Even with 50 years of affirmative action, education system not dramatically improving
Think of a high school student who’s put blood, sweat and tears into her college application. She’s lined up sterling letters of recommendation, agonized for hours over her personal statement and submitted admirable SAT scores. She’s dotted her Is and crossed her Ts. Academic achievement? Check. Extracurricular involvement? Check. Volunteer work? Check.
A certain check, however, won’t help her admission chances: a check in the box that reads “Caucasian.”
After 50 years of affirmative action, our education system isn’t delivering remarkably better results in shrinking the historic socioeconomic gap between whites and minorities.
While colleges should complete a comprehensive and holistic review of a candidate’s application, race just shouldn’t be a part of the equation. Affirmative action has long been a flawed policy to increase diversity on college campuses. With a new Supreme Court case challenging the practice, American colleges may be on their way to a color-blind admissions process.
College administrators — including Syracuse University’s Chancellor Nancy Cantor — argue race is an inherent human characteristic. Omitting it from the admissions process, they say, would give an incomplete view of the candidate.
While admissions officials have an interest in gaining a complete picture of any candidate, their mistake is believing a candidate’s race is essential to understanding his or her qualifications to perform academically or bring positive influence on campus.
In the current system, minority students are given admission preference over equally or more qualified nonminority students. There’s no getting around it. As far as college admissions go, Martin Luther King’s grandchildren will be judged by the content of their character in addition to the color of their skin.
President George W. Bush set practical guidelines for affirmative action, that “before using race, there must be a serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives.” President Barack Obama replaced Bush’s policy, giving universities more leeway to include race in the admissions process.
The latest Supreme Court case, Fisher v. University of Texas, examines to what extent the government can limit the weight admissions officers assign to race.
The most striking aspect of the Texas case is the breadth of control the university wants to diversify its student body. In one instance, lawyers argued Texas should be able to mix affluent minority students into the pool of other minority students who come from poor, racially homogeneous high schools. “Increasing diversity within diversity,” according to the university’s lawyer.
In essence, the university could accept underprivileged students from one race and privileged students from others.
“I thought that the whole purpose of affirmative action was to help students who come from underprivileged backgrounds,” Justice Alito said.
Our legal eagles asked the university’s lawyers even more tough questions. “What is the critical mass of African-Americans and Hispanics at the university that you are working toward?” Chief Justice John Roberts said.
More importantly, if race-based affirmative action is good policy, when will we know when it’s no longer needed? As our country continues its melting-pot tradition, our multicultural population grows. Higher education’s role in promoting diversity or fairness through race-conscious admission decisions is dwindling. If it’s not this specific Supreme Court case that strikes down affirmative action in college admissions, it will be another.
If justice is truly blind, college admission should be too.
Jared Kraham is a senior political science and broadcast journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @JaredKraham.
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