Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-Americans (except that it does).



“Harvard Victory Pushes Admissions Case Toward a More Conservative Supreme Court: The court’s rightward tilt under President Trump, whose administration supported efforts to end race-based admissions policies, gives activists a more favorable opening to challenge affirmative action.”

By Anemona Hartocollis

The New York Times

November. 12, 2020


A federal appeals court on November 12, 2020 ruled that Harvard University’s admissions process does not violate civil rights law.

“The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a student body that enriches the education of every student,” Lawrence S. Bacow, Harvard’s president, said in a statement. “Diversity also represents a pathway for excellence for both Harvard and the nation. We will continue to defend these principles and our admissions process all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”



All along, Harvard admissions officials and administrators have been sanctimonious in defending their admissions policies and what they see as their enlightened standing as defenders of affirmative action in education.

I would say that discrimination against Asian-Americans has been going on for some time now. I have followed the court cases about this, but I can’t claim to know anything for certain — Harvard keeps its admissions practices as secret as it can.

But let’s just consider what Harvard’s President has said. It is in line with what many others in higher education claim.

To put it bluntly, I think it’s nonsense.

Beware of people, who live, administer, or govern by slogans. Remember those of the faceless leaders in Nineteen Eighty-Four?



“[Lliberties … cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle,” Edmund Burke wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in France, going on to explain that people overcome by abstractions which they want to apply willy-nilly to everything can do much harm.

Elsewhere in the same work, Burke, said, about the doctrine of “’the rights of men” (what its fanatical supports thought about it): “Against these there can be no prescription; against these no agreement is binding; these admit no temperament, and no compromise: anything withheld from their full demand is so much of fraud and injustice.” By which he meant that, in defending a principle, advocates of the French Revolution were themselves intolerant and unwilling to brook any disagreement with them.

Burke saw this tendency as dangerous.



Let’s look more closely at what Harvard President Bacow said.

The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a student body that enriches the education of every student.

How about looking, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., at the things that make a student of outstanding caliber. I would assume that this would mainly be a matter of academic achievement and records, and faculty recommendations or interviews (or an application essay) that might indicate something admirable or distinctive about the student’s intellectual curiosity, academic goals, devotion to learning, etc. And, perhaps some other characteristics or indicators of merit that extracurricular activities might provide evidence of. And some consideration of character, which would probably be assessed through interviews and faculty recommendations, as well as the application essay.

Why should race come into play in evaluating admissions? I tried so hard to qualify for an elite university as a high school student, doing everything I was told to do: taking my studies very seriously, going out for sports in order to appear “well rounded,” participating in a plethora of student activities and clubs. It never would have occurred to me (and would not have been true back then) that my race had anything to do with this. And, should I have thought this was true, I would have felt it was wrong. (When asked to indicate my race on various forms, I almost always decline — if I can do so without penalty — checking any box.)

“Diversity … represents a pathway for excellence for both Harvard and the nation. We will continue to defend these principles. …”

This is the sort of statement pompous administrators are in love with — they seem to love hearing themselves make them. Diversity is a “pathway to excellence”? Really? Excellence (of education) is one pathway to excellence (in knowledge and perhaps other personal attributes).

Diversity does not per se enrich the education of every student. Yes. socialization and meeting new people with different backgrounds who come from different places and countries is an invaluable and potentially enriching part of the student experience, as well as of life. It is unlikely that most college student bodies under most circumstances — at least large universities, public universities, private universities that are not controlled by a religious group and so forth — would be uniformly homogeneous with regard to race, regions, students’ religious or political views, etc.

I went to a school founded by Jewish Americans in the post-World War II years. There was a preponderance of Jewish students, but there seemed to be no bias with regard to religion in the admission process; there was a substantial minority of Christian students, and there was an international student program. I got to know some minority students well and to respect their intelligence and what they had to offer. There was always a lively exchange of views and perspectives. The experience was broadening. And, no one said a word about diversity.

I learned most, as always, from intelligent and thoughtful people and professors, irrespective of race or religion. In almost all cases, I gave little thought to what race or religion they were.



Guess what. Hortatory slogans and admonitions, mantras, pompous platitudes (there is a smug, self satisfied aspect to them) are not going to make people more educated, aware, sensitive, tolerant. Experience will. Real, lived experience. Not socially mandated and engineered experience.

And. while it is hoped that people will be tolerant — and that they learn from the experiences and views of other races and cultures — this cannot be achieved by fiat. (I do not mean that we should be blind to discriminatory laws or practices, or to outrages against blacks and other minorities, and other public practices such as racial profiling and much harsher penalties against minority groups, which has resulted in our prison population being comprised mostly of minorities; to murders, which never seem to end, by police of blacks arrested or detained merely on suspicion of crime, or for the most petty crimes, or for acting “strangely.” I don’t just sort of wish they would eventually go away. I am outraged and want to see them abolished — by which I mean the practices and policies.)



I love living in New York City because of — precisely because of — diversity. But diversity isn’t a code word for me. It’s a matter of experiencing, of encountering, all the time people of different races and nationalities, of different ethnicities and religions. I absolutely love it. It is pleasurable, enriches and enlivens my personal life, stimulates me. And, it’s incredible how very often these interactions are amiable and pleasant, how nice people are, how eager they seem to talk or exchange pleasantries, even if it’s only a brief encounter.

I live for this. That’s what “diversity” means to me. I didn’t have to be taught the value of this. And, I did not need classroom lessons or lectures to sensitize me.  It is not a matter of education, it’s a matter of life. Diversity as I perceive and regard it is not a code word or an abstraction.

I do like to learn about other cultures and about matters of race and religion, and, when it comes to social and political issues, it can be important to know about them, but I could probably do this from the media and books, etc.  Education is in most cases a group activity which involves interaction and learning, as a sort of byproduct, social skills (conversational skills, for example). When there were children and students in my classes from different backgrounds, I enjoyed it. But education is one thing and diversity is another. Educators should focus on quality education for all, with no barriers to admission but no hidden agendas about the racial or ethnic composition of the student body. They should be educators, not social engineers. And the type of social engineering they advocate does harm to some groups and no good for society, as noble as it may sound.


— Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

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