Nearly four months after Jian Li, an Asian student at Yale University, filed a complaint against Princeton University for racial discrimination in the admissions process, a decision remains to be reached by the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights regarding Princeton's actions.
Li's complaint has sometimes mistakenly been referred to as a lawsuit, which "gives an impression that I'm doing this for personal gain when in fact that's not really the case … I don't stand to gain anything from it … I did it for the principle of it."
Li targeted Princeton following a study published by two of the university's professors which emphasized the importance of affirmative action in the college admissions process. Chang Y. Chung and Thomas J. Espenshade, the authors of the June 2005 report, asserted that the consideration of race does not have a significant impact on white applicants' admissions to elite universities, while African American and Hispanic applicants are provided an advantage in the process. Conversely, "Asian applicants are the biggest winners if race is no longer considered in admissions," according to the report. Without racial preferences, "nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class not taken by African American and Hispanic students would be filled by Asians." The study drew on admissions data from the fall of 1993 and 1997.
Li also referenced empirical data to support his argument. Following the passage of Proposition 209, which outlawed race-based preferences in California in 1996, the percentage of Asian-American students at UC Berkeley increased from 34.6 to 42 percent by 2006. At the University of Washington, the percentage rose from 22.1 to 25.4 percent within six years of a similar ban on affirmative action.
"There was much more pressure to compare myself to other Asians," said Joshua J. Lim '09. With "only a few spots for Asians … you would really have to distinguish yourself as an Asian instead of as a human being."
A similar case was brought up in 1998, when Henry Park, ranked 14th at the prestigious boarding school Groton, was rejected from several elite universities, including four Ivies, MIT, and Stanford.
In Daniel Golden's The Price of Admissions, MIT Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones said, "It's possible that Henry Park looked like a thousand other Korean kids with the exact same profile of grades and activities and temperament … yet another textureless math grind."
Jones was unavailable for comment on the Li issue.
The question of whether Asian-American students are held to a higher standard by admissions officers has also garnered attention on other campuses. Two sophomores from Brown University, Neil Vangala and Jason Carr, have started a group on campus called Asian Equality in Admissions. One of the initial goals of the group was to encourage Asian American applicants to leave the question of race on applications blank. Vangala and Carr have since redefined their goals and are now trying to "investigate and identify possible sources of discrimination in Brown University's admissions process; to educate and inform students of the possible discrimination; and to promote institutional transparency," said Vangala. The group is currently working with other multi-cultural groups to obtain a student government resolution that would submit a formal request for data to the administration. The students both support affirmative action as a method for correcting past and present forms of injustice.