Saturday, June 29, 2024

Admissions Granted, on MSNBC

Academics and politicians rarely try to anticipate the unintended consequences of the policies they devise—and it shows. They even more rarely try to adjust their schemes in response, more frequently doubling down in the face of resistance. So-called “affirmative action” as represented by race-based college admissions criteria is a case in point. Few early advocates of affirmative action could anticipate colleges discriminating against Asian applicants to boost other minorities groups. That this happened is no longer a matter of opinion. Supreme Court found Harvard and the University of North Carolina did indeed so discriminate in landmark 2022 decisions. Documentarians Hao Wu and Miang Wang chronicle the historic court cases from the perspective of the plaintiffs, their allies, and defenders of the status quo in Admissions Granted, which premieres tomorrow on MSNBC.

Yes, there are a lot of Asians attending Harvard. Several of the students who were represented by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) wanted to join them. Yet, despite having near perfect test scores and grade point averages, as well as impressive extracurriculars (one even sang at Obama’s inauguration), they were not accepted. Evidently, many applicants post online the moment they open their Harvard admissions emails. Watching some, the future plaintiffs could not help notice their fellow Asians seemed to be getting rejected or waitlisted at much higher rates than other demographic groups.

Eventually, they joined up with SFFA, founded by several conservative Asian activists. Soon, legal strategist Edward Blum would join their cause. Blum had experience a legal course all the way to the Supreme Court. He is also Jewish. “Coincidentally,” he became a lightning rod for Harvard protesters. Several times in the film, we hear Harvard students, ostensibly protesting on behalf of “diversity,” chanting: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Edward Blum has got to go!” That is a verbatim quote, which prompts the question of just where they wanted him to go. Regardless, it seems the practice of demonizing Jews is nothing new at Harvard.

Admission Granted might be the most fair and balanced ninetysome minutes you will see on MSNBC for the rest of the year, but there are no guarantees regarding the twentysome minutes of commercials. Despite all the defenders of partially-race-based admissions trying to slander Blum’s character, Wu and Wang give the time to fully make his case. Viewers hear a good deal from both sides, but it is worth noting which side tends to engage in unsupported ad hominin attacks, frequently targeting Blum.

Recognizing the complications of reality, several of the SFFA-supported plaintiffs express mixed feelings regarding the case. They lament the likelihood the Roberts Court would entirely strike down affirmative action (as they did), but they still maintain Asian applicants are not treated fairly, which is not right. Conversely, defenders of affirmative action never really engage with SFFA’s arguments.

The degree to which Harvard consistently and pervasively gave Asians their lowest rating in its broad “personal” admissions category is deeply troubling. It implies Asian students demonstrate traits such as “courage” and “perseverance” at comparatively lower rates. Yet, their willingness to fight as part of Harvard and UNC cases clearly suggest otherwise.

Frankly, sociologist Natasha Warikoo insulting stereotypes Asian parents when she suggests they only value tests scores, at the expense of extracurriculars, and therefore misunderstand the American admissions process. Again, the SFFA students had whole resumes full of extracurriculars, which is why they questioned Harvard’s discriminatory practices.

It is almost shocking that MSNBC will broadcast this film, because it is not an advocacy piece. Wu and Wang are serious filmmakers, having helmed many insightful and revealing docs separately, such as
The Road to Fame, People’s Republic of Desire, All in My Family, Beijing Taxi, and Maineland. No matter your opinion on this issue, you might learn something if you can sit down and watch it like an adult. Recommended as decent overview of the Supreme Court cases and the parties directly involved, Admissions Granted airs tomorrow night (6/30) on MSNBC.