Sunday, June 17, 2018

Tyler Cowen on the Asian Student Admissions Question

NYT sets the scene:
Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than others on traits like “positive personality,” likability, courage, kindness and being “widely respected,” according to an analysis of more than 160,000 student records filed Friday by a group representing Asian-American students in a lawsuit against the university.

Asian-Americans scored higher than applicants of any other racial or ethnic group on admissions measures like test scores, grades and extracurricular activities, according to the analysis commissioned by a group that opposes all race-based admissions criteria. But the students’ personal ratings significantly dragged down their chances of being admitted, the analysis found...

The documents came out as part of a lawsuit charging Harvard with systematically discriminating against Asian-Americans, in violation of civil rights law. The suit says that Harvard imposes what is in effect a soft quota of “racial balancing.”...“
It turns out that the suspicions of Asian-American alumni, students and applicants were right all along,” the group, Students for Fair Admissions, said in a court document laying out the analysis. “Harvard today engages in the same kind of discrimination and stereotyping that it used to justify quotas on Jewish applicants in the 1920s and 1930s.”
Tyler Cowen's take:
 My take is simple.  Harvard is risk-averse with respect to the stream of future donations, as are many other schools.  Asian-American admissions don’t have the same donating track record as the white students traditionally cultivated by Harvard and other top universities.  Either Asian-Americans may seek out “diaspora philanthropy,” or they simply may have a more cynical attitude toward top institutions that they basically have never had any control over.

Furthermore, there is a common fear — repugnant to me I should add — that if a student body becomes “too Asian,” many white students will be less interested in going there.  I taught at UC Irvine for several years and found it to be a delightful experience, but this is exactly what many schools are afraid of (the UCI student body is disproportionately Asian, and the honors class I taught in my first year had only one non-Asian student in it).

And so they come up with every excuse possible — sometimes cemented in by self-deception — for maintaining a “balanced” student body.

It is incorrect to call it “racism,” but it is non-meritocratic and we should move away from those attitudes as quickly as possible...

 I predict ultimately the status quo will not change very much.  I just don’t see a strong enough popular or judicial constituency for righting the wrongs done to Asian-Americans.  Some kind of partial concession will be made, various terms and standards will be somewhat redefined, and we’ll be back to “rinse and repeat.”  Meritocracy: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

I am pleased to report that none of this tomfoolery goes on at my home institution, which is highly and truly diverse.
Of course, the libertarian position is that a private institution should be able to discriminate on any basis it wants---any!

Cowen's point on future donation stream as a basis for discrimination is an argument I have never heard before but Cowen is surely one who understands academic bureaucracy andhe  may understand this possibility better than others.

But why is Cowen championing his institution as "highly and truly diverse"?

Shouldn't it be based on intellectual abilities even if that means a weighting of one ethnic group higher over others?

I do note that at the Mercatus Center, where Cowen is chairman and general director, among the 57 listed scholars the "diversity" appears to be quite thin.  There is just one black (from the Bahamas with a chill hat)  and just one East Asian (possibly half Asian) and one South Asian ( a female for a double diversity hit).



  1. Started my masters in econ at Georgia Tech a few years ago, I was the only white male, 95% were Chinese. I ran out of cash and didn't finish, but it was a real interesting experience. One professor ran a small circle of students who read and discussed Hayek and some other free market economists. This is not long after the financial trouble in the US. The Chinese students had no grasp of the free market, they advocated for government intervention to "maximize the GDP". Most of them work as quants with large banks now. Everything to modern economists is a math equation now. Something to consider when there are discussions of Asian diversity at college programs. They have no foundation in free market thought.

    1. Sounds a lot like the typical American student to me, minus the being good at math part.

    2. I shared a row on a plane to NYC with an Asian female student. Her major was econ!! She went to Pace!! She didn't know Joe Salerno!! I BEGGED for her to look him up and wrangle herself into his classes. I don't know how it went. But the fact that she went to Pace and DIDN'T know Joe??? Not good.

  2. So Cowen thinks that institutions shouldn't calculate what is going to bring in the future income streams that keep the organization viable? Or they can do the calculation, but they're not allowed to act on it unless it makes Cowen happy?

    Cowen is a planner at heart. (also, Mason is so "diverse" because it's in the pit of international parasitism, aka Fairfax NOVA, DC adjacent)

  3. He thinks this won’t be epochal, but the number of Asian students at Ivy’s will quintuple in the next 5 years.

    Some rich second gen Asian lawyer will get this to the SCOTUS and even Kagan will be forced to capitulate, narrowly.

    Affirmative action is dead because of this.