I often recall what the investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett said: “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently.” For the past 382 years Harvard University has built itself a reputation as being one of the finest higher education institutions in the Anglosphere. As one of eight in America’s Ivy League, the University is seen as an elite establishment of unprecedented academic excellence. To feed this reputation, Harvard has had to employ a very rigorous, and selective, admissions system.
One might assume that these admissions systems are designed to select the best and brightest applicants from around the world, securing the future of their illustrious reputation. Not so at Harvard.
Nice Guys Finish First
A 2013 internal report from Harvard University has recently been referred to in an ongoing lawsuit between the anti-affirmative action advocates Students for Fair Admissions and Harvard University. The internal report, by Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research, allegedly claims that Harvard’s admissions system was selectively biased against Asian Americans, and that ‘Asian high achievers have lower rates of admission’, despite ranking higher on their academic test scores.
The reason given for this is that, despite their higher scores, Asian Americans regularly rank lower on positive personality traits such as ‘likeability, courage, kindness and being widely respected.’ The Students for Fair Admissions claims the internal report suggests that if these subjective traits were excluded from the admissions process, then their level of attendance from Asian Americans would increase from 22% to 43%.
If that is true, then there are a potential 4,620 spaces at Harvard (21% of their 22,000 student body) currently occupied by students, which on the balance of academic ability are less deserving than the 4,620 Asian Americans who were rejected on the grounds of their personality traits.
However, those 4,620 Asian American rejects remain. As do the 4,840 currently attending. Alongside the overachieving Asian American alumni or despondent rejects who moved on to greener fields. They’ll all remember. Future generations will remember. Asian Americans have a ‘higher educational attainment than any other group’. They will succeed. Harvard will suffer. The 21% of unwanted rejects will attend other educational institutions. They will flourish, succeed, and remember. Those that choose to continue into academia, will apply elsewhere. Those who have children will encourage their kids to apply elsewhere. Those who attend Harvard will remember. They will feel less welcome. Knowing that a slightly different personality trait could have barred their entry, they will still succeed, and they will remember.
Throwing Reputation to the Wind
As a result, the Asian American community as a whole will likely apply to different Ivy league schools, or other universities. Harvard’s star will fall. It will lose access to some of America’s best and brightest due to the subjective bias of their admissions process.
Harvard is a private institution, and therefore should be free to do as it pleases. However, discrimination based on race has proven time and time again to ultimately fail in the free marketplace of ideas. Yes, Harvard’s attendance might not fall, but it’s ranking will, as the intelligence of the rejected Asian diaspora thrives on different, more equal grounds.
It takes 382 years to build a reputation, and one internal report to ruin it. If universities think about that, they’ll do things differently.
Note: The editorial team at Speak Freely has reached out to Harvard for comment, so far there has been no response. We will update the article if that changes.
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