Free Harvard tuition is a bait and switch

Story highlights

  • Jeff Yang: A new proposal to make Harvard tuition free is really a tactic to take down Affirmative Action
  • The primary beneficiaries of a free Harvard are wealthy applicants whose families can afford to pay

Jeff Yang is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal and a frequent contributor to radio shows including Public Radio International's "The Takeaway" and WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show." He is the co-author of "I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action" and editor of the graphic novel anthologies "Secret Identities" and "Shattered." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)For the past two decades, Harvard, the nation's oldest and arguably most prestigious institution of higher learning, has been a primary front in the assault on Affirmative Action.

Since the early 1990s, it has been subject to a nearly continuous series of lawsuits and administrative complaints alleging that its admissions practices, which embrace "holistic" standards of admission that look beyond test scores and grades to take character and cultural context into account, are discriminatory against Asian applicants, whose test scores and grades are on average higher than other applicants.
The complaints quietly add that these standards are also discriminatory against whites, who currently make up 52.8% of admittances. Asians make up another 21.1%.
    These challenges have repeatedly failed, and merely led to a hardening of the ranks between those who believe that Harvard has a moral and educational responsibility to reflect society's diverse makeup, and those who insist that a Harvard education should be awarded only to those who quantifiably represent the "best and the brightest."
    Recently, a modest proposal by a renegade slate of candidates for Harvard's Board of Overseers has opened up a new front in this battle and has thrown the neatly drawn lines of combat into chaos.
    The scheme, put forward by the longtime conservative firebrand Ron Unz and the four candidates he recruited over the Christmas holidays, is deceptively simple. They're running on the idea of making a Harvard education free for everybody. As in, complimentary, gratis, zero down, zero more to pay ever.