The Fall of Affirmative Action?

By most accounts, the 6-3 Supreme Court decision striking down the Affirmative Action policies of Harvard University and other American colleges seems considerably stronger and more sweeping than many had expected. Although it is difficult to predict exactly how this legal precedent will play out, the victory of these Asian plaintiffs may mark a major potential reversal in the tide of racial “diversity” policies that had otherwise seemed to be sweeping all before it during the last few years.

Indeed, as recently as May 2022, I’d been quite skeptical that the Supreme Court would be willing to overturn nearly fifty years of legal precedents on this issue, and I’m very pleased to have been proven completely wrong.

Given the role of my own late 2012 Meritocracy analysis in originally prompting that lawsuit, I’ll quote a few paragraphs from my accompanying New York Times column:

Just as their predecessors of the 1920s always denied the existence of “Jewish quotas,” top officials at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the other Ivy League schools today strongly deny the existence of “Asian quotas.” But there exists powerful statistical evidence to the contrary.

Each year, American universities provide their racial enrollment data to the National Center for Education Statistics, which makes this information available online. After the Justice Department closed an investigation in the early 1990s into charges that Harvard University discriminated against Asian-American applicants, Harvard’s reported enrollment of Asian-Americans began gradually declining, falling from 20.6 percent in 1993 to about 16.5 percent over most of the last decade.

This decline might seem small. But these same years brought a huge increase in America’s college-age Asian population, which roughly doubled between 1992 and 2011, while non-Hispanic white numbers remained almost unchanged. Thus, according to official statistics, the percentage of Asian-Americans enrolled at Harvard fell by more than 50 percent over the last two decades, while the percentage of whites changed little. This decline in relative Asian-American enrollment was actually larger than the impact of Harvard’s 1925 Jewish quota, which reduced Jewish freshmen from 27.6 percent to 15 percent.

The percentages of college-age Asian-Americans enrolled at most of the other Ivy League schools also fell during this same period, and over the last few years Asian enrollments across these different universities have converged to a very similar level and remained static over time. This raises suspicions of a joint Ivy League policy to restrict Asian-American numbers to a particular percentage.

These statistical findings had been illustrated in a simple graph, demonstrating that over the last two decades enrollment of Asian-Americans had gradually converged across the entire Ivy League, while sharply diverging from the rapidly increasing Asian-American population, with only strictly meritocratic Caltech continuing to track the latter.

It would be difficult to imagine more obvious visual evidence of an Asian Quota implemented across the Ivy League, and this chart was republished by the Times and very widely circulated among Asian-American organizations and activists, who launched their lawsuit the following year. So the history books may eventually record that the wealthiest and most powerful university in the world was brought low by a single striking graph.

On October 22, 2018, I had discussed the start of the Harvard lawsuit and its origins:

This last week trial began in Boston federal court for the current lawsuit in which a collection of Asian-American organizations are charging Harvard University with racial discrimination in its college admissions policies. The New York Times, our national newspaper of record, has been providing almost daily coverage to developments in the case, with the stories sometimes reaching the front page.

Last Sunday, just before the legal proceedings began, the Times ran a major article explaining the general background of the controversy, and I was very pleased to see that my own past research was cited as an important factor sparking the lawsuit, with the reporter even including a direct link to my 26,000 word 2012 cover-story “The Myth of American Meritocracy,” which had provided strong quantitative evidence of anti-Asian racial quotas. Economic historian Niall Ferguson, long one of Harvard’s most prominent professors but recently decamped to Stanford, similarly noted the role of my research in his column for the London Sunday Times.

Two decades ago, I had published a widely-discussed op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on somewhat similar issues of racial discrimination in elite admissions. But my more recent article was far longer and more comprehensive, and certainly drew more attention than anything else I have ever published, before or since. After it appeared in The American Conservative, its hundreds of thousands of pageviews broke all records for that publication and it attracted considerable notice in the media. Times columnist David Brooks soon ranked it as perhaps the best American magazine article of the year, a verdict seconded by a top editor at The Economist, and the Times itself quickly organized a symposium on the topic of Asian Quotas, in which I eagerly participated. ForbesThe AtlanticThe Washington MonthlyBusiness Insider, and other publications all discussed my striking results.

Conservative circles took considerable interest, with Charles Murray highlighting my findings, and National Review later published an article in which I explained the important implications of my findings for the legal validity of the 1978 Bakke decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

There was also a considerable reaction from the academic community itself. I quickly received speaking invitations from the Yale Political Union, Yale Law, and the University of Chicago Law School, while Prof. Ferguson discussed my distressing analysis in a lengthy Newsweek/Daily Beast column entitled “The End of the American Dream.”

Moreover, I had also published an associated critique suggesting that over the years my beloved Harvard alma mater had transformed itself into one of the world’s largest hedge-funds with a vestigial school attached for tax-exempt purposes. This also generated enormous discussion in media circles, with liberal journalist Chris Hayes Tweeting it out and generously saying he was “very jealous” he hadn’t written the piece himself. Many of his colleagues promoted the piece with similarly favorable remarks, while the university quickly provided a weak public response to these serious financial charges.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to myself or other outside observers, Harvard itself launched an internal investigation of the anti-Asian bias that I had alleged. Apparently, the university’s own initial results generally confirmed my accusations, indicating that if students were admitted solely based upon objective academic merit, far more Asians would receive thick envelopes. But Harvard’s top administrators buried the study and did nothing, with these important facts only coming out years later during the discovery process of the current Asian Quotas lawsuit.

The following is a selection of my longer or more important writings on the subject.

The publication of my 26,000 word Meritocracy article in late 2012 provoked a series of follow-up columns, focusing on particular elements of my analysis, discussing the resulting secondary media coverage, and responding to various critiques and commentaries:

Finally, this high court decision will surely lead to an intense focus on the enrollment statistics of our elite universities. For decades all these colleges have been required to provide their demographic data to the National Center for Educational Statistics, a quasi-governmental entity that makes that information publicly available, though not in a convenient format. However, we have downloaded and displayed that same demographic data for all of America’s thousands of colleges on our own website, making it easily available for everyone so interested.

Here are the links providing the undergraduate demographic history for the years 1980-2021 for various selected colleges:

Reprinted with permission from The Unz Review.