Light & Verity

Asian American groups allege admissions bias

A federal complaint seeks statistical data on applicants.

Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth have joined Harvard and the University of North Carolina on the list of schools being cited by a coalition of more than 100 Asian American organizations for alleged discrimination in admissions. The latest complaint, filed in May with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, requests an investigation into practices the group says discriminate against Asian American applicants by effectively capping the number of Asian American students accepted.

Asian Americans represent just under 6 percent of the US population, but around 18 percent of students on so-called elite campuses, according to the coalition, a ratio that that has held steady over the last 20 years. But advocates like Chunyan Li, a professor of accounting at Pace University and a member of the board of the Asian American Coalition for Education, say that number should have increased, because the number of competitive Asian American applicants has likely increased. The complaint asks colleges to release numbers breaking out applicant qualifications by ethnic group, numbers that Li says would show elite schools are using quotas or holding Asian Americans to higher standards.

In one high-profile case last year, a young Californian named Michael Wang, who had perfect test scores, top grades, and across-the-board success in his extracurriculars, was rejected by six of the seven Ivies. The DOE dismissed the subsequent complaint, in which he said he was rejected because of his race, given that less qualified candidates got into schools that turned him down. 

In a statement, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy defended the university’s approach to admissions: “Academic indicators such as scores, grade point average, and course selection are very important, but not the sole determinants for admission. Instead, the admissions committee conducts a personalized, holistic, and contextual evaluation of each applicant. In a holistic review, applicants are not disadvantaged in the admissions process on the basis of race or national origin.”

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