Anti-Affirmative Action Group Files Another Complaint — This Time Against Cornell and Columbia

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Yesterday, guest writer Felix Huang (@Brkn_Yllw_Lns) wrote an incredible essay for this blog suggesting that in talking to Chinese American opponents of affirmative action, we must reframe the conversation away from self-interest and towards collective morality.

This seems a timely observation since something else also happened yesterday: the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) — which describes itself as “the proven leader in fighting for Asian-American children’s equal education rights” — announced that it has filed a third complaint against Ivy League universities alleging that the schools’ use of holistic review during college admissions discriminates against Asian American applicants.

Describing the complaint lodged with the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education at the beginning of August, AACE alleged that Cornell University and Columbia University had discriminated against applicant Hubert Zhao when they did not offer him an acceptance to their schools this past spring. The complaint speculates that Zhao was either the victim of racial discrimination, or of political retaliation; Hubert also happens to be the son of AACE president, YuKong Zhao.

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Supreme Court Reaffirms Race-Conscious Affirmative Action in College Admissions

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The Supreme Court handed down their long-anticipated decision on Fisher v University of Texas II yesterday, eight years after Abigail Fisher (who is White) first filed suit challenging holistic review at the University of Texas. Fisher alleged that the University’s holistic admissions process, which includes race-conscious affirmative action, denied her admission to the school. The Court had previously heard Fisher’s case, and essentially punted it back to the lower courts asking them to take a second look. When the Fifth Circuit again ruled in favour of the University of Texas, the Supreme Court was once again challenged to weigh in.

There was a lot at stake with this decision in the case now known as Fisher II: a decision against the University of Texas’ admissions program could effectively dismantle affirmative action programs across the country.

But, in a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court elected to reaffirm the Court’s earlier perspectives on affirmative action as outlined in the landmark Grutter case which first explicitly established the “compelling interest” of colleges and universities to address issues of campus diversity through the limited and narrow use of racial information.

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What You Need To Know: Asian American Group Files Anti-Affirmative Action Complaint Against Yale, Dartmouth, Brown

I can’t believe we’re dealing with this again.

Less than a year after the Department of Education dismissed a frivolous administrative complaint filed by the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) against Harvard University, the AACE has now announced it will file a nearly identical administrative complaint against  Yale University, Brown University and Dartmouth College. In their  complaint against Harvard, AACE alleged — absent any significant evidence — that race-conscious affirmative action discriminates against Asian American applicants.

This work bolsters efforts by conservative partisan and lobbyist Edward Blum, who has made a career out of opposing civil rights measures for people of color. Blum is best known as the architect of the Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court cases, which is the Right’s latest campaign to invalidate affirmative action in higher education.

Outside of his interest in ending race-conscious affirmative action, Blum has backed numerous Supreme Court cases to reverse portions of the Voting Rights Act and to silence voters of color. In the recently defeated Evenwel v. Abbott Supreme Court case, Blum and his fellow litigators argued that districts should be drawn so as to disenfranchise thousands of non-voting citizens, who are predominantly young people and people of color.

Edward Blum is clearly no ally of the AAPI community. So, one must wonder why some Asian Americans would support his causes.

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Dept. of Education Dismisses Complaint Filed Against Harvard by Anti-Affirmative Action Asian American Groups

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reappropriate.coIn a completely unsurprising turn of events, the Department of Education yesterday dismissed an administrative complaint filed in May against Harvard University by 60+ Asian American anti-affirmative action activists. The complaint alleged that Harvard University discriminates against Asian American applicants in their race-conscious affirmative action admissions policies but little information was provided to bolster these claims.

The Department of Education announced yesterday that the complaint was rejected because it was too similar in content to a pending federal lawsuit, which had been filed late last year by conservative anti-affirmative action lobbyist Edward Blum.

The similarities would be predicted: the complaint states in its introduction that it was inspired by the federal lawsuit orchestrated by Edward Blum. Indeed, that appears to be something of an understatement: some of the text of the administrative complaint is thinly-veiled (relatively lazy) paraphrasing of the Blum lawsuit (see below), and the last half of the complaint straightforwardly reproduces the Blum lawsuit nearly in its entirety. One might use the word “plagiarism”, if one weren’t already convinced that both the lawsuit and the complaint were coordinated by anti-affirmative action parties working in tandem — at their press conference this year, the complaint’s authors were open about their close relationship with Edward Blum’s Students For Fair Admissions political action group.


The administrative complaint’s footing was also weakened by the fact that it (and therefore, by extension, Blum’s lawsuit) offers limited supporting evidence for their claim of anti-Asian bias at Harvard University. Harvard, in particular, seemed a dubious target for the complaint: that school had already been the focus of a Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights investigation to specifically explore the possibility that Asian American applicants were racially disadvantaged in admissions, and no evidence of discrimination had been uncovered at the school.

Harvard’s proportion of incoming Asian American freshmen has been steadily increasing. This year, 21% of Harvard’s incoming freshman class is Asian American, which is an identical proportion to the fraction of Harvard’s applicants who are Asian American. Thus, there is no evidence that Asian American applicants are being subjected to a disparate admissions rate compared to other applicants; rather, Asian Americans are apparently being admitted at the same highly selective rate (5.3%) as the aggregate applicant pool.

Race-conscious affirmative action has been necessary to maintain higher education access for underprivileged Black, Latino, Native and AAPI students. Consistent with this, the vast majority of AAPI voters say they support affirmative action and do not believe it hurts our college admissions chances. Two Civil Rights Commissioners — both Asian American — released a joint statement in response to May’s anti-affirmative action filing to the Department of Education, stating:

Neither of us believes that any racial or ethnic group should be subjected to quotas. Nor do we believe that test scores alone entitle anyone to admission at Harvard. Students are more than their test scores and grades. Well-constructed and properly implemented admissions programs further our principles of equal opportunity. While we understand that some programs may be imperfect, or even need substantial reform, we do not support any attempt to eliminate affirmative action programs at Harvard or any institution of higher learning.

The authors of the administrative complaint are the clear minority for our community. Reflecting this fact, more than 135 national AAPI civil rights organizations and hundreds of concerned individuals signed an open letter earlier this year supporting race-conscious affirmative action policies and opposing the 60+ groups’ administrative complaint. Their ongoing efforts to protect affirmative action can be found at

The complaint’s authors are not, however, dissuaded. Speaking to media yesterday, Yukong Zhao hinted that the groups may refile their complaints targeting other schools. Saying he was “very disappointed”, Zhao said, “there are lots of other Ivy League schools discriminating against Asians.”

Speaking to NBC News, Zhao said:

“We are going to continue to pursue our equal education rights,” Zhao told NBC News. “We have a lot of other options, and we are not going to be slowed by this.”

Well, alrighty then. Looks like Zhao and his anti-affirmative action buddies now plan to harass other elite universities with the same angry accusations.

Meanwhile, Edward Blum’s lawsuits — which use the Asian American community as racial mascots to advance a conservative anti-affirmative action agenda — hit a roadblock Monday when Harvard University and University of North Carolina asked the courts to put the cases against them on hold pending the Supreme Court’s announcement it would rehear the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case. In 2013, the Supreme Court sent the Fisher case — in which plaintiff Abigail Fisher alleged racial discrimination against herself and other White applicants at the University of Texas — back to the Court of Appeals to apply strict scrutiny to the case; when the case was returned to them, the Fifth Circuit again ruled in favour of University of Texas saying that the school’s race-conscious affirmative action policies were fair.

I really have to start wondering: what would it take for opponents of affirmative action to finally start reading the writing on the wall?

Media Inaccurately Portrays Asian American Views on Affirmative Action

This commentary originally appeared on the Daily Bruin on May 21, 2015.

By Arthur Wang, UCLA

Affirmative action is back, and Asian Americans are angry – at least, that’s what the media wants you to believe.

The vast majority of news networks and websites around the country immediately jumped on discussing the discrimination complaint filed with the federal government by 64 Asian American organizations Friday. The complaint calls for an investigation of alleged race-based discrimination at Harvard University, citing the lack of Asian enrollment growth during the last decade despite a dramatic increase in applications during the same time period.

The suit comes on the heels and largely repeats the sentiments of a pair of lawsuits filed November against Harvard and the University of North Carolina by the Project on Fair Representation, detailing similar allegations.

As a Chinese American myself, it’s too bad that the media at large has chosen to reproduce an inaccurate narrative of Asian American attitudes toward higher education and a contentious public policy, without considering the complex demographic circumstances of Asian America or surveying what the group as a whole actually thinks about affirmative action.

The media has also failed to scrutinize the status of the 64 groups comprising the “Coalition of Asian-American Associations” that jointly filed the complaint. Of all the 20-plus outlets that decided to discuss the complaint, only MSNBC and the Chronicle of Higher Education bothered to provide a link to the actual text of the complaint.

This is critical because this allows readers to see what, exactly, the complainant groups are. Newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal mention that the cosigned groups include “Chinese, Indian, Korean and Pakistani organizations.”

But taking a look at the list makes it clear that the coalition is a poor representation of Asian American interests, does not include many well-established Asian American advocacy and rights groups and does not include groups that represent southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders. A vast majority of the organizations is explicitly pertinent to Chinese or East Asian subgroups. Fewer than 10 of the groups are pertinent to non-Chinese. Even worse, a brief search for some of these groups on the Internet yields little to no information detailing their advocacy work or activities, as many appear to be created recently by immigrant groups.

Where is the presence of the biggest Asian American advocacy groups, such as the legal and civil rights group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Organization of Chinese Americans and API Equality? They cosigned a letter by more than 135 Asian American groups reaffirming their support for affirmative action, with substantial representation from major East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander organizations.

On the whole, Asian Americans in California have been, and remain, supporters of affirmative action. According to the National Asian American Survey, a nonpartisan polling project by UC Riverside professor Karthick Ramakrishnan, 61 percent of Asian Americans in the state voted against Proposition 209, which banned the consideration of race in higher education and public employment. In addition, a 2014 field poll of voters found 69 percent of Asian Americans support affirmative action. The media at large, however, has done little to report on or explicate this sort of coverage, skewing public perception of the group’s beliefs by choosing instead to focus on the opposition, by and large comprised of immigrant Chinese.

That only BuzzFeed, of all news outlets, has discussed the broad-based coalition that supports affirmative action so far is a telling sign of how unbalanced the public discourse on the policy is with regard to Asian Americans. Furthermore, much of the coverage ignores the incredible diversity within the “Asian” umbrella category. I may not representAsian Americans by any means, but writing as a researcher and a journalist, we should exercise caution in interpreting mainstream media coverage of what “the Asians” think about any given issue.

Espenshade: Data are not Proof of anti-Asian Discrimination | #Edu4All

This was originally posted by Jenn Fang on

Since the publication in 2009 of his influential study (with co-author Alexandria Walton Radford) on admission patterns in the country’s elite private universities (“No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal”), Princeton researcher Thomas J. Espenshade’s data have been an oft-cited resource for the anti-affirmative action Right. In his study, Espenshade compiled GPA and SAT test scores for selective private institutions of higher education, and compared them to admission rates by race. He reported that Asian American applicants appeared to be admitted at a lower rate than White, Black or Latino peers with comparable quantitative scores. He then extrapolated that into SAT scores, concluding that a hypothetical Asian American student would require a theoretical extra 140 points on the SAT score to achieve the same probability of admission as a White peer, and a theoretical extra 450 SAT points to achieve the same probability of admission as a Black peer.

This finding has found its way into scores of anti-affirmative action articles, amicus briefs, lawsuits, and civil rights complaints. Most recently, it was cited as major evidence of anti-Asian bias during college admissions in the lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admissions against UNC and Harvard by lobbyist Edward Blum. Espenshade also features prominently in the administrative complaint filed to the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Justice by 60 mostly Chinese American groups last Friday against Harvard University.

Espenshade’s work is meticulous and appears to show some sort of disadvantage for Asian American applicants to certain selective private universities; but too often, it has also been overinterpreted, misinterpreted, and misreported. Espenshade’s work is not a direct reporting of SAT score disparities at the nation’s select universities. Asian American enrollees are not actually required to score 450 more SAT points than Black enrollees: at Harvard, the gap between average Black and Asian SAT scores is a mere 190 points on a 2400 point scale.

Furthermore, Espenshade’s findings may not be applicable to public universities, which are far less selective than private institutions. It is not clear that Espenshade considered other factors that will influence selectivity, including for example nation of origin.  Correlation is not causation.

But finally, and most importantly, Espenshade’s data deliberately over-simplifies the college admissions process by excluding most of the criteria upon which admissions officers base admissions decisions. By considering only applicant GPA and SAT score, Espenshade necessarily places total (and determinative) weight on these two quantifiable metrics alone, and assumes that the over 900 other factors that admissions officers consider under holistic review are simply unimportant.

Holistic review is standard in college admissions precisely because institutions of higher education in America have increasingly deprioritized standardized test scores and GPA, in recognition of the numerous studies that demonstrate the poor power of these metrics in assessing applicant merit. Studies show that the SAT I — which was only ever intended to predict first-year college performance — predicts only 22% of variability in student success in that first year. A separate study showed that a 100-point increase in SAT score correlates to only about a 1/10th of a point in first-year college GPA.  Colleges and universities that no longer require applicants’ SAT scores find that their students fare just as well as students enrolled in schools where SAT scores are mandatory. In fact, the only applicant metric that the SAT appears to be able to faithfully predict is family income.

Critics of affirmative action argue, however, that Espenshade’s data prove that holistic review is discriminatory against Asian Americans. They argue that  race-conscious affirmative action, which is one of the hundreds of background datapoints considered (holistically) for each applicant, is biased against Asian American applicants. They argue that this extrapolated and theoretical 140 point gap between Asian and White applicants is proof that affirmative action is unconstitutional.

Thomas Espenshade, himself, doesn’t buy that interpretation of his own data.

In 2009, Inside Higher Education reached out to Espenshade and asked him to comment on the popular (mis)interpretations of his data. They reported:

Espenshade said in an interview that he does not think his data establish this [anti-Asian] bias. He noted that while his formulas are notably more complete than typical test score comparisons by race and ethnicity, he doesn’t have the “softer variables,” such as teacher and high school counselor recommendations, essays and lists of extracurricular activities. It is possible, he said, that such factors explain some of the apparent SAT and ACT disadvantage facing Asian applicants.

At the same time, he said he understood that these numbers would certainly not reassure Asian applicants or those who believe they are suffering discrimination.

“I understand the worry of Asian students, but do I have a smoking gun? No,” he said.

Asked again last Friday about inclusion of his data in the recent civil rights complaint against Harvard, Espenshade told the Harvard Crimson:

“I stop short of saying that Asian-American students are being discriminated against in the college application process because we don’t have sufficient empirical evidence to support that claim,”  Espenshade said.

In short, Thomas Espenshade doesn’t believe his data are proof of anti-Asian discrimination in the college application process.

So maybe the anti-affirmative action Right should stop co-opting his science to advance their own partisan agenda? Just sayin’.

SEARAC Press Release: SEARAC Joins Broad Coalition of 135+ Organizations in Firm Support of Race-Conscious Admissions Policies in Higher Education

Washington, DC – The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) has joined over 135 Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations to sign a letter affirming the AAPI community’s support for race-sensitive admissions policies in higher education. The letter opposes recent efforts by a small group to dismantle race-sensitive admissions policies at educational institutions such as Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. SEARAC fully supports race-conscious policies as one of many variables for examining holistically a student’s ability to achieve, thrive, and positively contribute to the campus community.

SEARAC Executive Director Quyen Dinh said, “Affirmative action is one of the most important policies we have to undo decades or even centuries of institutional racism, systemic poverty, and discrimination. Discrimination against any racial or ethnic group is intolerable under our nation’s protection of civil rights. However, we will not let divisive groups undermine important policies such as affirmative action without merit in our community’s name. Affirmative action provides a framework for evaluating not only a student’s academic achievement, but the kinds of challenges and barriers that student has had to overcome to succeed at a high level for themselves and their community.”

Affirmative action policies account not only for race, but for challenges that many Southeast Asian American students face, such as poverty, being the first in the family to attend college, having parents who are not proficient in English, and attending low-performing schools that do not prepare students for standardized testing. Only 67% of Cambodian, 65% of Hmong, 68% of Laotian, and 70% of Vietnamese Americans aged 25 and over hold a high school degree or higher, compared to over 86% of the overall Asian American population.

Affirmative action is a keystone policy for addressing education equity, and it must be implemented in the context of a comprehensive approach to reducing education achievement gaps in this country. SEARAC calls for more attention to holistic K-12 policies that are equally important to close education equity gaps including, but not limited to, equal access to rigorous college and career ready content, support for English language learners and families with limited English proficiency, cultural and linguistic competency training for educators and school administrators, and health-promoting policies that address students’ physical and mental health challenges so that all students can thrive.

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The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society. Find out more at 

CAA Press Release: CAA Joins 120+ Asian American Civil Rights Groups in Support of Affirmative Action

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Chinese for Affirmative Action, a community-based civil rights organization in San Francisco, joins with over 120 Asian American civil rights organizations nationwide to reaffirm support for affirmative action and equal opportunity in education.

The collective statement represents broad Asian American support for affirmative action – a view reflected in nationwide polls and surveys of Asian Americans – and underscores the need for policies that create inclusion rather than division.

Based on over forty years of successful work to improve equal opportunity, CAA strongly affirms that affirmative action is one of the most important, effective, and necessary policy tools for advancing justice for Chinese Americans as well as other marginalized communities.

For the full statement and list of endorsements, please see:

AAAJ Press Release: More than 130 Asian American organizations sign open letter supporting equal opportunity in higher education

WASHINGTON – Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) joined 135 Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) community organizations from across the country in an open letter in support of equal opportunity and affirmative action in higher education, highlighting that a majority of Asian Americans strongly support affirmative action in higher education.  

In response to an administrative complaint being filed today by Asian American groups seeking to dismantle race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard University, Advancing Justice issues the following statements:

“Historically, affirmative action programs have opened doors and provided opportunities for Asian Americans and other communities of color, who have been systematically denied everything from entrance into and citizenship in this country to educational opportunities, job promotions, and leadership positions,” states Betty Hung, Policy Director at Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “Today, these programs continue to benefit communities of color and, in the education context, also has provided opportunities to members of our own ethnically diverse Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, particularly Pilipino Americans, Southeast Asians, and many Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.”

Advancing Justice has a long supported and continue to support programs to ensure equal educational access as well as a diverse and inclusive society. As civil rights organizations, we remain a strong supporter of diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity in all contexts, including in education, employment, and contracting.

“Instead of asking Americans to come together to help address serious problems in our education system, these folks are trying to divide communities. We are in this boat together and Asians won’t save our children’s future by pushing other communities overboard,” said Christopher Punongbayan, Executive Director at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.

For additional comments, the following experts from Asian Americans Advancing Justice can be reached at:

Mee Moua, President and executive director
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC
202-296-2300 x 144 

Betty Hung, Policy Director
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles
(213) 977-7500 ext. 214

Laboni Hoq, Litigation Director
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles
(213) 977-7500 ext. 257

Christopher Punongbayan, Executive Director
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
(415) 848-7723

Aarti Kohli, Deputy Director
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
(415) 848-7713

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Asian Americans Advancing Justice is a national affiliation of five leading organizations advocating for the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and other underserved communities to promote a fair and equitable society for all. The affiliation’s members are: Advancing Justice | AAJC (Washington, D.C.), Advancing Justice – Atlanta, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco), Advancing Justice – Chicago, and Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.