On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments regarding accusations that Harvard University’s admissions policies illegally discriminate against Asian Americans. At one point, the university’s lawyer, Seth Waxman, condemned the “racist, anti-Semitic policy” of A. Lawrence Lowell, who was president of Harvard from 1909 until 1933. The editors of the New York Sun comment:
Lowell, who once tried to bar blacks from Harvard Yard, . . . wanted to cap the ratio of the student body that was Jewish at 15 percent when it was running at 20 percent and when Jews were but a small sliver of the U.S. population. . . . Waxman went on to use the word “insubstantial” to describe the notion that President Lowell’s policies toward Jews are comparable to Harvard’s current policy toward Asian applicants.
In his pursuit of a Jewish quota President Lowell was rebuffed by Harvard’s governors, who argued that Harvard College must “maintain its traditional policy of freedom from discrimination on grounds of race or religion.” Thwarted in his pursuit of a hard cap, Lowell added a “character” requirement to Harvard’s admissions apparatus, using that filter to suppress the number of Jews to, by the time Lowell left, 10 percent of the student body.
If Lowell’s pivot from a hard quota to a soft tipping of the scale is hauntingly familiar, it is because the comparison with what Harvard is accused of doing today might not be so insubstantial after all. Certainly not in the view of Students for Fair Admissions, which is levying the case to reform Harvard and reckons Harvard is dodging high court doctrine that prohibits quotas but allows using race as “one factor among many.”
It’s just illogical for Harvard to disown President Lowell while it mimics him and names one of its glorious Houses for him.