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Admissions policies should avoid minority quotas


I read with interest the article on Arthur Hu's complaint against admissions policies at Berkeley ["Alumnus accuses Berkeley of having anti-Asian quotas," Jan. 31] and was amused by an apparent contradiction. As Hei-Wai Chan is quoted in the article, "Hu does not represent the Asian-American community; the views he put forth are his personal ones." True, and the same goes for protesters like Chan and Vivian Wu, members of the Asian-American Caucus at MIT, the name of which suggests that a group can make statements for the entire Asian American community at MIT. The Tech

made the same sort of mistake with its subheading "MIT students strongly oppose Hu's view." Yes, some strongly oppose Hu, but many do not, and some strongly agree with him. Neither Hu, Wu nor The Tech

should make blanket statements about a group of people without surveying at least a statistically significant sampling of them.

I, for example, support Hu. I am not an Asian-American, but I am a member of the Asian-Americans of the last generation, the Jews. When my parents were my age, many schools had Jewish quotas, and they did not apply to those otherwise excellent universities. In his memoirs, Richard Feynmann states that he did not go to Columbia University because of their Jewish quota. He attended MIT instead. Happily, public opinion is strongly against Jewish quotas, and they no longer exist in the United States. I have never understood why people who rightly oppose Jewish quotas condone Asian-American quotas.

That is not to say that there are no valid reasons for supporting flexible admissions standards. I believe that an applicant from an inner city who went to a bad high school should be admitted in the place of an applicant who went to a top high school and had only slightly higher board scores. If there is reason to believe an applicant has overcome adversity, whether due to poor educational opportunities, discrimination, or unfamiliarity with English, the applicant should be given special consideration regardless of race. This does not entail a lowering of standards but rather a consideration of important standards that are often overlooked. If any students were accepted to college based on such broad considerations, it would be an insult to claim that they got in only due to "lowered standards."

As a female computer science major, I am in a minority. It took me years before I could hold my head up high without worrying that professors and classmates thought I'd gotten in with lower qualifications due to being female. Affirmative action based on lowered standards causes that sort of uncomfortable situation, along with resentment. Individuals face barriers of different levels, and these should be considered on a case by case basis. I expect that is how MIT operates, rather than by cutting clumsily across broad ethnic boundaries.

I agree with affirmative activists that the underrepresentation of certain groups is a scandal, and I have fought against it in my own ways (such as through volunteer teaching at a city high school). Proponents of affirmative action should not assume that anyone who opposes their policies is a "right-wing mouth" as Wu called Hu. Watchdogs need to exist on all sides to make sure that no group of people suffers for the supposed benefit of any other. I do not know whether Berkeley discriminates, and I am glad that the Department of Education will investigate the situation, replacing rumors and resentment with facts. Ideally, if there is discrimination at Berkeley, it will stop; if not, the school will be vindicated. In either case, Hu has done a service by calling attention to the situation.

Ellen Spertus '90->