It was revealed last week or so that Harvard systematically rates Asian-Americans lower on personality, on subjective traits such as “positive personality,” likability, courage, kindness and being “widely respected.” I’m not surprised at all by this. Though they could have at least been a bit smarter about this by keeping this shit off the record. Now the investigators could actually reveal something about their process to the public that would undermine the institution’s credibility.
Though I am an Asian-American, I will not try to pretend. It’s so far for Harvard’s institutional interests more or less rational to do what they’re doing. Asian-Americans have very little power and influence over the institution. Sure, there is no shortage of prominent Asian-Americans professors at Harvard, mostly in STEM, but they don’t actually have all that much influence over the institution, and are mostly being used by the institution to advance its own academic reputation. The same goes for being an Asian academic undergrad admit (who can, say, win a high place for Harvard at the Putnam Contest). There is also the implicit assumption that because Asians face race-related disadvantages in the career game, especially in the corporate world, due to unconscious bias, lack of ethnic affinity networks, etc, they should be penalized, as future career success, of a form not perceived as too threatening to the current elite, is crudely what admissions is optimizing for. So, life is not fair, get used to it, and do the little that you can to try to make things more fair (or more in your favor).
I’ve actually seen some not actually very talented Asian-Americans without hooks who did make it to HYP under very striverish behavior. They played the game of try hard resume optimization, of appearing less Asian. The thing is that most of those people end up not well at all after graduation. Don’t think that HYP guarantees a good job. There is no guarantee is today’s world. Those people did too little in terms of developing actually employable skills. What they got by playing the college admissions game was essentially a pyrrhic victory. Actually competent state school kids do much better than them in the workplace. So, don’t be stupid like that.
Even many actually smart Asian-American HYP grads don’t do all that great. A common outcome is a merely solid engineer at a respected technology company. Some go to a top grad school, but success much depends on the field. Academia has very few openings nowadays, though for engineering, due to industrial demand, it is much less competitive than math or science. A common route of course for the really technically exceptional is quant finance, though those positions tend to be taken by immigrants, who generally undergo a much more rigorous STEM education with less distraction compared to what Asian-Americans receive. The thing is that so many people are irrationally desperate to attend an elite school. Some middle class parents will burn a fortune to send their kid to some fancy prep school full of rich kids, where they easily end up at the bottom half of the school’s social hierarchy, let alone for an elite university. They lose sight of the fact that in many if not most cases, major determines what you do much more than school. There are many cases of these try hards wasting much time, money, and stress for nothing.
Like it or not, America is still very much a white country. Asian-Americans can and should try, but they shouldn’t realistically expect equality. If Chinese parents really want their son to become a lawyer or politician, they should probably stay in China. It’ll be hard there as well, but your odds of success will be probably at least an order of magnitude higher than in America. Here, I use only the male qualification of child in light of how “on average, Asian American women received higher personal ratings and extracurricular ratings than Asian American men.” This is, of course, consistent with what goes on in the real world as well. And it is expected, considering how historically, sexism and racism have always gone together.
A while ago, I wrote on here a rather cynical (or whatever you call it) piece in Chinese regarding elite US schools, which to my pleasant surprise a Chinese international of my acquaintance who attended Harvard commented on affirmatively. Its title has somewhat of a sensationalist provocative vibe to it, translated to English as “American elite universities as a political tool for brainwashing and uplifting (pseudo) elite of Chinese descent.” Of course, I have more or less the highest regard for the STEM being done at these top American institutions, though maybe it is a bit overrated. Much of the humanities and social science coming from those places I find quite questionable though, and that goes along with the cultural and political values fostered by these institutions. On that, I brought up how the former unsuccessful regime of China, the Republic of China, was led and run largely by Chinese graduates of Ivies of their time, who were but superficially Westernized and modernized Chinese. Despite their graduating from these elite schools, they lost the civil war and failed to modernize China, though perhaps that also had much to do with their being in the wrong time. Certainly though, many of the elite Chinese who played prominent roles in China’s modernization from the 50s on did advanced study in STEM in these top American schools. I’ll say that from my experience, it certainly does seem that these schools tend to select for Asians whose social and political viewpoints, often not very grounded on reality, tend to fit them into the aforementioned category, like Jeff Yang, with whom Steve Hsu had a debate. This is of course part of the pattern of American elites’ desire to bring elites of other countries into their circle, in a sufficiently subordinate position. On this, I’ll say how I’ve read comments on how over past half century or so, affirmative action by Harvard and other Ivies has won for American elites not only (a facade of) charity but also cultural and ethnic representatives to advance their interests in, say, African countries. For that, Harvard was useful as a binding force. Surely, Harvard has always played a quintessential role in persisting the rule and influence of the current American elite throughout the world, and like it or not, kissing the ruler’s ass is almost always the easiest way to rise up on the social ladder. In Chinese, to be America’s dog is spoken of as pejorative, but so what, there were and are too many small countries willing to do so, because it brings them, their elites in particular, much economic and political benefit.
Asians tend to be pretty obsessed with prestige. Chinese are very, and Koreans are especially so. In the 80s and 90s and 00s, a degree from a prestigious or good American school was much an upper mobility ticket in China. Now, this is much less so, because there are too many such Chinese now, and also maybe because people in China have increasingly realized that maybe these people aren’t actually all that good, in spite of their brand-name American school. A PhD from MIT from China once told me that now in China, companies are increasingly reluctant to hire “sea turtles;” you have to pay them more, when more often than not, you can find a local guy who can do the job as well or better for much less. This is a sign of devaluation of elite American institutions, and I believe this will continue, given the relatively low level of STEM education and preparation in America (which is impossible to hide to any actually smart, scientifically literate person) along with America’s overall decline.
The short-sighted and personally motivated decisions of the intellectually mediocre and politically delusional American elite over the past generation are, cumulatively, really taking its toll now, on the American economy and the credibility of its ruling class. Their elite institutions, nepotistic and corrupt in its admissions, are losing the public’s trust and alienating Asian-Americans especially, many of whom moved to a foreign country speaking little English with too much blind faith in the so-called American Dream that they sought for themselves and more so for their children. American elites may have thought that they themselves could neglect STEM, that there are plenty of talented foreigners, many of whom Asian, willing to do those jobs indefinitely, often grossly under-compensated and with their American-born, American-raised kids facing higher hurdles in education and at work. This might have been so decades ago, when in their home countries, there was still lack of economic opportunity for smart people. Nowadays, there is a booming and internationally competitive high technology sector in China, with India going that direction as well, in spite of brain drain into America. Collectively, the STEM expertise has over time not only grown itself but transformed into significant leverage for the group, so much that the elites running Harvard need to resort to rogue tactics to preserve themselves. I don’t exactly blame them. It’s just like how people who go the bullshit business and social climbing route do so largely to compensate for their inherent intellectual deficit; at least to me, that’s never a pleasant or honorable position to be in. But what else can you do, if not to accept defeat? I can already foresee such an entrenched group fighting desperately for its own survival. Harvard will do all that it can to get away with what it’s doing right now amidst much backlash. And it’s an extraordinary rich, powerful, well-connected institution, much able to manipulate the outcomes. Either they win, or they reform themselves accordingly, or they become slowly sidelined. We’ll see. I just hope they don’t resort to even nastier tactics. Though that tends to happen when power and survival is at serious risk.