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Harvard Thinks Rich People Are Better Than You

In an expert analysis commissioned to defend Harvard’s admissions practices against a lawsuit, claiming the elite university discriminates against Asian-American applicants, economist David Card explains that the school uses a complicated multivariate analysis that balances applicants’ academic records with a host of other factors.

Asian Americans are significantly overrepresented among the highest-scoring college applicants in the United States. And an internal Harvard study from 2013 determined that, if admissions committees only considered academic qualifications, the proportion of Asians among Harvard students would rise from about 19 percent to about 43 percent. However, Harvard admissions officials contend that Asians have lower scores on measures of personality, including items for courage, likability, kindness and being “widely respected.”

Card’s analysis shows that while Asians are disproportionately represented among the highest academic achievers, white applicants are more likely to score higher on the personality factors, and more likely to be considered multifaceted applicants. But is Harvard really choosing multifaceted white people with sparkling personalities over one-dimensional Asian academic grinds? Or are scores for “likability” and “kindness” really proxies for other qualities that Harvard doesn’t want to admit are admissions factors?

Who has the best personalities?

One of Card’s claims is that stellar academic credentials are so common among Harvard applicants as to be unremarkable. Harvard accepts only about 1,800 students per year, but gets over 8,000 applications from students with perfect GPAs, 3,450 applications from students with perfect SAT math scores, and 2,741 applications from students with perfect SAT verbal scores.

In other words, there are more students with flawless academic qualifications than there are seats at Harvard. So, in order to differentiate among this uniformly superb cohort, Harvard must examine the “whole student” to determine which applicants possess other “distinguishing excellences,” as measured by the personality sections of the admissions metric. Who possesses such excellences? You can look at the students Harvard admits to see what kinds of people it thinks are nicer, braver, less one-dimensional and more likeable than the academically-accomplished Asians it rejects.

Thirty percent of the students admitted to Harvard are “legacies,” or children of Harvard alumni. The median family income of Harvard students is $168,000, about triple the national median income. Fifteen percent of Harvard students come from families earning over $630,000 per year, which makes the wealthiest one percent of Americans the most overrepresented group in Harvard’s class. Only 20 percent of Harvard students come from families with annual household earnings below $65,000, so the wealthiest one percent earns nearly as many seats as the bottom two-thirds of the US population.

Harvard is not alone among elite schools in admitting the very wealthy in hugely disproportionate numbers. Among a group of 12 elite private US universities, seven had larger proportions of students from very rich families than Harvard.

While Harvard’s application pool is supposedly overflowing with students with superb academic credentials, a quarter of Harvard’s class scores below a 1470 combined math and verbal on the SAT, which means Harvard’s class actually has significant overlap on test scores with a number of much less-prestigious institutions.

Some of the admitted students in the bottom quartile of academic performers are members of underrepresented minorities. Although black Americans are significantly underrepresented among the highest academic achievers, Harvard’s class of 2021 is 14.6 percent black, perfectly in proportion to the percentage of Americans who are black. Admissions officials use extensive racial preferences to reach that precise number. Harvard insists it has no quota for black enrollment and no cap on Asian enrollment, but the median Asian student admitted to an elite college has a composite SAT score 450 points higher than the median black student, and, at Harvard, an academic record that gives an Asian applicant only a 25 percent chance of getting in nearly guarantees admission to a black applicant.

But many lower achievers get into Harvard by virtue of other preferences. In addition to a direct admissions “tip” for legacies, there is a “Dean’s Interest List” of special-case applicants whose admission is advocated by the administration. Harvard has redacted most discussion of this list from the public version of its expert report, as well as nearly all information about how Harvard treats the very wealthy, the very powerful, and its large donors. However, journalist Daniel Golden got hold of a list of Harvard’s top 400 donors, and determined that most of them had gotten their children admitted. He has also reported extensively on the widespread practice of administrative intervention in the admissions process on behalf of the children of the wealthy.

On top of legacy preferences and special administrative admissions advocacy for the rich and powerful, there is also a special group of 50 to 60 students each year called the “Z-List.” These are candidates who Harvard wants, but whose academic credentials are so deficient that it can’t let them in through normal admissions. They are admitted on the condition that they defer enrollment for a year, so their scores don’t have to be reported as part of the incoming class. This group is mostly white, and nearly half the students on it are legacies. Black students made up only 2 percent of students admitted through deferred admissions; about one student per year. The students on the Z-list almost all come from rich families; Harvard says it does not admit economically disadvantaged students under its deferred admissions program because poorer students are less able to take a gap year before matriculating.

Card’s mathematical models purport to show that when all the personal factors are weighed along with academics, Asians are no longer underrepresented in Harvard’s class relative to their performance as measured by the multifaceted admissions metric. But in light of the admissions success of legacies, the children of top donors, and the children of wealthy, famous and powerful people, there is a lot of reason to be skeptical of the methodology by which admissions committees assess the personalities of applicants. It seems the people who best demonstrate all the personal qualities Harvard desires are traditional white elites.

Maybe Harvard is right. Maybe the rich really are better people than the rest of us. But does anyone really believe there exists any situation in which the scion of a Fortune 500 CEO or a senator with strong academic credentials would be dinged for being insufficiently likable?

“Holistic” admissions have an ugly history. When objective measures of accomplishment like standardized test scores admit too many members of undesirable racial and ethnic backgrounds to elite educational institutions, schools have a long history of using subjective measures to redefine “merit” in order to continue to admit favored groups. In other words, holistic admissions were invented to exclude Jews.

In 1922, Harvard’s Board of Overseers created a committee at the direction of university president Abbott Lowell to assure that the school’s student body was “properly representative of all groups” and provided “equal opportunity.” At the time, Harvard did not admit women and had very few black students, and this committee didn’t change that; its real goal was to reduce the number of Jews admitted to the school.

This committee built the framework that Harvard still uses in admissions today. It started considering applicants’ geographic origin within the United States to favor areas where there were few Jews. Harvard began giving considerable weight to letters of recommendation from officials at “feeder” schools which tended to be private institutions that enrolled white Protestant elites and excluded Jews. And admissions committees began using subjective assessment of applicants’ “character” and “leadership” capabilities, in which they considered Jews to be lacking. In the early 1950s, Harvard Admissions dean Wilbur J. Bender described the ideal Harvard man as a “well-dressed, polite, Nordic blonde from a family with an income of $20,000 a year and up ($208,000 in inflation-adjusted 2018 dollars), living in a swanky suburb.” The use of these subjective and non-academic criteria for admissions severely curtailed Jewish enrollment until the 1960s, and now elite schools seem to be doing the same thing to Asians.

Today traditionally underrepresented minorities are favored in admissions, which allows officials to claim they employ these discriminatory policies in the interest of progressive ideals and social justice. However the demographics of Harvard’s recent classes show that admissions committees still use subjective measures to imbue rich whites with “distinguishing excellences” which are given more weight than the objective academic excellence of applicants who don’t have the connections or wealth that open Harvard’s various side doors.

Card argues that academically superior Asians’ low personality scores render them less competitive against more virtuous white applicants, and that this explains the disparity between Asian test scores and Asian admissions. But that assumes that subjective admissions criteria and personality assessments are measurements that have integrity. But you can look at who Harvard admits instead of Asians applicants and see that the qualities Harvard truly prefer have nothing to do with courage, leadership or kindness. These subjective admissions criteria were invented to justify discrimination and nepotism, and there is no evidence they’ve ever been used for any other purpose.

The fact that Asians tend to score lower on Harvard’s personality metrics just means that Harvard deducts points from qualified Asians to justify rejecting them, while using the same subjective criteria to award extra points to preferred applicants in order to make them appear stronger.


Daniel Friedman is the Edgar Award-nominated author of Don’t Ever Get Old,Don’t Ever Look Back and Riot Most Uncouth. Follow him on Twitter@DanFriedman81 


  1. James Thomas says

    Meritocracy – Flawed, but repairable?

    Harvard – how much endowment would they ultimately lose for not playing the game?

  2. Lowell Kirkland says

    Harvard can and should do just about anything it wants. It’s a private institution. It masks its choices as any prudent college would do, while choosing admits is nothing like an exact science. Prudence dictates that its alumni start rich, to perpetuate the college, which operates on a sea of cash. I find nothing wrong with this.

    • Gordon Kushner says

      Says a gentleman named Lowell Kirkland. Not calling you out, just finding this amusing.

      • Lowell Kirkland says

        I am not sure I am a gentleman, since I work for a living, but thank you very much. The rich ones pay for the smart ones, at Harvard. I happen to have benefited from that scheme, falling, however, into another category (lottery winners, since there are ton of smart people around), and nobody but nobody has a right to attend Harvard (which, of course, must remain somewhat law abiding). The whole lawsuit thing strikes me as fortunate people wanting even more than they might get–and anyway might get someplace else. Apply to Yale, and see where that takes you. American colleges are overrated anyway. Join the real one percent by serving the country. Officers require a college degree, and the ones I have met in the Navy have impressed me more than any one bunch of people I have ever known, in Cambridge or out. God bless.

        • Bill says

          It’s a private institution, not a public one, so the requirement to not discriminate (the essence of this case) conflicts with freedom of speech (on the part of Harvard in selecting it’s cohort). The only deviation from this is if it falls astray of any “operating as a business” laws ala the bakeries. But, it could be argued that this isn’t a publicly operating business but actually a private club negating the applicability of those laws.

          What this comes down to is simple: does a private business have the free speech right to employ membership criteria that the government deems discriminating against a protected class. While as a libertarian I hope Harvard wins since it would establish case-law allowing things like…cake bakers to reject decorating with messages they object to (their free speech right).

          Of course, this case pits SJWs against SJWs which is quite amusing. No matter what outcome, one or more intersections are negatively impacted be they black applicants, female applicants, LGBTQRSTUV applicants….

          • Whether Harvard is entitled to admit whoever it wants as students is a question of freedom of association. It’s got nothing to do with freedom of speech. Different beastie.

            The argument is not over whether Harvard can say “Yup, we’ll take you, but not you” it’s over what they can do – ie take you but not you.

        • Paolo says

          You are right that as a private institution they should do as they see fit. But here they are called out especially in their contradictions and hypocrisy. They are basically taking us all as stupid, which is proving short-sighted.

    • Tom Scharf says

      Legally they must follow the same rules as public institutions or lose federal funding. If they want to give this up to play by their own rules, this is fine by me. They won’t. There is no right way to racially discriminate.

      • Bill says

        But what Federal funding? They won’t lose the federal student loans, those are monies to the students. Grants? Those are often to the researcher and not the institution.

        If you suggest that Fed Student Loans would not pay them you open up a HUGE problem for historically black institutions, the women’s colleges, suddenly all of the religious based universities are open game (Notre Dame for example). Nah, don’t think THAT would pass through the do-nothing Congress.

        • Tom Scharf says

          Those institutions are open game. Students cannot receive federal loans for those schools if the schools don’t play by the rules. The original intent was to prevent schools discriminating against blacks from receive funding. Historically black institutions cannot discriminate by race, that’s the “historical” part. The law says undergrad schools can be single gender.

    • Anon says

      In principle, I agree completely. However, in the same breath, Harvard turns around and rattles off the usual social justice diabtribes. As a private institution, they can put as many thumbs on as many scales as they like. Just don’t turn around and call it virtue.

    • diig says

      I would gladly agree, the minute Harvard stopped accepting the federal tax dollars that fund their payroll through research grants.

    • Meegs says

      It receives favorable tax treatment for its endowment

    • Robin says

      It receives federal funding so it cannot have total leeway.

    • David Lee says

      Harvard receives public money in the form of Government Grants for non-tenured research. They aren’t really a ‘private’ institution. You can’t really use the ‘private’ institution label, it’s not like you can refuse service to black people at a restaurant, for example.

    • They take Federal money in the form of research grants. Once you take Federal money, you can’t play those games as it is a condition of taking the money. That’s why fundamentalists colleges, like Bob Jones University, don’t take Federal money.

      Now do you understand? What they’re do is, in fact, illegal since they take all that Federal $$$..

  3. I’m calling free market here, I think they should admit or exclude who they want. But I also agree that articles like these should be made so people can decide for themselves the ethics of Harvard. Perhaps this won’t change anything at Harvard, and that’s ok, or admissions and credibility will go down because people will only see the discriminatory nature of their admissions office, and that’s ok too. It’s a private school, and that’s the Crux of the issue here.

    • Bill says

      It isn’t free market, it’s free speech. Harvard is a private institution, a private club, with a private membership. They can establish the rules for whomever is a member no different than if you setup a Friday game night at your house and have the freedom of speech/association right to decide who to invite and who to exclude.

      Free market is the “rich go there/rich endowment” aspect which is not relevant any more than it is for historically Black universities and women’s universities.

  4. Lowell Kirkland says

    P. S. I thought I’d also mention the faulty reasoning I think is at work in the whole Harvard bashing scene, in essence, categories mistaken for knowledge. Harvard knows better in Admissions and Financial Aid (which is the name of the department, by the way, charged with selecting undergraduates) than to lump people into “Asian” and “white,” which to it are no better than broad terms, presumably a result of the census-like approach it has de facto to take. The thing the author seems not to know is that, thanks to alumni interviewing, those stupid quasi-racist terms melt away as the college gathers much more highly specific information about individuals. Then there is another challenge. How bright is bright, talented talented? Even more, how good is good? Harvard wants students who are not grade grubbers, or prepped by tutors to stay in an honors or A. P. course, or obsessed ‘to look like a Harvard student.’ I don’s suggest its choices are perfect, but the 40 percent is by the numbers alone, I suppose some heuristic to get a grip on complex reality, nothing more. Even if most valedictorians were (say) ‘Asian,’ they are not all equally the sort of student Harvard (or any college) would like. Reducing this to ‘virtue’ is not altogether wrong, but it is more like character and personality–equally important to most exclusive places, such as officer candidacy and, once upon a time, electoral politics–that matter. I would love to think Harvard would reject an evil genius of any background to accept a gifted all-rounder or student-athlete, who puts others before self and ambition.

    • Bill says

      See how that flies when you apply that same logic to any number of court cases alleging discrimination based upon disparate impact. Oh, that housing project didn’t reject them because they were black..they incorporated a whole bunch of factors and the fact that they were black melted away. The courts have found that argument to be hokum and ignoring that those other criteria were established simply to mask ethnicity by setting up ethnic clustering.

      The same argument put forth by the GOP questioning the IG report which says there’s bias, but no conclusion that the bias altered the decisions to indefensible ones.

      • Who is these the courts? Do you specific case law that has been argued all the way up to the supreme court and passed muster there?

        • Bill says

          Google is your friend. disparate impact supreme court tells you that SCOTUS ruled 5-4 in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v The Inclusive Communities Project in June 2015. You’ll literally see pages of links to choose-your-own-preferred-news-site stories and opinion pieces on it. They ruled that disparate impact is recognizable as a category of racial discrimination under the law.

          • Bill says

            Oh, and the original theory of disparate impact arose from SCOTUS in Griggs v Duke Power Co., 1971 when it held that “…not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in action” when discussing employment practices — pretty well inline with enrollment offer practices i’d suspect.

    • OtherWay says

      Lowell, the data is now known since the lawsuit has managed to force discovery of some of the facts.

      In Harvard Alumni interviews the Asians score just as high as everybody else in the “personality” category. (We both know that 90% of applicants have this interview so it is statistically relevant).

      Only in the admissions office (where the office only see the check box, and not the person) do those scores suddenly change.

      Humans defend what they love. But you are being purposefully blind.
      Harvard (and all the Ivies) discriminate on race – and not on personality.
      And that fact beyond obvious to anyone who is not experience cognitive dissonance.
      Harvard even has a recent history of doing exactly this – in exactly this manner.

      It is not a shock. Nor is it even news to anybody who ever went to Harvard (or any Ivy) in the last 30 years. We all knew this was happening decades ago. Sure, we had no proof. And we didn’t have the guts to call it out. But now we have both.

      • Lowell Kirkland says

        Where, please, do you have any statistics or concrete proof of alumni interviews, which are confidential? Did you read the link I posted? If you are referring to plaintifs’ ‘evidence,’ please refer to it. Are you referring to teacher and school recommendations, which are also confidential, please refer to your source. Since you later claim that the admissions staff is 90 percent ‘leftist,’ I suspect you must have some special knowledge, which I beg you to make public here, not least because the way you refer to interviews suggest you know nothing about the process. Harvard is neither racist nor discriminatory. It’s just plain weird to find people so dead set on proving the opposite on no basis but hearsay alone.

  5. Pink Tate says

    That would be a great plan, Lowell, except for the fact Harvard doesn’t have face to face interviews with everybody, and the ones they do are highly subjective. We all know how those interviews work. Find a rich, connected Harvard grad who you know from Goldman who was in your wedding and get them to ‘interview’ your well rounded kid. The system makes sure the club stays the club while affirmative action gives them political cover.

    Now that the cat’s out of the bag that affirmative action has racist consequences (shocking for a policy that is inherently racist) the cover is being blown off of both sides.

    If Harvard wants to give up its federal funding, and be a truly private institution, then it’s their right to have any kind of club they want.

  6. The argument about having many applicants with aperfect academic credentials and needing further critera to differentiate is ludicrous based in this context. Many of the people that get admitted aren’t even in that cohort or perfect GPAs and perfect Math or Verbal SAT scores so they are not looking to differentiate from among the best they are elevating lesser achievers. They admit 1,800 students per year and get many more then that with basically perfect academic credentials.

  7. Fenster says

    Whether its decisions are institutionally wise or foolish choosing less talented over more talented is theoretically an arbitrage opportunity for everyone else. So I have some sympathy for the free market advocates commenting here. Not total sympathy: Harvard uses its outsized reputation to perpetuate its outsized reputation and so capitalizing on the arbitrage opportunity is no easy thing.

  8. ga gamba says

    I agree with those who state a private uni may admit who it deems fit for whatever reason. However, public accommodation laws, which I disagree with, must be adhered to whilst still on the books. If Harvard has breached these then it must be fined and brought into compliance. Where we also part company is on the issue of taxpayers’ money going to fund R&D. Yes, it’s the academics who apply for the grants, but they are Harvard employees and the school acquires further prestige by employing top-tier professors making remarkable discoveries funded by the taxpayer. Harvard has a large enough endowment that it may fund this research on its own dime. Harvard is also tax-exempt, and for the most part non-profits must comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. For example, the Catholic Church is not required to ordain female priests to retain this status, but Church-owned businesses such as its hospitals may not use this exemption to employ only male doctors. If Harvard is discriminating then it ought to lose its tax-exempt status. This may dissuade donors who’ve lost their tax write-offs, but they may donate elsewhere.

    What I also appreciate is with revelations such as these it calls into question the credentials of anyone other than Asians with Harvard degrees. Of course employers look to more than academic qualifications when hiring, and being well connected is a legitimate reason to hire someone. The Harvard degree simply ought not retain the cachet of academic excellence it has presently.

    Thirty percent of the students admitted to Harvard are “legacies,” or children of Harvard alumni.

    I think this needs further explanation. What portion of the 30% were academically unqualified? Were all 30% admitted simply for being legacies? Is it cause or coincidence? Were there legacies who weren’t admitted? I will presume many of the legacies were sufficiently qualified academically, but there are some, such as those on the Z-list, who weren’t. A break down of this is needed to have a clearer picture.

    Lastly, I’ll bring to everyone’s attention the University of Chicago just announced it will no longer use standardised tests such as the ACT/SAT to review applicants’ qualifications. It intends to look at school grades, which are much more subject to gaming by teachers as well as cheating by students. I suspect this change was done to make it more difficult to scruntinise the admissions process by outsiders since standardised test scores are the only variable common to all those admitted as well as being the most objective, though not perfectly so.

    I think many of these elite private schools will double down on retaining the preferences given to some.

  9. Lowell Kirkland says

    I think that a conservative view dictates that Harvard be allowed to do what it wants, including making mistakes, since it is a private institution. I think freedom of assembly, enshrined in the Constitution, about covers it. Harvard’s own defense is ample, and to read it is to see how little the media appreciate what is at stake:

    As for interviews, nobody is denied a face-to-face interview: I know, since I conduct them.

    Finally, as a practical matter, the problem of oversubscription is a good one to have. I think Harvard handles it reasonably well.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      Lowell Kirkland,
      I would agree that Harvard is well within its rights to proceed under whatever admissions policies it feels is sufficient to achieve its desired ends. In fact, I strongly believe as much. But in doing so, I also believe they have an obligation to discontinuing their reliance (or acceptance) on public funds, full stop.

      As to whether Harvard’s own defense is ample, or not; well, reasonable people can disagree in good faith. Frankly, the strength of their case is not all that important to me. The one criticism I do have of Harvard (aside from the public funds), is the insincere manner in which they are carrying on with the idea that they are not discriminating on the basis of race. It’s plainly obvious that Harvard is using the personality metrics (PMs) to accomplish this goal.

      Again, let me be clear. From a principled standpoint, I don’t have a problem with Harvard undertaking explicitly race-based admission policies, nor do I have a problem with them utilizing the PMs to do. It does seem to be a little chicken-shit to hide behind holistic measures like the PMs, when everyone knows the game that’s being played. Why not have a little more character and owned it? I’m serious.

      What’s the argument against being upfront and honest?

      Lastly, I hate to even suggest an allegiance with the “media,” but, I read it, and I don’t see what exactly is at stake here. I’m a dumb red-neck from the south, so this may provide some insight to my bewilderment. You’ll have to excuse my ignorance – I’m naturally handicapped by a multigenerational obtuseness.
      My limitations notwithstanding, what do you believe is at stake in this case? Maybe that’s not the right question. What valuable asset (as you see it) is at jeopardy, here? Maybe that’s a better question.

      • Lowell Kirkland says

        Thanks, D. B. Maybe we are related, as my ancestors are from VA and KY. You seem to give yourself too little credit. At stake is the freedom of association Harvard as a private institution has every right to. I fail to see, if one has read all the documents in the link, what the fuss is all about. I urge anybody serious about all this Harvard bashing to read them all. I never in a million years would expect racism of Harvard today, and absolutely none has been found. Obviously, since neither ‘white’ nor ‘Asian’ (or should that be ‘Asian American’?) could begin to describe individuals, and Harvard seeks to attract outstanding individuals, Harvard has no interest in any one group dominating any given class. At the same time, the rich ones pay for the smart ones. That’s, in a nutshell, how Harvard chooses, freely in a free society, to admit undergraduates. I don’t really think Harvard is hiding behind holistic measures, it is openly embracing holistic measures. Perhaps you have never faced the problem of creating a small village, every year, of 1800 or so people, all of them young, each year joining three further cohorts of the about the same number. You seem to think, with others, that there is one and only one measure of admission, while ignoring the catastrophe, social and personal, of admitting a clone army of valedictorians (say), each more a narcissist (say) than the next. The lawsuit is frivolous, mired in the racist claptrap of race words (‘white,’ ‘Asian’) Harvard neither uses nor endorses in any way significant to its admissions. Probably more than any other college has long arms with a warm embrace. If it takes public funds, at least for big science, it gives a lot to the public. Indeed, it is a private institution whose goods become public knowledge and whose graduates become, one way or another, public servants and leaders. Dragging its good name around in the mud is just an epiphenomenon of the grotesque and destructive incivility rampant in the U. S.

        • stevefitzpatrick says

          Lowell Kirkland,
          I suspect you would find, if you looked, that plenty of the people you consider guilty of ‘grotesque and destructive incivility’ also vigorously support Harvard’s ability to admit anyone it wants (it’s a private university and all that). But you would also find that many (most?) of them would also support withholding of Federal funding from any such private university, when that university does not offer “equal opportunity” to all applicants. That Federal funding could be in the form of student loans, funding of research, or even funding of ‘big science’ (however you define that). Clearly, most of Harvard’s annual budget comes from these Federal funds. And just as clearly Harvard does not offer “equal opportunity” to all applicants. That’s fine, exclude and admit who you want, but not on the taxpayer’s dime.

          WRT ‘gives a lot to the public’, people might differ on what ‘a lot’ is, but I am reasonably certain that most intellectual property rights (patents, etc) developed at Harvard using federal grants, remain the property of Harvard and/or the individual researchers who do the work. If I am wrong about that, and intellectual property is routinely donated to the public, please let me know how the process works.

          • Lowell Kirkland says

            Harvard is absolutely a college which offers equal opportunity under the law. So of course it will receive federal and other governmental funding. The lawsuit is frivolous and will fail.

            On the public good of knowledge:

            By definition, publishing (as does the Faculty of Arts and Science) is for the public, directly (as in the form of books across the humanities) or indirectly (as in progress in science and engineering, which lead to increased comfort or safety of millions). Harvard is a research university, albeit founded as a college. Its professors teach both graduate and undergraduate students.

            Harvard has a long tradition of public service: T. R., for one. And of public intellectuals: T. S. Eliot. And of musicians who have endeavored to serve the American people: Bernstein, in his concerts for young people, which, widely imitated, became a model for the nation for decades.

            I never knew a state university to “donate”–your word–its intellectual property to the public, by the way.

          • stevefitzpatrick says

            Lowell Kirkland,
            Considering the Federal Court’s refusal to dismiss, the demand for discovery, and the rather animated response of Harvard’s outgoing President to the public disclosure of the plaintiffs’ expert analysis of the admissions data, I do find it a bit surprising that you think the Lawsuit is frivolous. In any case, both the Federal Court and many voters disagree with your evaluation of frivolity. The upcoming trial and likely appeals seem to me the only way to determine if the suit will fail or not. If I were a gambling man, I would put the odds at about a coin toss. We will see.

            I did not suggest there were other universities, public or otherwise, that routinely donate intellectual property to the public. I was just trying to understand how Harvard “gives a lot to the public”.

            Caltech (at the insistence of the voters in California) does not consider race in it’s admissions, and has a very different racial makeup in its undergraduate classes than Harvard. I wonder if you think that august institution suffers from having too many valedictorians who are too full of themselves. The few Caltech grads I know don’t seem that bad to me.

          • stevefitzpatrick says


            BTW, I like your pseudonym. My name is real.

        • D.B. Cooper says

          Lowell Kirkland,
          Thank you, Lowell, for the speedy response. Also, I apologize if I drone on for longer than convention dictates. Apparently, I’m given to such advances.
          With formalities rendered, let me say that I was a little surprised at a few of your responses, and one or two of your non-responses, responses; however, in the interest of brevity I will try to address only the most salient of these rejoinders. Also, having read your response, I think it’s worth restating, here; which is, that I have no particular antipathy toward Harvard or the manner in which it operates, save what I mentioned in my original comment to you. Further, it is not my intent to ‘run-you-down’ or play gotcha games. My interest in the topic is limited to its appeal as social phenomenon.

          (1) “Harvard has no interest in any ONE GROUP DOMINATING [emphasis mine] any given class.”

          So, at the risk of insulting your intelligence, I won’t waste time with explanations of the rhetorical strategy (red herring) you’ve employed here, or with questions on why you choose to employ it.
          I believe this statement was in response to my criticism of why Harvard would carry on with the “idea that they are not discriminating on the basis of race. It’s plainly obvious that Harvard is using the personality metrics (PMs) to accomplish this goal.” Or, at least it seems to be.

          The main point I want to get across, here, is that your statement about Harvard not having an interest in any “ONE GROUP DOMINATING” is about as clear a punt as one could make when responding to a question on racial admission preferences. I would’ve thought it went without saying that institutions, like Harvard, could discriminate on the basis of more than one race at any given time without having an interest in any one racial group dominating any given class. The fact that Harvard’s admission and enrollment figures have remained consistent for different racial categories over extended periods of time suggests there are differing orders of magnitude for each racial category, e.g. critical mass, racial balancing.
          Furthermore, I’m not aware that anyone has ever even accused Harvard of having an interest in any one group dominating any given class this side of the 21st Century; which, at least in my mind makes the statement that much more gratuitous than it already appears to be. To be blunt, it’s not even remotely in the neighborhood of a suitable response to the criticisms I raised on Harvard’s conspicuous use of personality metrics (PMs) as tool for achieving its desired levels of race-based equity in the admissions process.

          (2) “I don’t really think Harvard is HIDING BEHIND HOLISTIC MEASURES [emphasis mine], it is openly embracing holistic measures.”

          I found this statement intriguing for a few reasons:
          Taken literally, the statement is obviously true, by which, I mean, it is essentially meaningless, since, obviously the school doesn’t hide the fact that it uses holistic measures in the admission process, nor have I claimed that they do. Of course, they embrace holistic measures, PMs are the only tool they have for actualizing race-based preferences. To point out that they embrace them is, at best, a specious retort to what I was actually criticizing. Namely, Harvard’s use of holistic measures (PMs) as a work-around for achieving explicitly race-based admission goals.
          But none of this really matters. Harvard themselves “admits that the admissions committee considers each applicant’s background and personal characteristics, including – where relevant – the applicant’s race or ethnicity…” (See: 147, 186, and 196). The fact that Harvard included the phrase “where relevant,” does make one wonder under what conditions is an applicant’s race or ethnicity irrelevant. That is, when does an applicant’s race or ethnicity become irrelevant to the considerations of the admissions committee?

          (3) “You seem to think, with others, that there is one and only one measure of admission, while ignoring the catastrophe, social and personal, of admitting a clone army of valedictorians (say), each more a narcissist (say) than the next.”

          This is a less than charitable read on your part. While I am from the south, my naivete only goes so far. Nothing I said would suggest I seem to think “that there is one and only one measure of admissions, while ignoring catastrophe…”
          Granted, it’s possible that “other” people may think this. If there’s one thing I’ve learned living in the South, it’s not to underestimate the latent stupidity of the American people. But still, it’s hard to imagine how you would arrive at this conclusion on the basis of what I said. Honestly, do you really believe that I would be so thick as to think that Harvard only considers an applicant’s race in its decision to award admissions? This would entail me believing that Harvard doesn’t consider an applicant’s GPA or SAT scores. Come on, really?

          (4) “The lawsuit is frivolous, mired in the racist claptrap of race words (‘white,’ ‘Asian’) Harvard neither uses nor endorses in any way SIGNIFICANT [emphasis mine] to its admissions.”

          Similar to (1), you again added a qualifier to the statement for, what are obvious reasons. Unfortunately, in doing so, it becomes a response to a claim I never made. I never said Harvard racial admissions preferences in any significant way. I said they use them, i.e., they discriminate on the basis of race. I’m more than happy to add the caveat that they only do so after they’ve exhausted every other means of achieving their desired racial status quo.
          My point is, regardless of how, when, and to what degree Harvard discriminates on the basis of race, by countenancing racial admissions preferences they still, by definition, discriminate on the basis of race.

          In closing, I want to say that it wasn’t until I read your response that I noticed you were or are an admissions officer at Harvard. This obviously complicates things for you, and understandably so. If I were an admissions officer there, having all the responsibilities of a father and husband, while this lawsuit was going on, I can say with some confidence that I would be more likely to be drawn and quartered than I would admit to any charges of racial discrimination. Hold the line, my friend. Hold the line.

          • Lowell Kirkland says

            Hi, D. B. In haste:

            No, I am not an admissions officer at Harvard. I merely interview for Harvard as an alumnus.

            To your numbered claims: 1: can’t see your point, perhaps because you cannot see mine. 30 percent are legacies, for example, and by no means could such a number suggest dominating, not least since they come from diverse backgrounds, not just wealth. Most alumni don’t even have their children apply. Since terms like ‘white’ and ‘Asian’ are to Harvard nothing but place holders (it has to report such things to the government), really no attempt at trying to reduce Harvard undergraduates to such terms could ever persuade. I repeat: Harvard wants superlative individuals, whose virtues do not begin and end with GPA. anymore than with ‘identity.’ 2. Unless somebody knows the step-by-step process of admissions, nobody should be throwing around terms like PM or the like–Harvard does not. And since ‘race’ is not a term with any real traction at Harvard, which admits one race, the human race, and since there are no quotas, admissions cannot possibly do what you (oddly) claim it does. 3. I was assuming nothing of the sort, just hinting that you may not have understood the broad range of objective criteria Harvard uses, not just academic potential or achievement. 4. Use and discriminate are not synonyms, and in the relevant legal sense at issue there should be no equivocation. Your closing is, as already stated, mistaken, and, also, ad hominem.

            This was fun, but I would urge those of you with an animus towards Harvard because of its perceived liberal bias (which is pretty real) to consider the place, founded in 1636, as worthy of something more than trash talk, ignorant rant, screeds, black imaginings, and irresponsible journalism, with which the internet is ablaze. No finger pointing here. Quillette is a wonder. I am grateful to the author, the site, and the posters. I hope we all are and stay friends. And that’s Veritas ipsissima.

  10. If the Asians are actually smarter (which may well be the case) I can imagine that establishment white Americans don’t like that…..hence the low likability scores. And since it seems many white Americans are racists, that’d explain the low “widely respected” score too.

    • OtherWay says

      Alumni, many of them white, appear to not be racist, and to rank asians as high as anybody else on the ‘personality’ scores.
      The lower rating is entirely a result of the Admissions Office, which is 98% staffed by leftists.
      It looks to me like the racism comes entirely from the leftists. For leftists, the ends justify the means. If social engineering requires being a racist – they don’t blink an eye. If Utopia is the endpoint (and it is for leftists) then even murdering 10 million people would be (and has been) acceptable to leftists. A little racism, well hidden from view for decades, is nothing at all.

  11. I didn’t find this artile very illuminating, I’m afraid, Yeah, Harvard takes legacy students, cos they want to keep the legacies flowing. Big whoop. And the legacies are – at present – mostly whities. OK we got that. And Harvard also takes lots of AAs with low scores for PC reasons. We’ve got that.

    Now, ignoring these special cases of people who get in on a non meritocratic basis, what about the rest – the folk who are supposed to get in because they’re smart ? Do the sums show that even in this group of purportedly meritocratic admissions Harvard discriminates against Asians in favor of whites, and claims it’s down to “personality ” ?

  12. Mark says

    Did I stumble into the Guardian by mistake? Complaining about acceptance to an elitist organisation through the prism of identity politics.

    Come on, guys. I browse here every day to get away from this nonsense. Go solve some real problems; Harvard admissions affect virtually no one.

  13. Jim22 says

    I had no idea the legacy was as high as 30% … I would have guess 6 or 7% – with only the richest super-donors and presidents kids able to use that door and only if they were also rather good students(or a bit lower hurdle for non elite who were super superb students – clearly Harvard can fill a class with super superb students so giving the alumni kids an edge was predicable but I wouldn’t have thought quite so high a number)

    As for what “should” they do ? Clearly if they want to maximize the elite influence they should keep on doing what they are and really probably are admitting too many Asians and blacks from a purely selfish perspective.

    But, the election of Trump and that last campaign makes me wonder if more and more ‘outing’ will come from people in elite schools .. not the {{ based on religion which was terrible clearly, but apps that place a persons college after every mention – so we can begin to see what a potentially collusive small a group of people we have in places of control.

    • ga gamba says

      Clearly if they want to maximize the elite influence they should keep on doing…

      Nope. The Western elite is a declining force. It ought to maximise Asian enrollment because they are the elites in everything from women’s golf to classical music as well as manufacturing, R&D, etc. Increasingly they influence the soft power sphere such as fashion, animation and comics, and popular music. I won’t be surprised to see in a few years they set the majority of popular trends. Always remember the golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

    • OtherWay says

      95% of those 30% legacies would get into Harvard if Harvard never asked about their parents.
      And Harvard should NOT ask (but it does …).
      That is because smart people tend to have smart children. And that is just how biology works – it is not a conspiracy.

      • Peter Kriens says

        Any research to back that claim? I think generally there is regression to the mean?

  14. I’d be curious to know to what extent need blind admissions has affected all of this. I believe all eight Ivy League schools now employ need blind admissions, meaning that a student’s family’s ability to pay is not a factor in determining admissions. This means a significant portion of the class receives some form of financial aid, and for families making less than $65,000 per year, I believe that family would pay nothing for their child to attend Harvard.

    In order to finance this, Harvard has to admit a certain percentage of students who are able to pay the full $70,000 per year it costs to go there. (My understanding is that a small portion of this is financed using the endowment.) This would also seem to explain the absurd rise in tuition costs. Twenty-five years ago it cost approximately $25,000 per year to attend an Ivy League school. Inflation, capital improvements, logic all fail to explain this increase. The only thing that seems to have changed is the adoption of need blind admissions, and the need to finance that program.

    It may very well be that Harvard doesn’t think wealthy is better. It may be that the admissions office holds its nose while admitting these white wealthy students as a means to enabling them to matriculate students without the means to attend Harvard otherwise.

    What’s also interesting is that the true have nots in this system are the children of families who make between $250,000 and $650,000 per year. These families make too much to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to justify $70,000 per year in after tax dollars for Harvard. Of course, this is a demographic that no one will ever feel sorry for, so no one says anything about it.

    • ga gamba says

      Inflation, capital improvements, logic all fail to explain this increase.

      It’s the growth of the administrator class. For example, in 2013 Harvard opened its Title IX office. In its 2016-17 annual report it claimed a staff of 60. And with a 65% growth in complaints, which the office claims as an achievement, surely more are needed. What do you think the office’s annual budget is? Safe spaces, admins to aid the underserved, and people to dream up ever new ways to make education and the uni experience therapeutic don’t come cheap.

      Establishing ever more requirements and enforcing compliance mandates an ever growing class to do so. Just ask the TSA or Stasi.

    • Lowell Kirkland says

      Yes, as I said, the rich ones pay for the smart ones, with tuition paying the bills rather than endowment. That’s been going on since the 1950s, on a large scale, but opening its doors to those without all the advantages is actually a big part of Harvard history. The assumption is the inestimable value of a Harvard education.

  15. D.B. Cooper says

    It seems to me, what is most needed, what is lacking, is a sober critique of the situation. I have no plans of providing it, but I do feel much of the discourse is taking place at the periphery of the problem. Everyone seems to be frozen by the fact that Harvard discriminates during its admission process. In an attempt at keeping to the ‘principle of charity’ I nearly wrote, in the previous sentence, that “Harvard APPEARS TO discriminate…” but then I remembered that sophistry is not the same thing as charity, and that setting the high-water-mark for imaginative hypocrisy was not much better; so, I didn’t.

    It’s not that there isn’t something to be said – or, that needs to be said – of Harvard’s, essentially, feral palate for ethnic and class defamation; but to focus solely (or primarily) on their rank hypocrisy is to, at best, address a symptom and ignore the disease.

    Gentlemen (and Ladies), let’s be reasonable shall we. Prior to the Asian-American lawsuit, and the revelations that followed, did anyone actually believe that Harvard wasn’t racially discriminating on a level that would make Jefferson Davis blush? I feel that far too many of us may be missing the forest for the trees, here. Just in case anyone missed it, affirmative action – which has been legislated by the Federal Gov’t and approved by the Supreme Court – is, by definition, a discriminatory policy. To be more precise, it is a federally mandated discriminatory policy; or in the colloquial style of Leftist: It’s racist.

    I don’t want to hear that AA isn’t a discriminatory policy on the basis that it’s aimed at redressing historical grievances. That’s called a reason, and as to whether or not it is a good one, I will leave for another day. Simply b/c you can regurgitate a reason (or justification) for why you’re discriminating does not at all change the fact that you are indeed discriminating. To claim otherwise is not only an affront to common decency, it violates the constraints of basic reasoning. Just imagine someone robbing you for your wallet in broad daylight and then the person having the audacity to claim he didn’t rob you on the basis of the fact you grew up in a middle-class (SES) family, while he grew up in a lower-class (SES) family. Affirmative action at its base, is an ideology grounded in and defended by the good intentions of collective guilt.

    Anyway, I’ve read a number of articles on this specific issue and, surprisingly, the far majority have come from Leftist, or ostensibly left-leaning organizations. While this may be surprising to hear – a cursory google search of “Harvard-Discriminates-Asian” should be sufficient to confirm – considering the troublesome dilemma that Leftist are (potentially) forced to navigate when discussing the topic, I’ve come to understand that if and when the opportunity to propagate the victimhood of marginalized peoples, and especially in matters of race, there are absolutely NO barriers to entry for Leftists who want to enter the conversation. And there’s not a bleeding heart with a tick and a keyboard that doesn’t want to talk about race.

    It’s not so much an open secret as it is a brute fact, and in some cases a widely held postulate, that the Left has fetishized all things race. It could be said, that what the casting couch was to Harvey Weinstein, perpetuating racial demagoguery is to the Leftists. What smore, amidst the thicket of muddled thinkers who are perpetually insensitive to data and no less allergic to rational discourse, the Leftists are paramount among those in the media who, in judging the relations of racial discord, are always willing (more than willing, really) to redistribute the facts until they can actually see what they believe. If it’s not the most prudent course of action, it is certainly the most convenient.

    But where was I…

    So, I’ve read a number of Left leaning articles discussing the issue – and to the surprise of no one – almost every article (including this one) amounts to a deftly executed acquittal of Harvard’s discriminatory practices, via adjudicating any moral culpability down to misdemeanor status on the grounds that the school is merely a victim of its own circumstance. Once they’ve manufactured enough doubt with a masterclass of understatements, they begin their jaunt towards recriminations of white guilt.

    Speaking of recriminations, the recidivists who are known to advance this strategic narrative have become absurdly predictable in arguing their defense for the continuation of Harvard’s race-based AA policies; which, I might add approximates to something like, “Yeah, but what about the dumb rich white kids who gets in.” Non sequitur, anyone?

    You might think this would be a teachable moment for Leftist. You might even think copious amounts of evidence that showed AA admission policies pernicious effects on Asian-Americans would inevitably lead to a baptism of common sense. But it hasn’t.
    Unfortunately, self-preservation – and the preservation of one’s core narrative – is almost always preferred to self-development. The latter constitutes a degree of rational thought that requires a bit more frontal lobe development, than what can be expected from a group of people who deny the existence of biological differences btw men and women. But Leftists aren’t completely useless.

    If, by chance, you ever need to illustrate to a Psych 101 class what cognitive dissonance looks like, you could do worse than having the discuss a Vox article’s take on Harvard’s admission practices.

    In closing, I can see this comment accomplished very little of what I intended it to. The point I hoped to make, but didn’t, was that Harvard’s discriminatory AA policies are at best on the periphery and at worse immaterial to the problem. No thinking person would believe that this hasn’t been going on for decades, that Harvard is the sole transgressor in higher education, or that this is a bug in Harvard’s admission process, or even a feature of the process. It’s not. It’s a feature of society writ large. Harvard just ran up against it (reality) with the Asians.

    As the author stated, “The fact that Asians tend to score lower on Harvard’s personality metrics just means Harvard deducts points from qualified Asians to justify rejecting them, while using the same subjective criteria to award extra points to preferred applicants in order to make them appear stronger.”

    Has a more obvious, and yet still necessary, statement ever been made on this issue. This is the point isn’t it? Harvard’s personality metrics were not aimed at achieving a reduction of uncertainty, they were aimed at achieving an induction of uncertainty AND for precisely the reason why the authored implied: the personality metrics gave/give admissions officers the ability to game the qualifying admissions criteria for the purposes of meeting the desired racial quotas without explicitly appearing to do so.
    They are/were, in fact, a type of Rorschach test designed to deny unwarranted ideas about human nature, variations in effort and ability; while re-inscribing comforting notions of the blank slate and, more broadly, artificial preferences for fairness and social equality (read, racial quotas). In the free world this is called a “justification/legitimize,” or sometimes “rationalize/excuse,” or even sometimes “not-owning-your-hypocrisy,” or even still sometimes “horseshit.”

    Lastly, I should say, Harvard is more than capable of proceeding under whatever racial pretenses it would like. To be sure, they (admissions officers) should be able to discriminate to whatever degree they feel is sufficient to achieve whatever ends they have staked out. My only caveat to this would be the discontinuation of accepting public funds – yes, including student federal loans and federal R&D funding. As a rule, I believe any private institution or business should be afforded the right to discriminate on the basis of race or any other immutable characteristic. Of course, the same would apply for any future alt-right patriarchy university. If Harvard is so inclined, they should be allowed to continue in whatever manner they desire, but in doing so, I would only ask that they “feel” the financial burn of their choices rather than having (but really expecting) the public to subsidize their social justice goals. As a matter of good form, it would also be nice if they “owned it” a little more. Hypocrisy is not a good look.

  16. Patrick Barkus says

    Good articles give birth to equally good or better responses, and this article did just that.
    Now for my 2 cents worth.
    Are we satisfied with the current leaders Harvard, and the other too tier universities have turned out in the last 40 or 50 years?
    If the answer is yes, no real change is needed, if, on the other hand, the answer is no change, and possibly major changes are called for.
    As an old fashion conservative I believe hierarchies are not only inevitable, but desirable and that means Harvard and the other top unis are too important to be entirely left, whether private or not, to pursue their own fancies.

  17. Harvard has a shovel and they’re not letting it go, and they continue to dig. Every time they try to justify their discrimination against asians, the hole gets deeper.

    “Harvard admissions officials contend that Asians have lower scores on measures of personality, including items for courage, likability, kindness and being ‘widely respected.”

    Apparently they think asians are more cowardly, unlikeable, meaner and less worthy of respect than white, black or brown people.

    Racist bastards!

  18. Pingback: Harvard Thinks Rich People Are Better Than You | 3 Quarks Daily

  19. Wonder what the stats are in the “really fat and ugly but smart and charming with enough money” category–somehow I suspect they might be the least represented of all. Somehow people aren’t screaming about their rights….just saying.

  20. Siddhartha Mohapatra says

    I would be at peace with whatever discrimination Harvard (or other Ivies) choose to perpetuate to serve their ‘rebalancing’. I think the concept of a ‘dream’ school is stupefyingly flawed – ones worth cannot ever be measured by which school you attended – school is only the first step and one has their entire life ahead of them to prove themselves. Certainly, attending Harvard did not determine the success of alumni like Bill Gates and Zuckerberg – they dropped out.

    I think Harvard should just be honest and up front with the fact that they need to discriminate to maintain their ideal demographics. Can they not just admit that the actual selection is a crap shoot or throwing darts and not pretend that you chose to reject a student because he / she did not meet your opaque (and definitely biased) standards of intangible traits. It would be much easier on a 18 year old Asian student to deal with the rejection if he / she knew the real reason for rejection rather than a mythical one which makes them doubt their own self worth. Eighteen year olds are often not mature enough to realize that it is not their lack of quaifications but the ‘system’ that rejected them.

    I would also like to state that ‘Asian’ includes Indian students as well (who are also brown people). Please do not overlook that fact. They also suffer from the same sort of stereotypical ‘nerd’ classification – whether justified or not.

    God bless Harvard and their ilk.

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