Richard L. Cravatts has an interesting article running in the Times of Israel Blogs regarding the latest controversy over Harvard University’s admissions policy. Harvard, like many US universities, is seemingly concerned that they have too many Asian/Asian-American students at the cost of fewer students from other minorities, principally African-Americans and Hispanics. So now the question is whether it is proper to discriminate against Asians. Cravatts maintains that this brings back memories of previous discrimination against Jewish students but for different reasons. Cravatts’ article can be read here.
In some ways, this reminds me of things I observed while teaching part-time at the University of California at Irvine Extension from 1998-2016. UC Irvine has for years had a high percentage of Asian-American students, just over 50% when I was there and probably still around that figure today. Many of California’s universities have a similar number of Asian-American students.
In my view, the above proportion of Asian-American students is one of the more positive aspects of UC Irvine. With few exceptions, they are serious students. Fortunately, UC Irvine has a small Humanities department compared to other universities. The university is known for fields such as pre-med, biology, and engineering which tends to draw more Asian-American students. One of the positive results is that UCI (in spite of its reputation, courtesy of the Muslim Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine) has less of the nonsense that you see in places like UC’s flagship university at Berkeley. Asian-American students are well-liked and tend to focus on their studies.
Yet, in spite of that the UC system including, UC Irvine, has experienced discussion of having too many Asian-American students and not enough of other minorities. What to do?
I should also mention the infamous disruption of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UCI in 2010, which was disrupted by students from the Muslim Student Union. I was present at that event, and it was truly ugly. Two years later, a few of the so-called “Irvine 11” returned to speak at UCI. One of the speakers was Osama Shabaik who was, at that time, a student at Harvard Law School. I was present at that event and heard Shabaik tell the audience that the dean of the law school had told him he recognized his name among the applications he was reviewing. The implication, according to Shabaik, was that his participation in the disruption likely played a role in being accepted to Harvard Law. Was that part of Harvard’s “holistic” approach to admissions?
I think all decent people want to see more African-American and Hispanic students in our universities, but that should not come at the expense of penalizing deserving Asian-American students. If they are outperforming other minorities, they are also outperforming white students as well. A lot of that has to do with the traditional Asian respect for education, which has been brought from Asia to the US over the generations. Parents are involved with their children’s education. That is highly admirable, and all of us, white, black, or brown, would do well to emulate that. It should not be a cause of resentment, and the last thing Asian-Americans want is to be pitted against other minorities. Is it a coincidence that this issue arises at a time when both Jews and Asians are being physically attacked on the streets of our cities-disproportionately if not usually- by other minorities?
Harvard is considered by many to be America’s most prestigious university. Yet, it has not escaped the craziness and downright ugliness that have plagued so many other American universities. Among its past professors, you can find characters like Cornel West and Timothy Leary, the latter of LSD fame.
If Harvard is allowed to discriminate against Asians, where will it stop? Other universities will see it as a green light to discriminate in a similar manner. The issue of getting more African-American and Hispanic kids into college is a process that has to begin years before they reach college age. But that is a whole different discussion. Asian-Americans should not have to be dragged into that discussion.