Colleges’ Affirmative-Action Policies Hurt Asian Students, Reynolds Claims in Speech

By Mark Walsh — December 07, 1988 3 min read
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The Justice Department’s civil-rights chief last week attacked as “legally and morally wrong” college-admissions practices that limit the number of Asian-American applicants accepted.

Charges that some of the nation’s top universities engage in such practices “do not appear to be wholly implausible,” Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds said in a speech here.

“While university officials are understandably loath to admit that they are discriminating against qualified Asian Americans,” he said, ''rejection of such applicants ironically appears to be driven by the universities’ ‘affirmative action’ policies aimed at favoring other, preferred racial minorities.”

Mr. Reynolds, who steps down this week after more than seven years as head of the department’s civil-rights division, spoke at a symposium on Asian-American college admissions sponsored by two Democratic senators, Paul Simon of Illinois and Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota.

His remarks came as the Education Department was reviewing the admissions practices of Harvard University and the University of California at Los Angeles to determine whether they use illegal quotas to limit the number of Asian-American students.

The inquiry was sparked by news reports and complaints from Asian-American groups that a number of institutions were limiting the number of such students admitted, said Lon Anderson, a department spokesman.

Mr. Anderson characterized the inquiry as a “run of the mill” compliance review by the department’s office for civil rights, adding that it did not mean the two universities had violated federal civil-rights laws.

But in a letter to Mr. Reynolds in October, LeGree S. Daniels, assistant secretary of education for civil rights, used stronger language about the probe. Harvard and u.c.l.a. were “targeted for investigation of Asian-American admissions practices,” Ms. Daniels wrote.

Mr. Reynolds referred to the probe in his speech. In such cases, he noted, the Education Department’s administrative proceedings can lead to legal action by the Justice Department if warranted by the findings.

Officials at the universities have responded sharply to the accusations.

An official at u.c.l.a.--where Asian Americans, including Filipinos, make up 24.7 percent of the freshman class--denied there were admissions quotas for ethnic groups.

“We feel confident our practices are not discriminatory,” said Thomas Lifka, assistant vice chancellor for student academic services. “We have no ceilings or quota for any group, including Asian Americans.’'

He said the intense competition among qualified California high-school graduates for admission to ucla and the University of California at Berkeley may have fueled the feeling among some Asian-American students and their parents that they had been dealt with unfairly.

“We turned away 1,000 students last year with better than 4.0 averages,” Mr. Lifka said.

Susie S. Chao, an admissions offi4cer at Harvard, said that university had “absolutely no ceiling” on Asian-American admissions. The percentage of Asian Americans in the freshman class has grown from 8.5 percent five years ago to 14 percent this year, she said.

Harvard is one of the few institutions that actively recruit Asian-American students, Ms. Chao said. The university, she said, sends admissions officers to Asian-American enclaves in cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York.

But despite the enrollment increases, leaders of some advocacy groups contend, a number of universities have a higher standard for Asian Americans than for their white peers.

“When a campus says, ‘We don’t discriminate, we have 20 percent [Asian-American students],’ we are not impressed,” said Henry Der, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a San Francisco-based group.

“At Harvard, there seems to be a trend that Asian Americans admitted there have higher test scores and grades than their white counterparts,” Mr. Der said.

If Harvard and ucla are found to have violated federal law and fail to take corrective action, they could lose federal funds, Mr. Anderson said.

A version of this article appeared in the December 07, 1988 edition of Education Week as Colleges’ Affirmative-Action Policies Hurt Asian Students, Reynolds Claims in Speech


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