Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Princeton Asian-American Bias Debate Turns Nasty

Princeton University has been in the news recently due to allegations that the school's admissions policies discrimate against Asian-American students, who are underenrolled at Princeton -- and elite universities nationwide -- relative to their high levels of academic achievement. Of late, though, it turns out the campus debate on Asian-American admissions has turned nasty. The school newspaper recently ran an article parodying Jian Li, a Yale student who was rejected by Princeton, and who has filed a discrimination claim against the university with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. This New York Times story has the details:

Belda Chan, a senior at Princeton University, was stunned when she encountered an article in broken English in the annual joke issue of the student daily parodying an Asian-American student who had filed a civil rights complaint against Princeton.

“The editor in chief said their intention was to spark a dialogue on race,” said Ms. Chan, a history major from Massachusetts whose parents immigrated from China. “Obviously that’s happened. But hate crimes spark dialogue too, and that doesn’t mean they are good things and that we approve of them and that they will help in the long run.”

Perhaps even more than the complaint by Jian Li that he was rejected for admission by Princeton because of his race, the article published last Wednesday has put front and center the question of whether elite universities treat Asian-American students fairly in admissions and whether those students who are admitted face bias.

“Hi Princeton! Remember me?” the parody began. “I so good at math and science. Perfect 2400 SAT score. Ring bells? Just in cases, let me refresh your memories. I the super smart Asian. Princeton the super dumb college, not accept me.” Later, it said: “What is wrong with you no color people? Yellow people make the world go round. We cook greasy food, wash your clothes and let you copy our homework.”

Students, faculty and college administrators have condemned the article. The newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, printed an editors’ note expressing regret for upsetting readers and saying that a diverse group, “including several Asians on our senior editorial staff,” had written the column.

“We embraced racist language in order to strangle it,” the note said. “At its worst, the column was a bad joke; at its best, it provoked serious thought about issues of race, fairness and diversity.”

I'm sure there are more appropriate ways to promote discussion on the acceptance success of Asian-American admittees. The Times piece notes that the student newspaper's editors are trying to put the controversy behind them, and for good reason. The parody displayed plain intolerance and bigotry. Unfortunately, the episode seems symptomatic of a backlash among some on the left against pure merit-based admissions policies at the country's elite educational institutions.

I blogged previously about California's experience with college admissions in the Proposition 209 era, for example,
here and here. Especially interesting is how the success of Asian students has given rise to demands to bring back racial preference policies, as well as a growing trend in self-segregating acceptance patterns among highly qualified black students in the UC system.

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