The Supreme Court Should Reject Racial Preference in College Admissions

The Supreme Court is going to hear two cases about racial preference in college admissions that allegedly discriminates against Asian students.

In the 1978 Bakke decision, the Supreme Court said race could be a factor in admissions, but as anyone who is sat through an academic committee meeting knows, when race is a factor, it is the only factor.

Even though the Supreme Court in Bakke said that a set-aside for admissions, or quota, was impermissible, colleges and universities routinely use racial quotas masquerading as goals.

The consequence has been that highly qualified Asian students are rejected on trivial and subjective data, such as leadership skills and self-confidence, to increase the proportion of less qualified blacks and Latinos.

How do Asian students achieve high academic status and participate in a range of extracurricular activities while lacking in leadership, self-confidence, and other personality traits? The answer is that when it comes to Asians, the subjective evaluation process is a farce designed to discriminate against them.

Race-based admissions are not the exception but the rule. And no one but diversity, inclusion, and equity experts conducting so-called cultural audits has profited from this policy.

Colleges and universities are run by a professional class of bureaucrats. And if anything, members of bureaucracy know that the very essence of their work is their own survival.

To survive the political pressure of diversity, colleges and universities play a numbers game and reduce standards to produce a student population that will meet the espoused goals of cultural auditors and intrusive minority politicians.

A great deal of social policy is counterintuitive. Among the casualties of the policy are the very minorities it is supposed to advantage.

With prestigious universities experiencing these pressures, they lower standards. Consequently, there is a mismatch between the student and the institution.

Minority students, who would thrive in solid public colleges and universities, are granted admissions to institutions where they are condemned to compete with students whose grades and entrance examination scores far exceed theirs.

This is an obvious recipe for frustration and failure. When California voters got rid of affirmative action, the result was that minorities graduated at a higher rate than previously. Minority students who would have been absorbed into the tier-one institutions found places in the second-tier state university system where they competed against other students like themselves.

As Thomas Sowell appropriately noted, university administrators have a quota to fill, and minority students have an education to obtain. These are incompatible goals.

As one goes down the hierarchy of colleges and universities, those on the lowest rung face the same need to recruit minority students. Yet, with preferential treatment, students that would fit the academic profile of these institutions have been absorbed into better ones.

The consequence is that these institutions are desperate to meet their diversity goals. Some will go into inner-city shopping areas and recruit students off the street. Some will create an ex-offenders’ program to recruit minorities who have been incarcerated and can be enticed with scholarships and stipends.

It’s not that the bureaucrats care about these programs or the students. They just need to pass their cultural audits and get the politicians off their backs.

In public, they mouth all the proper shibboleths. In private, their charity racism manifests its true ideology. The entire enterprise is stunning in its corruption and its palpable racism.

Having gone to extraordinary lengths to recruit these students, how does one keep them? Once the door to corruption is opened, the invited guests need to be made comfortable and enticed to stay.

Around finals period, each faculty member might receive a letter in a sealed white envelope, not the ragged, yellow campus mail envelope, with the imprimatur of a ranking university administrator. The language varies from institution to institution but, generally, it reminds the faculty of the hurdles some of the students face and the need for every faculty member to examine the institution’s lauded commitment to retention and student success. You do not need a degree in education administration to interpret the missive.

But if this were insufficient, there are other mechanisms. One is the sympathy grade, the equivalent of social promotion in high school. To keep up their numbers, some faculty simply assign a high passing grade to minorities.

The people who suffer most from this charity racism are the outstanding minority students who neither want nor need this preference. Indeed, they strongly resent it.

The existence of these policies is widely known in the academic culture, and bright and capable minorities find themselves tarred with a single brush. They are referred to as “quotas.” Their antipathy toward these policies is as intense as it is appropriate.

Sitting in the cafeteria of a prestigious west coast law school, I was talking with a group of students. A black student walked by, and one of the students said, “He didn’t get here the way we did.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“They have a quota, different standards for minorities.”

“Yes, they likely do,” I responded. “But how do you know that particular student did not have better grades and LSATs than you did?”

And that in a nutshell is part of the problem. The policy of charity racism condemns even the most outstanding student to carry the burden of an ugly stereotype.

And for Asian students, it sets up unconscionable barriers to the benefits of hard work and successful academic performance.

The policy needs to be changed. The Supreme Court should declare that considerations of race have no place in college admissions. Democracy cannot thrive on an ethnic spoils system.  

America needs the intellectual contributions of all its people. No one should be held to a higher or lesser standard because of the color of their skin. It is time to embrace a real notion of equality.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science who has served on the faculty of leading research universities and lectured at numerous others. He also serves as a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.

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