Asian Student Files Reverse Discrimination Complaint Against Princeton University: Outcome of Litigation Could Undercut Affirmative Action Programs Benefiting Blacks

Jian Li, a Chinese-American student, graduated in the top one percent of his class at a public high school in New Jersey. He received a perfect score of 2400 on the SAT and a combined near-perfect 2390 on three SAT-II subject tests. Yet he was rejected for admission to Princeton University. A white student from the same high school who finished lower in the class rankings and had lower scores on standardized tests was admitted to Princeton.

Li filed a formal complaint against Princeton with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. The federal government is now investigating the case.

Asians are currently 13.1 percent of the student body at Princeton, a higher rate than the Asian-American population of the United States but similar to the Asian student population at Harvard and Yale. There is a larger percentage of Asian students at a number of other elite universities. At MIT, Asians are more than 26 percent of the student body. At Berkeley, the percentage of Asians in the student body is now 42 percent. A decade ago, when race could be considered as a factor in admissions decisions at Berkeley, Asians were probably harmed because there were powerful efforts at Berkeley to recruit blacks. At that time 34 percent of all students at Berkeley were Asian.

The case raises an issue very similar to that facing elite schools in the 1920s, what the president of Harvard University at that time called the “Hebrew invasion.” Jewish students who sought admission to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were better qualified than any other racial group and the Ivy League schools particularly began to discriminate against them for fear that these institutions would become predominantly Jewish.

If the courts should rule that Asian students are being illegally held to a higher, and constitutionally forbidden, standard of admission, the percentage of Asian students at the highly selective schools will rise in detriment to black Americans. Asian students' mean SAT scores are over 225 points, or about 20 percent, higher than the mean scores of blacks.