Thomas Sowell

A hundred years ago, there was talk of a "yellow peril" because of Chinese and Japanese immigration to the United States in general and to California in particular. Today, there are echoes of that notion in a front page headline on the education section of the New York Times of January 7th.

"At 41 percent Asian, Berkeley could be the new face of merit-based admissions. The problem for everybody else: lots less room at elite colleges."

Anybody of any race who takes a place at any college leaves one less place for somebody else. Does an Asian American take up any more space than anybody else? Are they all Sumo wrestlers?

This hand-wringing about too many Asians is an echo of the past in another painful way. Back in the early 20th century, various elite colleges decided that there were "too many Jews" applying and set quotas to restrict the number of Jewish students admitted.

One of the institutions that did not do this was the College of the City of New York, which admitted students according to their academic qualifications. Jewish students seemed to be an even higher percentage of the students at CCNY then than Asian students are today at Berkeley.

Because CCNY was both free and a high-quality academic institution, it became known as "the poor man's Harvard."

That was then. Today, CCNY has long since succumbed to the siren song of "inclusion" and flung its doors open to all and sundry, with no old-fashioned notions of academic qualifications. No one calls it a poor man's Harvard any more. Few would even call it adequate.

In the long and rambling New York Times article about Berkeley -- titled "Little Asia on the Hill" -- there is lots of space devoted to racial representation among the student body and remarkably little mention of qualifications and achievement. You might never guess that a university has purposes other than presenting a demographic profile that is politically correct.

In addition to such omissions, there is also misinformation. For example: "In California, the rise of the Asian campus, of the strict meritocracy, has come at the expense of historically underrepresented blacks and Hispanics."

There have been more black students in the University of California system than there were before affirmative action was outlawed. Black students have not been denied a college education. They have been redistributed within the University of California system, with fewer going to Berkeley and more going to Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and other institutions within the same system.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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