Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

Developing more interactive, visual and user-friendly maps could help academic researchers better communicate their findings, according Suzanne Blier, a Harvard professor. 

Blier, an African and African American studies and art history professor, spoke Wednesday about her current project, an open-source world mapping software. The software is an online database of societal and geographic characteristics of regions, including attributes such as religious associations and government type, according to Blier. 

“I am happy to see other people download the system and collaborate to create new tools that can be shared across the platform,” Blier said.

In Blier’s presentation, she demonstrated how to use the website, called “World Map.” She used Austin as an example, layering part of the city with an 1885 map to make comparisons. 

Peter Bol, the former director of the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard, worked with Blier to start the project by piecing the best available maps of Africa together. After 2011, Blier went on to expand the map to the rest of the world. 

With the search database on the website, individuals outside of academia have the ability to find specific attributes or demographics of certain geographic regions, according to Blier.

Blier said she began her research for the map 20 years ago when she transferred from Columbia University to Harvard University, but she is still collaborating with others to expand the database.

Classics associate professor Rabun Taylor said he looks forward to seeing the features of the site contribute to research more as the database expands. 

“I was aware of World Map, but I did not realize the depth of the sources embedded in this website,” Taylor said. “In my line of work -— looking at ancient urban systems — having other ways to look at water sources on this site would expand all kinds of research.”

After collecting information on different regions with the help of the World Map, Blier said she began to explore social creativity and why it effects moments and places of time through the arts. 

Blier’s work is inspiring people such as Pavel Potoplyak, who attended the lecture and is interested in Blier’s work making geography more visual as he starts his own geographical gaming site.

“I am working to create a fun way for kids to learn geography,” Potoplyak said. “I feel this is a great way for kids to visually look at and study some of the physical wonders we have.”

The NCAA tournament is upon us, and with it comes a welcome dose of chaos.

As usual, the big dance was full of surprises last year, including Wichita State becoming the first No. 9 seed to reach the Final Four since 1979.

With madness sure to ensue following the tip-off of Thursday’s games, here’s a look at some of the great first-round upsets of years past.

Although we have yet to see a No. 16 seed down a No. 1 seed, matchups between No. 15 seeds and No. 2 seeds have had their share of wild games. One of the marquee first-round upsets came in 1993, when Steve Nash and Santa Clara shocked the world by toppling Arizona 64-61. Prior to 2011, though, Nash and Co. were only one of four No. 15 seeds to survive the first round — giving the group a combined 4-104 record.

Since then, three No. 15 seeds have won games in the past two tournaments, including Florida Gulf Coast last March. who alley-ooped their way to an easy 78-68 win over Georgetown.

The matchups between No. 14 seeds and No. 3 seeds have been more generous to the underdogs. The favorites have lost 17 times since 1985, including last year when Harvard downed New Mexico en route to its first tournament victory in school history. Another classic upset took place in 2005, when Bucknell shocked Kansas in a thriller.

This year, keep an eye on North Carolina Central. Despite their modest seeding, the Eagles have an explosive offense and own a 15-1 conference record. If any No. 14 seed has a chance to advance, it’s them.

Though the gap between No. 4 seeds and No. 13 seeds is large, things have not played out that way. A No. 13 seed has advanced 25 times in tournament history. The most historic upset in this seeding matchup came in 1996, when Princeton ousted defending champion UCLA 43-41 to send shock waves throughout the nation.

At this point, victories by No. 12 seeds over No. 5 seeds shouldn’t come as a surprise — three teams pulled off the upset last year alone, making it 25 times in the past 15 years. A few 12 seeds to watch are Harvard and North Carolina State. 

Without a doubt, there will be a handful of surprises this year. Some seem fairly predictable — NC State is a popular upset pick — but there is bound to be a team or two that comes out of nowhere to pull off a shocker. Until then, cross your fingers and pray an underdog doesn’t bust your bracket in one fell swoop.

I appreciate the album reviews in The Daily Texan. In fact, I believe that we have the best university paper in the nation (though I have never seen the Harvard version). But I do not appreciate the review article by Shane Miller in the April 23 edition. I did not listen to Snoop Dog, although I might listen to Snoop Lion. Specifically, after citing that he denounced “his former gangster lifestyle,” Shane cynically references “his possible commodification of the Rastafarian religion.” We should be happy that [Snoop] has found his way and not question his reincarnated self, lest we also question our own standing with God/Jah.

— J. G. Trimble
UT classes of ‘80, ‘89

Business honors and pre-med senior Sara Hollis is UT’s representative on the Board of Directors for the Wema Children’s Orphanage Centre in Kenya. Hollis’ main goal is to recruit more UT members in order to secure the funding for a freshwater well. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Sara Hollis, business honors and pre-med senior, doesn’t mind trading the first world for the third. In 2011 she joined four students from Harvard on a mission to benefit Wema Children’s Orphanage Centre in Kenya and currently sits on their Board of Directors as UT’s sole representative. The organization also includes students from University of Southern California, MIT and University of Pennsylvania. 

“Our goal is to provide quality education for these students that would have otherwise been in the awful public school system of Kenya,” Hollis said. “In the early 2000s the government made public education free, and because of that, it overcrowded the system. There are over 300 kids per classroom, which caused a lot of private schools to pop up, which are essentially the only way to get into a secondary school.” 

The Wema Orphanage Centre functions as a private boarding school for about 160 orphans ranging from four to 18. It is located near the village of Bukembe, an area with an HIV/AIDS rate of 30 percent.

The organization is led entirely by college students and focuses mainly on providing funding for education. They’ve helped build dormitories, a medical clinic, a computer lab and a library, in addition to providing basic necessities like food and water. 

Alex Breinin is a magna cum laude 2012 Harvard economics graduate who acts as the group’s chief financial officer. 

Breinin believes education is the most important commodity that foreign aid projects can provide and advocates a hands-on approach.

“We all teach in the classroom,” Breinin said. “That’s a big thing for us — we all feel that, to understand our goal, which is to empower children through education, we have to understand how the academic process works.”  

Hollis focuses on water accessibility, and her most important accomplishment to date has been securing funding for a freshwater well. 

“The well project was one of our biggest fundraising initiatives — we ended up raising about $60,000,” Hollis said. “We contracted out a company to build it. That was entirely UT’s project - I teamed up with Students for Clean Water right after I came back [from Kenya]. I could’ve tried to start a movement but I doubted that would’ve happened as a sophomore, so I just instead decided to mobilize already-created groups.” 

The group raised $10,000 independently and worked with nonprofit Living Water International, which obtained corporate sponsorship and granted the other $50,000. 

“This January, I went back and got to see that the entire well was complete, which was insane,” Hollis said, “I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.”

The well contractors described the well as being the best they have built in Kenya for the last ten years. The orphanage sits directly on top of a large water table, and plans are in motion to irrigate water to the surrounding village of Bukembe, with a population of around 1000.

Hollis is seeking to recruit more UT members to join her cause. Last January, fellow business honors senior and Orange Jackets member Justine Taylor-Raymond accompanied her, being the first other UT student to make the journey. 

“When I was there we spent a lot of time getting the school ready,” Taylor-Raymond said. “We painted and cleaned the classrooms and brought over a bunch of books and computers to create a library system.” 

Volunteers of Wema Children Centre sleep in the directors’ house and eat traditional foods, like goat, avocado and mango. Taylor-Raymond said the authentic nature of the trip makes it a unique experience. 

“I’d recommend it to other students, Taylor-Raymond said. “It’s very organized, even if it was run by college students. There’s so much to be done when you’re there you feel like you’re really doing something and you have a large impact on these kids.”

Despite the daunting task of eradicating poverty through education, this international, intercollegiate operation is holding its own. None of the orphans have tested HIV positive. They have successfully registered Wema Orphanage Centre as an African NGO and are working on obtaining the same status in America. The students consistently place in the top five schools on the Kenyan national exam. Every graduate has gone on to a state university. A new ground well provides essential freshwater to hundreds and a medical clinic staffed by a government nurse ensures adequate health care. 

“As UT students, when we have everything at our fingertips we’re kind of blinded,” Hollis said. It’s really easy to learn a lot of theoretical things on campus. Sometimes our education is so idealistic. It’s just important to put things into practice, and what better way is there than to get on the ground and help people with real issues?” 

Texas House Representative Mike Villarreal, in his 7th term as San Antonio’s District 123 representative this session, is also currently pursuing his PhD at the UT Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. His focus at the LBJ school is in education policy, and he hopes to apply that to a teaching career in his future. 

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Though Texas Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, is a UT doctoral student, his interest in supporting higher education in the legislature is rooted in years of research and a passion for supporting future generations.

Villarreal is in his seventh term as a state representative. A Texas A&M and Harvard alumnus, he is currently pursuing a doctorate in public affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, where he says he hopes to apply his concentration in education policy to a teaching career in the future.

“My focus at the LBJ School is on education policy,” Villarreal said. “Most of my courses are training me, honing my econometric skills, and I think from this experience I’m going to achieve my dream of teaching and writing in the areas that I legislate in.”

Aleksandra Malinowska, public policy graduate student at the LBJ School, is in the same cohort as Villarreal, and said he is a positive force both in and outside the classroom.

“He does have a perspective and so he brings it into a lot of our theory classes,” Malinowska said. “He’s able to inform us on current things that are happening. He’s always discussing about how the theory we’ve learned, he can put into practice. He’s hosted dinners at the Capitol before and he’s a truly nice person.”

After completing his master’s degree at Harvard, Villarreal said he launched a grassroots campaign in 1999 for state representative, opposing a candidate supported by previous legislators in the San Antonio area and several other members of the local political community. One major facet of his campaign involved going door-to-door passing out surveys for community members to fill out about their thoughts and needs.

“I went one door at a time for nine months,” Villarreal said. “I knocked on 4,000 doors. I lost a whole lot of weight. It was a grueling experience, but it was a wonderful community-building experience.”

On election night, Villarreal said, he won by a single vote.

During this legislative session, his agenda is focused primarily on education and tax policies as a way to invest in the future of Texas, Villarreal said.

“Number one on my agenda is to try to fight for greater investment in higher ed [sic], in public ed, but also to make some reforms,” Villarreal said. “I think that if I’m going to be an advocate saying that we need to invest more, I also need to be willing to get under the hood and figure out how to make our public institutions that deliver this service more [effective].”

Villarreal said he is proposing various education reforms, including altering the way TEXAS grants are awarded to university students and funding full days of pre-kindergarten, as opposed to the current practice of half days.

“We know that in the entire education pipeline, you get your biggest bang for your buck early on,” Villarreal said. “If you start delivering quality early education to three and four-year-olds, the costs of educating them decreases in later years.”

Villarreal said many of the policies he strives for come directly from heavily researched numbers. Jenna Cullinane, public policy graduate student, said the ability for Villarreal to take his research from the LBJ School and directly apply it to legislation is a positive connection.

“It’s really not research just for research’s sake,” Cullinane said. “It’s research with a purpose. I think the fact that he’s a legislator doing this degree is pretty great because he takes what he’s learning and can apply it directly.”

Villarreal said he is grateful for the experience of going back to school and draws personal inspiration from the students and faculty he sees when he is on campus.

“It just brings joy to be surrounded by scholars and students and walk across campus and see all the young students who are the future of Texas,” Villarreal said. “Whenever I come back from UT, I feel optimistic about the future — that we’re going to be alright. So when I come [to my office], I’m trying to do my best to make sure that we leave this state in a better way than we found it for the next generation.”

Printed on Friday, January 18, 2013 as: Legislative Learning 

For university students, October means midterm anxiety and Halloween mischief. For the UT System Board of Regents, however, it’s again time to invest in an unproven, festively punctuated online platform claiming to radically change the 21st-century university experience. Nearly a year to the day after the Board’s Oct. 2011 announcement that it had invested $10 million in myEdu — the online schedule and professor review site formerly known as Pick-A-Prof.com — the Board of Regents announced last Monday that it will now invest $5 million in edX, an open-source online educational platform established by MIT and Harvard.

By becoming the fourth “X University,” the UT System — or UTx, as it is known at edX.org — will join the ranks of MIT, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley by offering online courses through the site. According to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, edX will be used in a variety of instructional settings, including traditional “face-to-face” courses, “hybrid classes” and courses taught entirely online.

For most UT students, online classes are what you take when you want to cross a difficult or pointless lower-division course requirement off of your degree plan. Taking introductory history or beginner physics online from a Texas community college while wearing pajamas in your apartment or sipping a latte at a coffee shop allows students to avoid the rigor and cost of classes taught in person on the Forty Acres. The classes offered by edX are not those classes.

The site offers eight free courses for the fall 2012 semester, including CS188.1x Artificial Intelligence from Berkeley and 6.002x Circuits and Electronics from MIT. These courses are not offered for credit. Next fall, UT is scheduled to offer four courses on the site. While these courses will also be free, the announcements by the Board of Regents and edX allude to the possibility of charging fees in the future if students want to earn credit from the courses they take through the site.

Currently, students receive a certificate of completion upon successfully finishing one of edX courses. In the future, the organization says that this certificate may come at a cost. Additionally, Cigarroa has said that while UT’s initial online course offerings will be “open to the world for free,” the System is considering a tiered content model where certain for-credit courses would cost tuition. His proposal begs the question, what are college students paying for — the knowledge learned in class, or the piece of paper we get afterwards that says we know the material?

EdX says that the rigor of its courses is consistent with its member universities, but the recent addition of the UT System to edX challenges that claim. UT-Austin is not Harvard, and UT-Pan-American is not UT-Austin. Cigarroa indicated that all of the UT System courses offered next summer and fall on the edX website are likely to come from UT-Austin.  So while the entire UT System will benefit from membership in edX, it’s the System’s flagship campus that will be doing the heavy lifting.

UT President William Powers Jr. praises edX’s potential to augment the University’s course transformation initiative, wherein course curricula are redesigned to take advantage of up-to-date learning and teaching technology. “Hybrid” or “blended” university courses, in which some education happens in the classroom and some happens online, leverage the benefits of both learning models to students’ benefit. Fully online courses, like those that will be offered through edX, are as yet unproven substitutes for in-person learning — the kind of learning that has made UT and the other edX consortium schools some of the best in the world.

Like it has done in the music and publishing industries, Internet technology promises to transform standard operating procedure at institutions of higher education. UT administrators and regents would be wise to come out ahead of the technology curve by developing a clear vision for what a technology-based university degree will look like. The UT System’s investment in edX has the potential to lead the way in transformative learning, but so far System leadership has provided no vision for what this might look like. Without one, the partnership appears to be less about leading than about hitching a ride aboard higher education’s flavor of the month.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Dozens of Harvard University students are being investigated for cheating after school officials discovered they may have shared answers or plagiarized on a final exam.

Harvard officials declined to release the name of the class, the students’ names or the exact number being investigated, citing privacy laws.

The undergraduate class had a minimum of 250 students and possible cheating was discovered in roughly half the take-home exams, university officials said Thursday.

“These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends,” President Drew Faust said.

Each student whose work is in question has been called to appear before a subcommittee of the Harvard College Administrative Board, which reviews issues of academic integrity, said Jay M. Harris, dean of undergraduate Education. He emphasized that none of the allegations have been proven and said there’s no evidence of widespread cheating at Harvard.

“The facts that are before us are that we have a problem in this one course,” Harris said. “I hope that doesn’t sound overly naive, I don’t want to be naive, but this is what we have. The rest would be speculation.

“Looking at the students we have and the work that they do, I would be loathe to say this is something that represents Harvard students generally.”

The spring course included undergraduates at all class levels, Harris said. A teaching assistant noticed some possible problems on the tests, including evidence that students collaborated on answers or used the same long, identical strings of words. The exam had clear instructions that no collaboration was allowed, Harris said.

The assistant notified the professor, who referred the case in May to the administrative board. After interviewing some students, the board found what Harris characterized as “cause for concern.”

Depending on the offense, the punishments range from an admonition, a sort of warning for a first offense, to being forced to withdraw from Harvard for a year. It wasn’t immediately clear what sanctions any student who has graduated may face.

There’s no timeline for when the investigation will be finished, Harris said.

“We believe in due process for students and fairness,” he said. “Everyone wants it done yesterday, but we have to be patient. It’s going to take as long as it takes.”

A Harvard spokesman said he knows of no incidents in recent memory of possible cheating at the university on this scale.

In response to the allegations, a Harvard committee on academic integrity led by Harris will present recommendations on how to enforce faculty-wide expectations of academic honesty.

In an email Thursday, Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, urged faculty members to clarify policies on student collaboration and work to “foster a culture of honesty and integrity.”

The school plans to initiate broad conversations on campus about academic honesty, including why it’s vital to intellectual inquiry. It is also considering instituting an honor code. Such codes at other schools, for instance, set standards for honesty and require students to sign completed work, attesting that they followed those standards.

“We really think we need to work harder,” Harris said. “We do think it’s an opportunity to really put out before the community how much we value integrity.”

States that expand their Medicaid programs under President Barack Obama’s health care law may end up saving thousands of lives, a medical journal report released Wednesday indicates.

Until now, the Medicaid debate has been about budgets and states’ rights. But a statistical study by Harvard researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine found a 6 percent drop in the adult death rate in Arizona, Maine and New York, three states that have recently expanded coverage for low-income residents along the general lines of the federal health care law.

The study found that for every 176 adults covered under expanded Medicaid, one death per year would be prevented.

“Policymakers should be should be aware that major changes in Medicaid — either expansions or reductions in coverage — may have significant effects on the health of vulnerable populations,” wrote the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Medicaid is a federal-state program for low-income and severely disabled people. It covers about 60 million people in the United States. The new law assigned Medicaid a major role in expanding coverage, accounting for about half the 30 million uninsured people expected to gain insurance as a result of the health overhaul.

But the Supreme Court last month ruled that states have the leeway to reject the law’s Medicaid expansion, which is geared to reach mostly uninsured adults without children and with annual incomes up to about $15,400. As a consequence, the Congressional Budget Office projects 3 million fewer people will gain coverage. Although the CBO still expects most states will expand their programs to some degree, the agency’s nonpartisan analysts project that it may take longer than a decade for some governors and legislatures to decide.

Some governors in Republican-led states, including Texas and Florida, have rejected the Medicaid expansion since the high court’s ruling. Many remain on the fence, awaiting the outcome of the November elections and GOP promises to repeal the law. Although Washington will pay all of the cost of the expansion for the first three years, then scale back to a 90 percent share, Republican governors say Medicaid is already too costly and the Obama administration repeatedly has blocked their efforts to streamline the program.

The New England Journal study seems destined to be swept up immediately into the debate. Critics are certain to point out that its lead author, Dr. Benjamin Sommers, is on temporary assignment from Harvard working in a policy division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which is carrying out Obama’s overhaul.

In an interview, Sommers said “HHS does not have anything to do with this paper.” The research was under way before he began serving as an adviser to the department, and no federal money was used in the project, he said. Like other major medical publications, the journal rigorously reviews research prior to publication.

The study’s findings counter a widespread perception that having a Medicaid card is little better than being uninsured. Because Medicaid pays doctors far less than Medicare and private insurance, some experts have questioned it will be able to deliver the care that people need.

The study compared key health statistics in the three states that expanded Medicaid coverage with outcomes in neighboring states that did not, examining five years before the expansion and the five years after.

New York, Maine and Arizona have all expanded eligibility for adults since 2000, with New York’s expansion by far the largest. States that did not expand and were used for the comparison included Pennsylvania (for New York), New Hampshire (for Maine), and Nevada and New Mexico (for Arizona.)

The study is not the gold standard for statistical research because subjects were not selected at random, but Sommers said the researchers cross-checked their results and are confident of the findings.

In addition to the drop in death rates among adults ages 20 to 64, the study found a 21 percent drop in delays getting care blamed on cost barriers.

It’s the second recent study to document the benefits of Medicaid. A study of Oregonians published last year found that those with Medicaid were more far more likely to get regular medical care, including preventive screenings. The subjects of the Oregon study were randomly selected.

“Expanding Medicaid to low-income adults is associated with significant gains in health and survival,” said Sommers.

BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — One candidate is worth up to $250 million, ran a private equity firm and plans to build an elevator for the cars at his beach house. The other is the former head of the Harvard Law Review who became a best-selling author and millionaire and now lives in the world’s most famous mansion — 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Just don’t expect Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to embrace their elite status. In a campaign year when populism sells, they are trying to stick the rich guy label on each other, making clear that being wealthy and privileged is not necessarily a political asset when you’re running for president in this uncertain economy.

President Obama, traveling to battleground Florida, opened a new push by Democrats on Tuesday to increase taxes on millionaires, emphasizing a fight with Republicans. The proposal stands little chance of passing in Congress but serves as a stark general election contrast with Romney.

“We’ve got to choose which direction we want this country to go,” Obama told a boisterous audience of students at Florida Atlantic University. “Do we want to keep giving tax breaks to folks like me who don’t need them? .... Or do we want to keep investing in those things that keep our economy growing and keep us secure?”

The former Massachusetts governor, who opposes the plan, has faced withering criticism from Democrats who try to paint him as a ruthless financier who has paid lower tax rates unavailable to typical middle class families.

On the other hand, Romney’s team contends Obama’s plan would raise taxes on small businesses, harming an engine of growth and job creation at a time when the economy needs it the most.

Romney campaign spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said Obama was the “first president in history to openly campaign for re-election on a platform of higher taxes,” and the Republican National Committee called the idea of higher taxes on millionaires a “political distraction” that would do little to cure the nation’s debt problem.

Obama is pitching the “Buffett rule,” named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, which argues that wealthy taxpayers should not pay taxes at a lower rate than middle-class wage-earners.

Obama has proposed that people earning at least $1 million annually — whether in salary or investments — should pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. Many wealthy people earn most of their income through investments, which is taxed at 15 percent, allowing them to pay a lower overall rate.

Obama’s team and Senate Democrats have teed up the issue ahead of the annual mid-April deadline when many Americans file their income tax returns with the federal government. In addition to Obama’s speech, Vice President Joe Biden plans to discuss the issue in New Hampshire on Thursday, and Obama’s campaign is using social media to spread the message. Yet beyond tax policy, the Buffett rule serves as a touchstone in the contenders’ fight to portray each other as the candidate of the elite at a time of 8.2 percent unemployment.

While both Romney and Obama are millionaires, there is a huge difference in their wealth.

Presidential candidates have to disclose broad outlines of their holdings, but it’s possible to discern only a wide range. Romney is worth $190 million to $250 million, according to the filings. Obama is worth between $1.8 million and nearly $12 million.

Democrats contend Romney’s past as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital is a major weakness because he was paid to reorganize companies, a process that sometimes led to the elimination of jobs. Obama’s campaign has repeatedly pressed Romney to release several years of tax returns, pointing to personal tax records that have shown investments in the Cayman Islands and a Swiss bank account. There have been no indications, however, that the investments were used to avoid taxes.

And then there are some of the video clips circulating on YouTube: Romney’s proposed $10,000 bet to Texas Gov.

Rick Perry during a debate in December; his declaration in January, discussing health insurance providers, that he likes “being able to fire people who provide services to me,” and more recently his comment in February that he’s “not concerned about the very poor” because they have an “ample safety net.”

Romney’s wealth gained more attention last month when Politico reported that planned renovations to his San Diego-area oceanside home included a four-vehicle garage with an “elevator lift” to transport vehicles between floors.

Romney, focusing ever more attention on Obama, has made a concerted push to paint the president as a detached liberal who doesn’t fully grasp the depths of the nation’s economic woes. Obama, who has written two best-selling books and taught law at the University of Chicago School of Law, is portrayed as an enthusiastic supporter of government instead of private enterprise.

In one dig, Romney calls Obama a “nice guy ... who spent too much time at Harvard” — though Romney himself earned a joint JD/MBA at Harvard, spending more time there than Obama. Romney also says the president suffers from “years of flying around on Air Force One, surrounded by an adoring staff of true believers telling you that you’re great and doing a great job.”

Both would be considered wealthy by any standard.

Romney’s campaign has estimated that he is paying more than $6.2 million in taxes on $45 million in income for the past two years. Obama and his wife, Michelle, reported income of $1.73 million last year, mostly from books he’s written, and they paid more than $450,000 in federal taxes.

Both Romney and Obama have made appeals to Americans by highlighting more routine endeavors: Obama ventured into an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day to down a pint of Guinness and frequently talks about his devotion to basketball and other sports. Romney, whom aides describe as a penny-pincher, has used Twitter to remind voters about flying Southwest Airlines and grabbing lunch at Subway. In January, one of Romney’s sons circulated a photo of his dad doing his own laundry.

Obama’s team points to polls showing the president with favorable personal approval ratings and relatively high marks when respondents are asked whether he can relate to their problems. A poll released Tuesday by The Washington Post and ABC News found Obama with a double-digit lead over Romney, 49-37, when adults were asked who better understands their economic problems.

About half of the respondents, 52 percent, said unfairness in the economic system favoring the wealthy represented a bigger problem for the country than over-regulation of the free market system, chosen by 37 percent.

Others, however, caution that Obama’s populist message can only take him so far, especially with unaligned voters critical in a close election.

Matt Bennett, a former White House aide under Bill Clinton and vice president of Third Way, a Democratic-centrist group, pointed to polling released Monday by his organization that found many independent voters more focused on a presidential candidate emphasizing the increasing of opportunity instead of reducing income inequality.

“Tax fairness is just not their biggest concern and arguments about fairness didn’t answer their primary economic worries,” Bennett said. “What swing voters want to hear is an optimistic vision for putting the American economy back on top.”

Lanya Olmstead was born in Florida to a mother who immigrated from Taiwan and an American father of Norwegian ancestry. Ethnically, she considers herself half Taiwanese and half Norwegian. But when applying to Harvard, Olmstead checked only one box for her race: white.

“I didn’t want to put ‘Asian’ down,” Olmstead said. “Because my mom told me there’s discrimination against Asians in the application process.”

For years, many Asian-Americans have been convinced that it’s harder for them to gain admission to the nation’s top colleges.

Studies show that Asian-Americans meet these colleges’ admissions standards far out of proportion to their 6 percent representation in the U.S. population, and that they often need test scores hundreds of points higher than applicants from other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission. Critics say these numbers, along with the fact that some top colleges with race-blind admissions have double the Asian percentage of Ivy League schools, prove the existence of discrimination.

Now, an unknown number of students are responding to this concern by declining to identify themselves as Asian on their applications.

For those with only one Asian parent, whose names don’t give away their heritage, that decision can be relatively easy.
Olmstead is a freshman at Harvard and a member of HAPA, the Half-Asian People’s Association. She said she would advise students with one Asian parent to “check whatever race is not Asian.”

Amalia Halikias is a Yale freshman whose mother was born in America to Chinese immigrants; her father is a Greek immigrant. She also checked only the “white” box on her application.

“As someone who was applying with relatively strong scores, I didn’t want to be grouped into that stereotype,” Halikias said.

Her mother was “extremely encouraging” of that decision, Halikias says, even though she places a high value on preserving their Chinese heritage.

But leaving the Asian box blank felt wrong to Jodi Balfe, a Harvard freshman who was born in Korea and came here at age 3 with her Korean mother and white American father. She checked the box against the advice of her high school guidance counselor, teachers and friends.

“I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of trying to hide half of my ethnic background,” Balfe said.

Immigration from Asian countries was heavily restricted until laws were changed in 1965. When the gates finally opened, many Asian arrivals were well-educated, endured hardships to secure more opportunities for their families, and were determined to seize the American dream through effort and education.

“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight A’s. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best,” wrote Amy Chua, only half tongue-in-cheek, in her recent best-selling book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

Of course, not all Asian-Americans fit this stereotype. They are not always obedient hard workers who get top marks. Some embrace American rather than Asian culture.

But compared with American society in general, Asian-Americans have developed a much stronger emphasis on intense academic preparation as a path to a handful of the very best schools.

“The whole Tiger Mom stereotype is grounded in truth,” Tao Tao Holmes said, a Yale sophomore with a Chinese-born mother and white American father. She did not check “Asian” on her application.

“My math scores aren’t high enough for the Asian box,” she said. “I say it jokingly, but there is the underlying sentiment of, if I had emphasized myself as Asian, I would have [been expected to] excel more in stereotypically Asian-dominated subjects.”

“I was definitely held to a different standard [by my mom], and to different standards than my friends,” Holmes said. She sees the same rigorous academic focus among many other students with immigrant parents, even non-Asian ones.

Does Holmes think children of American parents are generally spoiled and lazy by comparison? “That’s essentially what I’m trying to say.”

Asian students have higher average SAT scores than any other group, including whites. A study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1600 (today it’s 2400). Espenshade found that Asian-Americans needed a 1550 SAT to have an equal chance of getting into an elite college as white students with a 1410 or black students with an 1100.

The California Institute of Technology, a private school that chooses not to consider race, is about one-third Asian.

(Thirteen percent of California residents have Asian heritage.) The University of California-Berkeley, which is forbidden by state law to consider race in admissions, is more than 40 percent Asian — up from about 20 percent before the law was passed.

Yale, Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania declined to make admissions officers available for interviews for this story.

Printed on Monday, December 5, 2011 as: Asian-Americans choosing not to reveal race on college applications