Monday, November 13, 2006

Discrimination @ US Universities?

Well, apparently so, based on a report by the Wall Street Journal.
Though Asian-Americans constitute only about 4.5% of the U.S. population, they typically account for anywhere from 10% to 30% of students at many of the nation's elite colleges. Even so, based on their outstanding grades and test scores, Asian-Americans increasingly say their enrollment should be much higher -- a contention backed by a growing body of evidence.
The situation has resulted in increased lawsuits against premier universities for discrimination. For example, a China-born US permanent resident, 17-year-old freshman, Mr Jian Li at Yale University has filed a suit against Princeton. Despite racking up the maximum 2400 score on the SAT and 2390 -- 10 points below the ceiling -- on SAT2 subject tests in physics, chemistry and calculus, Mr. Li was spurned by three Ivy League universities, including Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It appears that applicants of Asian-American origins are subjected to higher entry requirements than other Americans.
...Center for Equal Opportunity, in Virginia, found that Asian applicants admitted to the University of Michigan in 2005 had a median SAT score of 1400 on the 400-1600 scale then in use. That was 50 points higher than the median score of white students who were accepted, 140 points higher than that of Hispanics and 240 points higher than that of blacks
And apparently these allegations aren't new. Harvard University and University of California have both been placed under scrutiny previously.
In 1989, as the federal government was investigating alleged Asian-American quotas at UC's Berkeley campus, Berkeley's chancellor apologized for a drop in Asian enrollment. The next year, federal investigators found that the mathematics department at UCLA had discriminated against Asian-American graduate school applicants. In 1992, Berkeley's law school agreed under federal pressure to drop a policy that limited Asian enrollment by comparing Asian applicants against each other rather than the entire applicant pool.

Asian-American enrollment at Berkeley has increased since California voters banned affirmative action in college admissions. Berkeley accepted 4,122 Asian-American applicants for this fall's freshman class -- nearly 42% of the total admitted. That is up from 2,925 in 1997, or 34.6%, the last year before the ban took effect.
What was also interesting was that Mr Li was required to fill in questions on college applications about his ethnicity, just as we Malaysians do. He left the answers blank for "[i]t seemed very irrelevant to [him], if not offensive," and rightly so, I would think.

Hence discrimination, albeit more subtle, exists even in the land of equal opportunities. However, that's where the similarities between the Malaysian and the US education and governanace system end.

While discrimination and bias, being a function of individual personalities will definitely exist in all levels of society, there is a concerted attempt to remove such injustices in the United States. Unlike in Malaysia, whereby discrimination is often institutionalised, there is recourse for discrimination victims in the United States such as the legal action by Mr Li. And such recourse have obviously proven to be effective for, based on the examples cited, clear evidence of changes in policies and trends have been recorded.

Even in situations whereby discriminations appear subtle and not institutionalised in Malaysia, there is effectively little or no recourse for students in Malaysia, as cited in my earlier blog post on "Managed Meritocracy". To demonstrate the government's commitment to ensure that there are no discrimination beyond the institutionalised positive affirmative action policies, it has to establish an independent empowered body to monitor and evaluate complaints of discrimination, whether based on ethnicity, religion or gender.

Thanks to Mark for the heads up on this report ;)


Anonymous said...

When you notice the flawed policies taking place and the threats against anyone who is saying the truths, such measure, like an independent body which evaluates the complaints is just contradictory and futile in my opinion. We have abundant of NGOs which are independent and also SUHAKAM to look into the complaints of the victimised. However, do you see any concrete actions being taken by the relevant authorities to right the wrongs and helping those who have complaint?
The only recourse the complainants can take is to sensationalise the issues in the mass media nationwide. Let the public to be the judge, and hopefully this will wake the government up to make things right.

Anonymous said...

the govt is 100% awakened but prefer to be "blind"

Kian Ming said...

There was an economist article earlier this month (or last month, I can't remember) on how two groups are discriminated against in the US by affirmative action policies - poor white and Asian-Americans. In an education system where 'diversity' is valued, these kinds of effects are very difficult to avoid. The University of California system has certainly admitted more Asian Americans since it dropped its affirmative action policies so much so that many of their campuses are almost half Asian. As Tony rightly points out, these affirmative action policies are not institutionalized in the form of strict quotas, unlike in Malaysia.

Furthermore, many of these bright Asian American kids who don't get into one school because of affirmative action, usually gets accepted into another (or more than one) top 10 or top 20 school. Plus, there's always the legal recourse.

coleong said...

How about extra curricular activities (i.e. volunteer work, sports and etc) ? I’m not sure about other universities. But in Harvard (and maybe other Ivy league universities as well), academic results is not the only credential they are looking for. In fact, they prefer to take people with social work experience, good personality and etc (and of course good academic achievement as well). I’ve students who didn’t score top in the MCAT but get into the medical school because he has done a lot of humanitarian work and social services. Perhaps the faculties believe that he will serve the society well when he graduates.

And for local university, I’m sure there are quota system and etc which causes ethnic discrimination. But, again, the extracurricular activities do count when it comes to admission to high demand courses. If it’s not because of that, I’m sure I won’t get the course that I desire due to my somewhat bad results in STPM. Indeed, I’ve a few of my friends who really wanted to do Medicine but was rejected even though they get straight As in STPM (mostly fail because of the lack involvement in extra curricular activities and the interview). And some of the students choose to do medicine or law simply because they get straight As. May be it’s not what they wanted to study in the first place but because of such a good results, they will follow the crowd and apply for medical school. I’ve seen them suffer later because they can’t stand the patients and the lifestyle of being a medical doctor. Some of those who manage to graduate go on to private practice and make a good business. Well, I guess the bottom line is that one should choose their career base on their passion (and of course with reasonable income ($$$$) to maintain a reasonably good family lifestyle as well). I never neglect what I choose for my career even though I was being offered to do medicine after my first year of the undergraduate course. I’m still very passionate about my research work here (despite high workload and working hour but low income) and I think my contribution to medical research will benefit far more than being a medical doctor simply because I’m one of those who fear to see suffering patients and might not be a good doctor anyway.

Anonymous said...


This is quite an old issue, though perhaps recently it has become better documented - I couldn't say. I remember seeing articles like this about a decade ago, and certainly the perception of discrimination goes back farther than that.

I wouldn't be so sanguine about America as the 'land of equal opportunities'. Despite all their 'self-evident truths' (which are not really quite so self-evident as they seem), remember that the civil rights movement happened only a generation ago and just a little further back in history (WW2) there was the shameful episode where American citizens of Japanese descent were interned. Further back...well, you know about these things.

I'm not an American historian...a quick search on Google turns up

One can also look at English history. I was reading about the Wesleys (John, Charles and Susanna) and their times a few years ago and if my memory serves me right, only 250 years ago, people who were not regular communicants of the Church of England (this included Catholics, Protestant 'dissenters' and obviously non-Christians) were not allowed to bear arms, hold public office, attend Oxford/Cambridge etc.

If there's a lesson to be learned here, I'd say it's that our country is still young; and given how long we've been around, we're not doing so badly, though we shouldn't rest on our laurels. These kinds of things don't happen overnight.

Anonymous said...

some actually believe that this removal of affirmative action has very very aversely affected minority admits to uc berkeley. while it may be a wonderful thing to have a campus with a 44% asian-american population, it is highly indiverse to have a 1% black population. the admit rate to berkeley's top ranked haas undegrad bness school (second or third in the world after mit's sloane and upenn's wharton) sees something like a 70% admit rate for asians and asian-americans, 25% white/caucasian and 5% black, chicano/latino and others. (dont quote me on the decimal exactness of these stats but they're about right). some of us believe this skew is even more detrimental than affirmative action because it gives those with less opportunities even less opportunies. and yes, i am asian too.

Anonymous said...

To my knowledge there are only two Maths Subject tests for the SAT 2: Mathematics Level 1 and Mathematics Level 2. I don't remember coming across a specific topic on Calculus. However, Mr Jian Li's marks are outstanding.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Elite universities and their admission policies on minorities is that they all toot their horn loudly on supporting Affimative Action-- but the reality is that this is only FOR Black Americans and Latino's. The Asians are specifically targetted for higher admissions so that this group does not overrun campus where having non-whites sour the prestige of a fancy campus; they appear less so "elite" if the whole campus is Asian. As there is no possibility this would happen for Black American and latino populations (overtaking a university, number-wise), they are NO "threat." The largest problem is that American elite schools Make Sure that this anti-Asian admission policy is *kept secret* so that their racism is not detected. Now that U of Michigan stats are out, things are looking Very Ugly