Deep Within the Anti-Affirmative Action Lawsuit, a Holocaust Denier


{shortcode-097912bcb5705790fe60eafaa545d1c65c60540e}eep within the 119-page complaint that could cause the Supreme Court to overturn affirmative action in the coming days is a citation for an essay by a conservative activist who now denies the Holocaust.

On page 49 of the anti-affirmative action complaint Students for Fair Admissions filed against Harvard in 2014, Ron K. Unz ’83 and his 2012 analysis, “The Myth of American Meritocracy,” is cited as evidence of “rampant discrimination against Asian Americans by Ivy League universities generally and Harvard specifically.”

SFFA, which alleges that Harvard’s admissions policies discriminate against Asian American applicants, introduces Unz as a researcher “who holds an undergraduate physics degree from Harvard and studied theoretical physics at Stanford” and “conducted an extensive study of Ivy League admissions.”

Unz, however, is better known for his role as a conservative activist mired in controversy. A former Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur, he has donated to VDARE — an organization that he called “quasi-white nationalist” — and extremism watchdog organizations have criticized Unz’s personal writings as antisemitic.


Unz did not dispute the accusations of antisemitism in an interview with The Crimson, and he has previously defended his donations and endorsements to the Boston Globe.

In the last seven years, only one major publication — the Guardian — has connected Unz’s work explicitly to the anti-affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court.

Edward J. Blum, SFFA’s president, defended the citation of Unz in an emailed statement.

“David Brooks of the New York Times called Unz’s essay one of the most important ones published that year,” Blum wrote. “Moreover, Unz’s recent writings have no bearing on the legality of racial classifications and preferences at Harvard and throughout higher education.”

“It is a false comparison to link Unz’s opinion to the cases under review,” Blum added.

In the 2012 analysis SFFA cites, Unz argues that Jewish students are overrepresented at elite universities, while Asian Americans are underrepresented.

He estimated that 25 percent of Harvard students at the time were Jewish, but only 10.6 percent of students in the College’s Class of 2016 — which was admitted in the spring of 2012 – identified as Jewish, according to The Crimson’s senior survey.

Unz also wrote that, despite rising numbers of academically qualified applicants, Asian American enrollment numbers remain fixed at elite colleges.

Harvard categorically denies discriminating against Asian American applicants. This spring, the school admitted the highest ever proportion of Asian American applicants — 29.9 percent — to the Class of 2027. The College’s newest class is 40.8 percent white, 15.3 percent African American or Black, 11.3 percent Latinx, and 2.7 percent Native American or Hawaiian.


SFFA first filed suit against Harvard in 2014, and two lower courts ruled in Harvard’s favor before the Supreme Court accepted the anti-affirmative action group’s petitions to review admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

The Supreme Court is widely expected to overturn affirmative action precedent in the coming days after hearing oral arguments last October.

‘The Myth of American Meritocracy’

SFFA cited the portion of Unz’s paper that analyzed Asian American enrollment patterns at Harvard and other elite universities.

“The entire launch of the case was due to my paper,” Unz said.

Despite being cited in SFFA’s complaint, Unz said that he has never met Blum in person, but has “traded a couple of emails with him.”

Unz devoted a large part of his 2012 essay to investigating Jewish enrollment trends at Harvard. He argues that non-Jewish white students “are, by a huge margin, the most underrepresented group at Harvard.”

Instead of “holistic admissions” — the College’s current approach which factors race into the admissions process along with factors like athletic ability, academic achievement, and community involvement — Unz is a proponent of a novel two-pronged admissions approach.

Under this system, some students would be admitted based purely on academic merit, while the rest would be admitted in a randomized process.

“In other words, you can’t have anything more representative than random straight admission,” Unz said.


‘Big Problems’

University of Wisconsin-Madison oncology professor Janet E. Mertz and Columbia University statistics professor Andrew Gelman both dispute the accuracy of Unz’s 2012 findings: Mertz said Unz undercounted measures of Jewish academic achievement, while Gelman said he overcounted Jewish representation at Harvard.

In “The Myth of American Meritocracy,” Unz analyzed Jewish and Asian American academic achievement over time using “distinctive last names” to estimate representation of various ethnic groups on lists of national academic awards and competitions, including U.S. International Math Olympiad team members and National Merit Scholarship semifinalists.

Unz concludes that, “assuming an admissions system based on strictest objective meritocracy, we would expect our elite academic institutions to contain nearly five Asians for every Jew; but instead, the Jews are far more numerous, in some important cases by almost a factor of two.”

Mertz said she realized Unz had miscounted Jewish students on the list of the U.S. International Math Olympiad team members because their last names were anglicized; she identified five times as many Jewish members through her research. One of the members Unz missed was her son.

In 2013, Mertz called Unz’s methodology “both highly subjective and highly error prone.”

“The 2012 Unz article has several significant flaws that lead one to question the validity of his conclusions related to both Asian-American and Jewish Harvard College students,” Mertz wrote in an emailed statement.

In a 2013 follow-up article on his website, the Unz Review, titled “Meritocracy: Admitting My Mistakes,” Unz acknowledged that Mertz’s research corrected his earlier work estimating the decline in Jewish math olympiad winners from the 1970s to the 2000s. Unz originally stated that only 3 percent of math olympiad winners from 2000 to 2012 were Jewish; Mertz put the figure four times higher at 12 percent.

“In my opinion this one small point, namely the precise number of Jews or part-Jews in the 2000-2012 Math Olympiad lists, seems to be about the only substantial and verifiable charge made against my analysis in the entire lengthy critique,” Unz wrote of Mertz’s work.

Gelman also wrote in an emailed statement that Unz’s article had “big problems.”

Gelman, the Columbia professor, wrote that there was no evidence that Jewish students were being admitted preferentially compared to other white students when he initially looked at Unz’s statistics in 2013.

Unz overestimated Jewish representation at Harvard College, leading him to conclude that there was preferential treatment of Jewish applicants at Harvard, according to Gelman.

Unz dismissed Gelman’s criticisms in 2013.

A decade after publishing “The Myth of American Meritocracy,” Unz maintains that his work is “absolutely rock solid.”

“There was absolutely no doubt that all of my numbers were correct afterwards, and nobody ever significantly disputed them,” he said.

‘Explicitly Antisemitic’

The Unz Review has been flagged by extremism watchdog groups the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting extreme views.

“Our job — that both organizations do — is to research, monitor and expose extremism, with the hopes of stopping extremism,” said Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the ADL Center on Extremism.

In 2014, the ADL flagged the Unz Review as “publicizing ideas that appeal to anti-Semites.”

“Though Unz does not appear to be an anti-Semite, he provides support to extreme anti-Israel ideologues and his writings resonate with and are regularly cited by anti-Semites,” the ADL wrote in 2014.

But four years after its initial post about Unz, the ADL released a far sharper condemnation of Unz’s work: In 2018, the ADL wrote that Unz “has embraced hardcore anti-Semitism,” including denying the Holocaust.

Though the ADL did not flag Unz for “hardcore anti-Semitism” until 2018, Mayo said that it was “disturbing” that Unz’s 2012 essay was cited in SFFA’s anti-affirmative action complaint.

In Unz’s 2012 analysis of Ivy League admissions, “the point he was making was about Jews having power and influence and controlling world events — all sorts of antisemitic conspiracies,” Mayo said.

“He has gone on to be explicitly antisemitic,” she added.

When asked about the ADL’s accusations of antisemitism, Unz called them “a fairly reasonable characterization.”

Unz’s work has also been championed by political extremists — including David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“To be honest, some of the stuff I’ve written, I think, is more controversial than anything David Duke has ever published,” Unz said.

Unz has also been cited by Kevin B. MacDonald — a professor at California State University, Long Beach who the SPLC called “the neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic.”

“I’m glad they all endorsed my work. And I’m glad all the other people endorse my work as well,” Unz said.


Unz’s donations have also come under fire for funding extreme writers and viewpoints. In 2016, Unz donated tens of thousands of dollars to VDARE, which “inform[s] the fight to keep America American,” according to its website. The SPLC describes VDARE as an “anti-immigration hate website” and designates it as a hate group.

The SPLC also wrote that Unz has given monetary grants to “a number of racist writers.”

“I most certainly do not stand behind everything said or written by everyone with whom I’m friendly, whose writings I publish, or even who have been the recipient of my financial support over the years,” Unz told the Boston Globe in 2016.

The Man Behind the Complaint

Unz was born in Los Angeles to a Jewish immigrant. Unz — who has claimed to have an IQ of 214 — graduated from the College with a degree in History and Physics. He studied at Stanford University before making millions as the co-founder of an analytics firm.

He ran unsuccessfully for California governor in 1994. Unz became famous in the Golden State for spending roughly $750,000 to back Proposition 227, a ballot measure that sought to replace bilingual education for students with limited English proficiency with a yearlong English immersion program.

The proposition came amid a tense debate around immigration to California. While the bill passed on the June 1998 ballot, it was ultimately repealed in November 2016.

Unz has also backed progressive policies. In 1999, he promoted a campaign finance reform proposal, and in 2013, he supported an increase to California’s minimum wage.

In 2016, Unz made the “last-minute decision” to run for U.S. Senate, though his longshot bid netted him just 1.2 percent of the votes in the state’s nonpartisan primary.

Since graduating from the College, Unz has not shied away from criticizing his alma mater — particularly its admissions system.


Unz ran as part of an outsider slate of candidates for the Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body, in 2016 on the platform of “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard.”

The group of five candidates called for the University to stop charging undergraduates tuition and to launch a deeper investigation into Harvard’s admissions practices.

None of the five candidates won spots on the Board of Overseers.

‘I’m Not Hiding It’

Unz advertises the Unz Review as an “alternative media selection” and “a collection of interesting, important, and controversial perspectives largely excluded from the American mainstream media.”

Despite criticisms from watchdog groups that the Unz Review is a platform for extremist viewpoints, Unz said that he remains “skeptical” of the notion of hate speech.

“There’s a tremendous amount of subjectivity, I think, in hate speech,” Unz said.

Unz said that he recognizes that his writings are controversial.

“I publish under my own name, probably the most controversial stuff on that website,” he said. “And I’ve been doing it for years now.”

“I mean, I’m not hiding it. It’s on the website,” he added.

Earlier this month, the Guardian reported on Unz’s conservative writings, publishing an article with the headline, “Harvard affirmative action challenge partly based on Holocaust denier’s work.”

But Unz said that media outlets have largely not traced SFFA’s legal argument back to him. His writings, he said, “should have been front and center for five years now.”

“Nobody in the media has been willing to point out the fact that my research was the basis of the lawsuit now before the Supreme Court,” Unz said.

“It should have been blasted everywhere,” he added.

Unz said that if his website and personal writings had been highlighted by media outlets earlier on, the case might never have been accepted by the nation’s highest court.

“In fact, I think there’s a good chance that the Supreme Court wouldn’t have even heard the case,” Unz said.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.