittees from their high schools. The schools responded by quietly admitting the students.