ONTD Political

Colleges resist Asian Americans' success

2:47 am - 04/16/2012

In 1966, the American Jewish Committee reported that less than 1 percent of American college and university presidents were Jewish. Since the end of World War II, about 1,000 presidencies had been filled, and only one - that's right, one - went to a Jew.

It wasn't for want of good candidates. Most institutions had removed long-standing quotas on Jews, who made up 10 to 12 percent of American college students and faculty. But when it came to choosing leaders, the committee concluded, "bias is at work."

It still is. Today, however, it has a different target: Asian Americans. Like Jews in the 1960s, they hold just 1 percent of higher-education presidencies. Dartmouth's Jim Yong Kim is the only Asian American who has ever led an Ivy League institution. And President Obama recently nominated him to head the World Bank.

But Asian Americans also continue to face a form of discrimination in university admissions. And until we change that, we probably won't get more Asian American college leaders, either.

According to Princeton sociologist Thomas J. Espenshade, Asian Americans have to score about 140 points higher than whites on the SAT, all other things being equal, to get into elite colleges. Everyone knows that blacks and Hispanics get a leg up in the admissions sweepstakes. But how many realize that whites enjoy affirmative action when they go head-to-head with Asians?

That just doesn't make any sense. African Americans and Hispanics have suffered discrimination across our history; whites haven't. But if we make whites compete on a level playing field with Asians, some argue, our colleges and universities will become, well, too Asian.

That's exactly what American university leaders said about Jews in the early 20th century, when elite institutions decided to limit Jewish admissions. But first they had to figure out who was Jewish. So Harvard asked applicants to provide their mother's maiden names. It even inquired, "What change, if any, has been made since birth in your own name or that of your father?" And most colleges started to require the submission of photographs, which would allegedly reveal what a Dartmouth official called "Hebrew physiognomy."

The student quotas started to be lifted in the late 1950s and early '60s, as did similar limits on Jewish faculty. Restrictions against Jewish college presidents lasted a little longer, as the 1966 report confirmed. But the following year, the University of Chicago appointed Edward H. Levi, the son of a rabbi, as its president. By 1971, Penn and Dartmouth both had Jewish presidents. Today, all but one of the eight Ivy League schools has been led by a Jew.

Meanwhile, other underrepresented groups have also gained entry into the halls of university power. By 2009, 5.9 percent of university presidents were African American and 4.6 percent were Hispanic. But you can still count the number of Asian American presidents of four-year colleges on two hands. Here in the Delaware Valley, Ursinus' Bobby Fong is the only one.

You can't explain that without thinking about admissions. Almost every elite institution is trying to recruit more blacks and Hispanics, so hiring a president from one of those groups makes sense. But an Asian American president might stamp the institution as "too" Asian, which is what universities are trying to avoid.

We need to ask why. After California forbade state universities from considering race in admissions, the Asian American share of the student body at the University of California, Berkeley, jumped from 20 percent to 40 percent. At the California Institute of Technology, which doesn't consider race either, about a third of the students are now Asian.

Both institutions have benefited from an infusion of talented students, many of whom would not get into other elite universities simply because of their race. The people who lose out are less-qualified whites, who would fare better in a system that limits Asian admissions.

And maybe that's the real story here: Beneath all the rhetoric, we're simply afraid of a minority that has done too well. That's why Jews were so threatening for so many years, and why Asians are now. Shame on us for making the same mistake twice.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press).


romantic_india 16th-Apr-2012 12:53 pm (UTC)
As I understand it, "ethnicity" has more to do with the predominant culture (usually determined by geographic region, of course) that played a heavy part in one's upbringing. This involves the more obvious aspects like methods of processing food, clothing, religion (if any), social/economic hierarchy, gender roles, sexual practices, etc., but it also involves much more subtle things, like the existence of words/phrases for certain concepts, the values that are explicitly or implicitly praised, etc. (Side note: I am an English speaker trying to become fluent in Spanish, and I find it fascinating that where one would use the verb "to be" for certain statements in English, one uses "tener" or "ir" for the corresponding statements in Spanish.)

This is the main reason why I have a difficult time identifying as only American, even though I've been a legal citizen my whole life and have spent most of my life living in the States. I identify with what have been called "American values": freedom of expression, freedom of religion, a right to privacy, and so on; however, I was born in South Korea and lived there until I was 7, plus most of the friends I've made since moving to the States have been 2nd or 3rd generation from East/Southeast Asian immigrants. Therefore, though I am "full on white" (though even then, I've gotten the impression that my fellow English-people wouldn't treat me quite so well once they saw my Scottish last name, and let's not even touch on the (old) issues between the clans), I also cannot nor wish to deny the impact that East Asian culture has made on my life.

As for "race"...well, that's basically just an outdated way of thinking about a general correlation between the physical features that have arisen from natural/sexual selection within groups of people who hail from different regions of the world. Said way of thinking (especially in the Western European tradition) is almost always oversimplified and rather ignorant, and so imho, should be contemptuously dismissed.

Hope that helps. :)

(Source: a cultural anthropology class, a few short explanations in articles, and some conversations with my father.)

ETA: I suppose a more simpler way to think about it is with the use of an analogy to Psychology: ethnicity and race correspond respectively to the nurture vs. nature debate. And now I'm off to imbibe my second round of coffee...

Edited at 2012-04-16 01:08 pm (UTC)
the_axel 16th-Apr-2012 06:44 pm (UTC)
I can tell you categorically that English people couldn't care less about a Scottish last name.

Your American accent would influence how you were treated tho'.
the_axel 16th-Apr-2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
My bad - I intended to post it to romantic_india so no surprise that you'd find it confusing.
romantic_india 16th-Apr-2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that. I guess I should be a little more careful when only getting my information from two American Anglophiles.
angelofdeath275 16th-Apr-2012 09:01 pm (UTC)
so you made this claim without merit and went on to show much of an enlightened white person you are.
the_axel 17th-Apr-2012 12:03 am (UTC)
No worries.
A lot of 'common knowledge' in North America on European culture & such like is outdated or heavily over simplified.
romantic_india 16th-Apr-2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
After little bit of google-ing, it would seem that we're both right. Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethnic) focuses on the cultural aspect, but wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnicity) and a statement released by the American Anthropologist's Association (it is from 1998 though, but I didn't see a more recent one in my initial search: http://www.aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm) say that it is a combination of lineage and cultural upbringing. Thanks for calling me out on that (and I feel compelled to add "in a not-snarky way" after reading some of the other comments).
romantic_india 16th-Apr-2012 11:27 pm (UTC)
please don't rely on dictionary definitions of scientific terms. They don't provide meaningful background or context and as most modern dictionaries are generally descriptive rather than prescriptive, they list all the meanings of a term that are in use, even if some are scientifically unsound or otherwise contested.

Damn...you're spot on with that.

I would argue that ethnicity cannot be based on common culture alone.

And I would say that quite a lot of both support and evidence would be on your side.
rex_dart 16th-Apr-2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
1) Ethnicity is race + culture, not just where you were born or what you were raised around. You are not ethnically South Korean. This would be a little more of a grey area if you were a white kid adopted by a South Korean family, but from the sound of it you're a white kid born on a military base.

2) What is with the quotation marks around "full on white"? You are white. No quotes. And what English people are you talking about and why are you bringing up your Scottish last name? Your Scottish ethnic background doesn't make you less white or put a less-privileged rider on your color. Scottish people are not a marginalized class.

3) It is not your place to ~contemptuously dismiss race or put quotes around the word. You are a white person who benefits every day from a construct that is not biological and has nothing to do with your wannabe-enlightened-academic definition but is nevertheless very real and has very real consequences for very real people. Are labels perfect? No. But that doesn't mean the things they're labeling aren't real, and social constructs are real, whether they're based in science or not.

Hope that helps.
pandaseal 16th-Apr-2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
nekomika 16th-Apr-2012 05:52 pm (UTC)
This this this

Mili bases are like miniature versions of America. They're not representetive of the nation as a whole.

To claim that you're ~basically South Korean~ when you were raised on a base and probably never went that far off base is just flat out obscene.
romantic_india 16th-Apr-2012 10:36 pm (UTC)
Yes, IF I HAD claimed that I'm "basically South Korean" (which I never did; perhaps you should read my post again) when I was "raised on a base and probably never went that far off base," that would be obscene.

Except I was not, and never said I was.

So, here I am, wondering why you feel the need to make all these assumptions about me, while "this this this"-ing a comment that's attacking me.

Did I offend you in some way? I honestly would like to know, and if so, where and how I did so. If that's the case, I apologize. I was just trying to be helpful and answer nyxelestia's question, since I happened to have taken an Anthropology class last semester.
imnotasquirrel 16th-Apr-2012 06:37 pm (UTC)
Very minor quibble over semantics, but South Korean isn't an ethnicity anyway. It's a nationality. I'm ethnically Korean, but I'm not South Korean. My nationality is American.
rex_dart 16th-Apr-2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I realized I'd written the wrong thing after it was too late to edit and facepalmed. Sorry about that; I do know the difference!
rex_dart 16th-Apr-2012 08:15 pm (UTC)
It doesn't magically change your ethnicity, and that's the problem. It's not one I've faced personally, but I've definitely met people and read articles by people who feel a conflict between their own ethnicity and their family's traditions and culture. If you were non-Korean and raised by Korean parents with a Korean family in Korea, speaking Korean and following Korean traditions and social mores, I think it would be very reasonable if you felt a sort of confusion or disconnect that was hard to reconcile, and that does relate to ethnicity in that your genetics and the culture you were raised in wouldn't "match" in other people's eyes.

Of course, ethnicity is also a very vague term that definitely varies in meaning. I'm talking about the way many people tie ethnicity to culture and values and traditions (even though as an American it's not the definition I'm most likely to take; for me if someone asks my ethnicity they're asking where my ancestors were from, whether or not I feel particular cultural ties).
romantic_india 16th-Apr-2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
I apologize if any of what I said offended you. Maybe I sounded snobbish? Whatever it was, I'm very sorry, but I honestly do not understand why you are attacking me. The definition I provided was from my college Anthropology textbook, and I was merely trying to be helpful (and humorous, with the whole Scottish thing... though obviously that was a failed attempt. I guess I apologize also for being unfunny.)

I think we must have lost each other at some point. I in no way disagree with you in that I have received some privileges because I have white skin, while others have seen "very real consequences for very real people." I do not disagree that "social constructs are real, whether based on science or not." I am with you all the way there.

The point I was trying to make is that it shouldn't be that way. Categorizing people based simply on physical characteristics is just not the best idea (as I was trying to say, it's outdated, especially now that travel and communications have evolved so much) and could lead to prejudice. Do you not agree?

Finally, I would like to respectfully call you out in your assumption that "I am a white kid born on a military base." Actually, that's not the case. I was not merely trying to "sound enlightened" when I mentioned the influence that East Asian culture has had in my life. I was being honest and I was trying to share some of myself with this group, not expecting that it was going to offend anyone or trigger any resentment.
pandaseal 16th-Apr-2012 05:19 pm (UTC)
I hope you understand this is offensive bullshit in like 3 different ways. I'm so glad you just want to dismiss race. You sound super white.
nekomika 16th-Apr-2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
However, I was born in South Korea and lived there until I was 7, plus most of the friends I've made since moving to the States have been 2nd or 3rd generation from East/Southeast Asian immigrants

Curious, were you born on a military base?
mingemonster 16th-Apr-2012 05:57 pm (UTC)
pretty sure you made that definition up

ethnicity is like race in that you are born into a group. the difference is that ethnicity can be based on culture as well as lineage. you are talking about culture
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