Asian Excellence, American Mediocrity

The Chronicle of Higher Education (5/14/99) ran a story by Robin Wilson titled "Ph.D. Programs Face a Paucity of Americans." Wilson says that a visit to just about any physics laboratory at U.S. research universities, you'd find as many foreigners as Americans. The American Institute of Physics estimates that this year, for the first time, the majority of first-year doctoral students in physics at our universities are foreign. In the academic year 1997-98, China alone supplied 20 percent of all international physics students. At Penn State University, as is typical at other universities, half the students in its graduate physics program are foreigners. In 1997, foreign students earned 37 percent of all science and engineering doctorates at American universities. By contrast, at most American universities, there are few to no foreigners getting Ph.D.s in education, cultural studies and history. The evidence clearly demonstrates that the more intellectually challenging a field of study is the fewer American students.

How do university administrators cope with the multitudes of highly prepared foreign students, particularly Asians? They set admittance quotas against them and create double standards. For example, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville's policy is not to exceed 20 percent foreign students in any of its graduate programs. Like other universities, it turns away applications from foreign students whose grades and test scores are higher than their American counterparts. Enrollment is kept up, and professors employed, by admitting mediocre American students.

Is discrimination against Asian students, foreign-born or not, acceptable? Probably not among those on the conservative end of the political spectrum but among liberals, it's an okay thing. You say, "Okay, Williams, what do you mean?" In a 1995 Sacramento Bee interview, President Clinton pointed out that excessive reliance on academic qualifications in the admissions process could have dire consequences, warning "there are universities in California that could fill their entire freshman classes with nothing but Asians." That sounds a bit racist to me, harkening back to the days of California's fears of the "Yellow Peril."

"Williams," you say, "that's just one liberal; the rest are okay." Try this. On a 1997 "Crossfire" show, Bob Beckel, the liberal co-host of the show badgered guest Dr. Abigail Thernstrom, as to the effects of California's Proposition 209 outlawing racial quotas in college admissions. Beckel asked, "Would you like to see the UCLA law school 80 percent Asian? Because at the rate it's going, by the year 2007 UCLA will be 80 percent Asian. Will that make you happy?" Neither Clinton's nor Beckel's comments drew fire from America's leftists.

In terms of our future, what foreign students are doing and the achievements they're making is not nearly as important as what American students are not doing. What American students are not doing represents a triumph of the leftist education agenda over the last four decades where feel-good, touchy-feely has been substituted for academic excellence. Even our brightest students aren't challenged as evidenced by the fact that far fewer high school students score 1400 to 1600 on the SAT today than during the 1960s. Today's educational emphasis is on sex indoctrination in the name of sex education, environmentalism, and solving society's problems. Even at colleges, students can learn nonsense like standard English is "essentially an instrument of domination." They can take courses for academic credit like "Queer Theory" and the works of PeeWee Herman.

While American students trail their counterparts in other industrialized countries in just about every academic area, they have the highest levels of self-esteem and feel good about their educational achievements. That's sad. They're fools and don't know it.

Walter E. Williams
May 24, 1999
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