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Friday, May 6, 2011

Illuminating "Ivy League Admission Policies"

The following is by far the most informative and educational
email
regarding Ivy League admission policies that I have EVER received.
If one is truly interested in this issue, you MUST read it. The author is
apparently himself a Harvard graduate. I learned so much from it.

The email is long. If you don't have the time to read it now, just read the
highlighted part shown in red (emphasis added by me). You'll get the gist
of it.

Please post your reaction to this email below at
http://www.80-20educationalfoundation.org/politicaledu/posterboard.asp .
You don't have to sign your name or leave your email address. Please answer
a question for me though. Are our youngsters more or less likely to be admitted to
Ivies if they see their parents mostly acting unreasonably scared and lacking in social
consciousness and perhaps even integrity?

Before ending I want to thank the author for sharing his insider's view on
Ivy League admissions policies
with our community

S. B. Woo
President (a volunteer), 80-20 Educational Foundation, Inc.

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"Dear SB,

I would like to bring your attention to a book about how the Ivy League
admission policies evolved since the 1920's to solve the "Jewish Problem"
which shares striking resemblance to the challenges faced by Chinese
American applicants today, namely good academic performance and the
perceived lack of social engagement (neither desire nor skill).
This book,
titled "The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at
Harvard, Yale, and Princeton" by Jerome Karabel*, (published by
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006 , 711 pages) is available at Amazon.com.
This historical episode teaches us two important lessons: (1) Nothing is
static,
even for institutions that are hundreds of years old, so is the
American politics. (2) Collective efforts can change public/private
policies.
(The schools responded to the social pressure to restrict Jewish
admission, the Jewish activist fought back which eventually led to a more
accommodating admission policy.) This episode was also succinctly and
proudly captured on the website

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/harvard.html
(Content attached). With so many Jewish students and faculties at the Ivy
League nowadays, who would have imagined it had happened ~80 years
ago?

Ivy League admissions policy’s impact on Asian American applicants is a
complex issue. One should not over-simplify as "discrimination" because
Asian Americans are not a monolithic group. The SAT scores for some AA
subgroups, such as Chinese Americans, are indeed way higher than others, < 1000 br>but they fall under the "over-represented" category, whatever that means.
However, the schools also actively sought out students in the "under-
represented" category, including some AA subgroups, to achieve diversity.
After interviewed ~50 Harvard undergraduate applicants in recent years, I
would agree with the statistics cited by the Boston Globe article regarding
test scores. However, the focus was too narrow. Schools evaluated
candidates based on "merit", which encompass academic performance,
extracurricular activities, personal qualities, and overall impression. Even
academic performance is not just a list of the test scores; it includes the
love of learning, intellectual curiosity, intellectual originality. Is there
evidence of original work such as writing, poetry, mathematical or
scientific research? Are there unusual factors such as language or
economic opportunity that might have affected the performance?
Extracurricular also include athletic, community, employment, family
commitments. Personal qualities include maturity, character, leadership,
self-confidence, warmth of personality, sense of humor, energy, concern
for others, and grace under pressure. All these thoughtful considerations
were directly copied from the 2011 Harvard Interview Form. If anyone
wants to prove "discrimination", quantifiable data must be compiled in
areas other than the test scores.

I would contend the Ivy League schools are genuinely interested in
achieving diversity.
I have seen situations that the schools go out of their
ways to recruit socially disadvantaged students (including Asian
Americans). Such effort should be applauded. However, from the
perspective of Chinese American applicants, especially for those from an
upper-middle class background, they are in a tough spots. Near 800 SAT
scores, superman extracurricular activities, level 10 piano certification
merely levels the playing field against other Chinese American competitors
rather than achieving an advantage. Is there a hidden quota? No school
worthy of its salt would admit to any quota.

The question is how merit should be evaluated? How should personal
characters such as overcoming disadvantaged social economical
background be weighed against achieving overwhelming excellence from a
more privileged background? How can the schools balance the need for
diversity without unduly hurting others? This is an intellectual challenge
the schools (and the society in general) are constantly exploring and the
public opinions from various interest groups can effectively influence the
public and private policies. Frame the question from this perspective
could alleviate unnecessary antagonism. After all, receiving an Ivy League
ducation is a privilege, not an inalienable right of any individual no
matter how good he/she is. In fact, Harvard does not even offer any
merit-based scholarship precisely because it can’t easily tell who is better
than whom among the admitted. It only offers “need-blind” admission
based on “merit” only and pays anyone who can’t afford the offer. Here is
this year’s statistics for Harvard: 34950 applicants, among them 3800
valedictorians, 2158 offer letters were sent (6.2% admission rate).
As
commented by other alumni interviewers, it's a lottery for the top
candidates, really hard to predict who would get in. The admitted class is
17.8 percent Asian-American, 11.8 percent African-American, 12.1 percent
Latino, 1.9 percent Native American, and 0.2 percent Native Hawaiian.

I also disagree with Ben's point-of-view somewhat. Even though there may
be some truth with the perception that Chinese American applicant 1000 s in
general are more academically focus, it is not true that the top candidates
are in anyway less socially skilled than their competitors. Some of these
kids are amazing in both the depth and the breath of their extracurricular
engagements. Are they being discriminated in the evaluation process?
Who has collected data outside the test scores to support such an
assertion? Regardless of where the truth lays, please remember the Jewish
students were accused of the same sins of being academically focused and
socially awkward a century ago. They took the beating standing and,
through activism, achieved their admirable status nowadays. I would
contend they are our role models. However, I suspect most Chinese
American parents, upon reading unfavorable statistics, would be
invigorated enough to give their kids an extra doze of piano lesson.
That
would be a real tragedy."

Xxxx (Name deleted by S.B., a consistent policy of 80-20 in order to
encourage INSIDERS to write 80-20 & discuss sensitive topics
of immense interest to the AsAm community.)

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*Here is Amazon's introduction to the book:
"A landmark work of social and cultural history, The Chosen vividly
reveals the changing dynamics of power and privilege in America over the
past century. Full of colorful characters (including Woodrow Wilson,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, James Bryant Conant, and Kingman Brewster),
it shows how the ferocious battles over admissions at Harvard, Yale, and
Princeton shaped the American elite and bequeathed to us the peculiar
system of college admissions that we have today. From the bitter anti-
Semitism of the 1920s to the rise of the “meritocracy” at mid-century to
the debate over affirmative action today, Jerome Karabel sheds surprising
new light on the main events and social movements of the twentieth
century. No one who reads this remarkable book will ever think about
college admissions -- or America -- in the same way again."

Followed by an Editorial Review - Reed Business Information (c) 2005,
"The emphasis in college applications on balancing grades and
extracurricular activities appears benignly positive at first glance. Yet, as
Karabel explains, the top Ivy League schools created this formula in the
1920s because they were uncomfortable with the number of Jewish
students accepted when applicants were judged solely on their grades. The
search for prospective freshmen with "character" was, with varying
explicitness, an effort to maintain the slowly declining Protestant
establishment. At one point, Karabel says in this stimulating study of
admissions policies, Harvard codified a policy of accepting applicants with
weak academic credentials who could better appreciate the school's social
opportunities, while Princeton promised to accept any alumnus's son with
even the faintest hope of graduation. Karabel, a sociologist who once
served on UC-Berkeley's admissions committee, extensively covers the
"Jewish problem" at the Big Three colleges, but also tackles the cultural
shifts that lowered the barriers for African-American students and
ultimately led to the admission of women. The detailed analysis of the role
of university presidents and other campus administrators in first stifling,
then abetting ethnic diversity in the student body is so comprehensive,
however, that his final remarks on the remaining lack of socioeconomic
diversity feel like tacked on. (Oct. 26)"

When I searched on-line commentary about this topic, I found an even
more blunt discussion abou 6c55 t "Harvard's Jewish Problem"

Here is the quote from


http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/harvard.html
"During and after World War I, American Jewry became the target of anti-Semitism by a
variety of social groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and
various immigration restriction advocates. Ivy League universities were no
exception, and several of these venerable schools moved to restrict Jewish
enrollment during the 1920s. Some Jewish students at Harvard, the
bellwether in American education, did not take admission restrictions
lying down.
Nativism and intolerance among segments of the white Protestant
population were aimed at both Eastern European Jews and Southern
European Catholics. In higher education, Jews were particularly resented.
By 1919, about 80% of the students at New York's Hunter and City colleges
were Jews, and 40% at Columbia. Jews at Harvard tripled to 21% of the
freshman class in 1922 from about 7% in 1900. Ivy League Jews won a
disproportionate share of academic prizes and election to Phi Beta Kappa
but were widely regarded as competitive, eager to excel academically and
less interested in extra-curricular activities such as organized sports. Non-
Jews accused them of being clannish, socially unskilled and either
unwilling or unable to“fit in.”
In 1922, Harvard's president, A. Lawrence Lowell, proposed a quota on the
number of Jews gaining admission to the university. Lowell was convinced
that Harvard could only survive if the majority of its students came from
old American stock.

Lowell argued that cutting the number of Jews at Harvard to a maximum
of 15% would be good for the Jews, because limits would prevent further
anti-Semitism. Lowell reasoned, “The anti-Semitic feeling among the
students is increasing, and it grows in proportion to the increase in the
number of Jews. If their number should become 40% of the student body,
the race feeling would become intense.”

The fight against Jewish quotas at Harvard was led by Harry Starr, an
undergraduate and the son of a Russian immigrant who established the
first kosher butcher shop in Gloversville, New York. As president of the
Menorah Society, Harvard's major Jewish student organization, Starr
organized a series of meetings between Jewish and non-Jewish students,
faculty and administrators to discuss Lowell's proposed quota. The
meetings were frequently heated and painful. As Starr recalled in an
account published in 1985, which can be found at the American Jewish
Historical Society, “We learned that it was numbers that mattered; bad or
good, too many Jews were not liked. Rich or poor, brilliant or dull,
polished or crude—[the problem was] too many Jews.”

Starr insisted that there could be no “Jewish problem” at Harvard or in
America. Starr observed, “The Jew cannot look on himself as a problem....
Born or naturalized in this country, he is a full American.” If admitting all
qualified Jews to Harvard meant a change in the traditional social
composition of the student body, so be it. Starr refused to hear any hokum
about 'pure' American stock as a way to limit Jewish admissions to
Harvard. “Tolerance,” he wrote in the Menorah Journal, “is not to be
administered like castor oil, with eyes closed and jaws clenched.”
Lowell received a great deal of public criticism, particularly in the Boston
press. Harvard's overseers appointed a 13-member committee, which
included three Jews, to study the university's “Jewish problem.” The
committee rejected a Jewish quota but agreed that “geographic diversity”
in the student body was desirable. Harvard had been using a competitive
exam to determine who was admitted, and urban Jewish students were
scoring highly on the exam. Urban public schools such as Boston Latin
Academy intensely prepared their students, many of whom were Jewish, to
pass Harvard's admissions test. The special committee recommended that
the competitive exam be replaced by an admissions policy that accepted
top-ranking students from around the nation, regardless of exam scores.
By 1931, because students from urban states were replaced by students
from Wyoming and North Dakota who ranked in the top of their high
school classes, Harvard's Jewish ranks were cut back to 15% of the student
body.

In the late 1930s, James Bryant Conant, Lowell's successor as president,
eased the geographic distribution requirements, and Jewish students were
once again admitted primarily on the basis of merit. Harry Starr, who lived
until 1992, became a national Jewish communal leader, including a term
of service as a trustee of the American Jewish Historical Society.
Professionally, he became the director of the Lucius N. Littauer
Foundation, which was established by a Jewish congressman from
Gloversville and which over the years has given many generous gifts to
Harvard. Harry Starr held no grudges against the university which in 1922
he lovingly battled on behalf of his fellow Jews."

Below are attachments which are not shown:
1. Harvard Gazette Article
2. Harvard Interviewer Handbook
3. Harvard Interview Form 2011.doc
4. Interview Instructions.doc

 

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