New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to increase black and Hispanic enrollment at the city’s eight specialized, or elite, public schools. And a new report by the publicly-funded Independent Budget Office confirms what skeptics of the plan have known since de Blasio announced his scheme last summer: It baldly discriminates against Asian Americans.
De Blasio wants to do away with the admissions test that is the single determining factor in admitting students to these schools and instead force them to accept the top 7 percent of students from all the city’s middle schools. “Offers to the city’s black students would soar to 19 percent compared to the 4 percent who enrolled that year, the study found,” the New York Post reports. “Hispanic admission offers would also jump, from 6 to 27 percent.”
That sounds good, but here’s the problem: “Asians would get 31 percent of offers under the proposal—compared to the 61 percent who enrolled as freshmen for the 2017-2018 school year.” In other words, once the criterion for acceptance is no longer a single test that objectively measures ability, Asian-American admissions would drop by about half. And the half that wouldn’t get in would be replaced partly by kids who would have scored lower than them on the test.
Here’s the really nasty part. Admissions of white students to the elite schools would barely change, going from 24 to 20 percent. This means that only one racial group is paying the price for de Blasio’s “diversity” plan.
The proposed admissions changes are part of a larger trend of discriminating against Asian Americans in various schools and universities. I wrote at length about this in an article in COMMENTARY’s January issue. The two focal points of the phenomena are New York’s elite schools and Harvard University, and, in both cases, the issue has gone to court.
A federal judge in Boston is expected to rule by this summer on whether or not Harvard has been discriminating against Asian-Americans. And Asian-American parents and civil-rights organizations filed suit in Manhattan in December to get a preliminary injunction against part of de Blasio’s admissions overhaul that’s already slated to go into effect this spring. Specifically, that’s about the Department of Education’s plan to “expand” a program called Discovery, which offers elite placements to disadvantaged kids who just miss the test-score cutoff. As I explain in my article, the program tools aren’t being expanded so much as it’s being reallocated—from helping many disadvantaged Asian-American students to helping disadvantaged students of other minorities.
Lawyers for the mayor have filed papers in which they claim the Department of Education “did not act for the purpose of hindering any racial group.” That won’t be so easy to prove. In my article, I cite a good deal of data showing that these diversity schemes and other plans to engineer the ethnic make-up of classrooms have long been used explicitly to discriminate against unwanted minorities. Such plans were used foremost to reduce the number of Jewish students in the Ivy League in the 1920s and ’30s. Now, nearly a hundred years later, they’re targeting Asian Americans. Justice awaits.LIKETWEETAbe Greenwald
In the classroom, I’m more interested in setting the stage for a good discussion than I am in making points about academic freedom. Even if I thought, with the comedian Lenny Bruce, that using racial epithets mockingly deprived them of their power, I wouldn’t act on that belief in my classroom. And although Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, which I teach often, includes more than 200 uses of the n-word, I don’t, even when reading aloud, use it myself. Like it or not, conditions are such that choosing to utter the word, even while reading aloud from a book that uses it, can derail discussion of anything other than that choice.
Removing the term from the text—which has been done—falsifies the novel. But there’s nothing important I can add to Twain by saying the n-word aloud. And I sympathize with students who find the word revolting—revolting words and images can be revolting even when they’re presented for a good reason. When to present them is a matter about which reasonable teachers disagree.
Another reason not to use the n-word, whatever the context, is that you might be suspended. That’s what happened to Phillip Adamo, an award-winning teacher and, until recently, the director of the Honors Program at Minnesota’s Augsburg University. He is now taking an involuntary vacation, in part because students have questioned his “teaching competence.”
According to Colleen Flaherty of InsideHigherEd, here’s what happened. During a class on James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, one of Adamo’s students quoted a sentence that included the n-word. According to Adamo, “students were shocked.” So he led a discussion of whether, “in an ‘academic context,’ it was appropriate to use the word if the author had used it.” In framing the discussion, Adamo himself used the “n-word.” After a forty-minute conversation, the class agreed that “the word was too fraught to use going forward.”
After a similar discussion in another section of the same class, Adamo sent his students two essays, both by African-American commentators, justifying the use of the n-word in some contexts. Neither essay really backed Adamo’s approach, but some students thought that Adamo was trying to force-feed them his view. Student leaders in the honors program showed up, uninvited, to a subsequent class and the discussion continued.
At this point, Adamo consulted his provost. She urged him to send an email to students in the Honors Program, and he did, explaining that although he believed in academic freedom, he was also “struggling to understand how it may be better not to explore some taboo topics.” But that didn’t cut it. Adamo is no longer director of the honors program and has been suspended from teaching in it pending an investigation.
I won’t wade into the controversy’s details because, as a look at Augsburg’s student newspaper will tell you, the facts are in dispute. And this incident has gotten tangled up with racial tensions that have accompanied Augsburg’s rapid shift from serving, in 2006 a 17 percent minority student body, to serving, nowadays, a 57 percent minority student body. But one thing shouldn’t be in dispute. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) recommends that even when a professor is undergoing dismissal proceedings, which Adamo is not, he should be suspended onlyif “immediate harm to the faculty member or others is threatened by” keeping him at work.
Perhaps this safeguard is too stringent. But anyone, liberal or conservative, who cares about academic freedom, should object when “immediate harm” is stretched to cover cases in which some students are simply very upset. After all, a student, persuaded by those who consider Huckleberry Finn“racist trash,” might well feel sincerely and deeply wounded to the point of distraction by it being taught as a classic. Should professors who continue to teach Huckleberry Finn as something other than a piece of racist trash be suspended if a sufficient number of students object?
Yet apart from a letter from the board of the Minnesota AAUP, signed by a lone Augsburg professor, one searches in vain for statements of concern from the faculty over Adamo’s suspension. About Adamo’s debatable classroom decision, and the controversy that surrounded it, there have been multiple earnest “Listening Sessions,” statements from the Provostand Faculty Senate (signed by Adamo himself), intercultural competence sessions, and calls for a Day of Action, at which the college’s president intoned that “the darkness around us is deep indeed.”