The end of affirmative action

June 27, 2023 • 10:45 am

Here’s a prediction that’s a no-brainer: this week the Supreme Court will override the Bakke decision and rule that race-based school admissions are unconstitutional. (Several states, including California, have already done this.) This will leave schools in a quandary, since nearly all universities have declared that they’re in favor of “diversity” (they mean ethnic diversity), but they’ll no longer be able to attain it using race as one criterion for admission. (Bakke prohibited “quotas”.)

The title of the article below, from the Free Press, is a bit misleading, as we already know what will happen: schools will try to do an end run around the Court’s ruling by eliminating or downgrading indices of “merit” like grades or test scores, and concentrate intead on “holistic admissions”, a backet of intangibles that includes skin color, ethnicity, and “personality”.

And it’s the “personality” issue that ultimately brought this case to the Supreme Court. Investigation of Harvard’s admissions policy revealed that assessment of personality scores was used, probably deliberately, to lower the apparent “merit” of Asian American Applicants. As the article below notes:

A 2018 analysis of 160,000 applicant records uncovered during discovery in the suit showed that Asian Americans, while outperforming every other group on academics and extracurriculars, received low marks from Harvard admissions officers when it came to personality traits—lowering their odds of admission. Asian American students were consistently deemed less “likable, courageous, kind, and respectable.”

That this method was invidious was revealed by showing that when applicants were interviewed in person by Harvard alums or other university people, their scores were not lower than those of other groups.  They were lower only when Asian Americans were assessed on paper by admissions officers who never met them. To me, this gave little doubt that there was deliberate discrimination going on here, though two sets of Federal courts unaccountably ignored this and ruled for Harvard. An appeal took the case to the Supreme Court.

As I’ve said before, affirmative action is a tough one for me.  I am pretty much a merit-based admission person, but I don’t want to see colleges—especially “elite ones”—devoid of people of color. There’s something about the “optics” of that situation that bothers me.  We are a multicultural and multiethnic America, and that should be reflected in higher education. On the other hand, I don’t favor using “holisitic” admissions, which, in the Harvard case (and probably others) led to palpable racism against Asian Americans.  One solution I’m gravitating towards is class based admissions, which acts to give up a leg to all the socioeconomically disadvantaged regardless of ethnicity, and it’s legal.

I do not, however, favor lowering the merit bar so much that people unqualified to attend a college get in. After all, there are tons of colleges with widely varying admission standards, there are also technical colleges, and, as John McWhorter claims, perhaps not everyone needs to go to college. But in effect, there’s higher education for everyone.

At any rate, this article tells you what you really know: “holistic admissions” is in the offing. Click to read

Quotes from the piece are indented. The article begins by recounting what UC Berkeley did to boost diversity after affirmative action was banned in California, first by university rules and then by law:

Ultimately, the task force concluded that, to achieve racial diversity and not violate University of California policy, it had to deemphasize quantitative yardsticks like grades and test scores and focus on other things. “The prevailing opinion was that if we focused on these qualitative assessments of a person’s interests, lived experience, that would contribute to the diversity of students,” Carson said.

The task force’s conclusion was borne out when, in the spring of 1997—after affirmative action had been prohibited at the University of California but before Boalt could implement the task force’s recommendations—the numbers of minority students admitted to the law school plummeted.

That year, the number of black students admitted to Boalt declined from 9.2 percent the year before to 1.8 percent. Latino admits dropped from 4.2 percent to 2 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of Asian American students jumped from 15.5 percent to nearly 19 percent, and that of white students, from 57.3 percent to nearly 68 percent.

Which made the task force’s proposal all the more urgent.

Within a few years, admissions officers across the country started to call the new ideas “holistic admissions” or “holistic review.” It sounded more palatable than affirmative action, but really it was a way of achieving the same outcome without saying so explicitly.

Over the past three decades, colleges across the country—public and private—have adopted this approach in an effort to boost their student bodies’ racial diversity.

“Holistic” now includes as a criterion “lived experience”:

Yvonne Berumen, the vice president of admissions and financial aid at Pitzer College, east of Los Angeles, shared Green’s perspective. “One of the most important things in the admission process is the lived experience,” she said. “Race is a part of that.” (“Lived experience,” affirmative action critics said, is like “holistic admissions” or “diversity.” It’s a way of signaling a preference for black and Latino students, while not appearing to be discriminatory.)

If schools are barred from taking all that into account, Berumen said, “it would really change the demographic landscape of higher education.”

The “Green” above is Sonia Green, a black student at Duke, who makes no apologies for using “lived experience” as a criterion:

Green said that the old, meritocratic way of determining who gets into elite universities was actually discriminatory. “Being colorblind is racist, because it erases part of somebody’s identity,” Green said. “By saying that you don’t see someone’s race or you don’t see their color and you just see them as a person, it tells black students that you don’t see the communities that they’ve grown up in and you don’t see the experiences that have made them who they are.”

She suggested that Asian Americans who felt as though they’d been discriminated against by elite universities should rethink that. “I don’t think it’s just because you’re Asian,” Green said. “It’s probably because the school didn’t see you as being a good fit, or the school didn’t get to know enough about you as a person.”

But the problem with this is that ethnicity is not a great indicator of “lived experience”. Does a well-off Nigerian student, or a black student from a middle-class home, have the same “lived experience” as, say, a kid from an impoverished home on Chicago’ South Side? I doubt it, yet I don’t doubt that race will be an important component (if not the only component) of “lived experience.”  Green’s view seems to be that there is a relevant commonality of the communities that black student grew up in that should give them a leg up in admissions.  Well, you can make the argument that ethnicity is a good index of lived experience, but you don’t need it if you use socioeconomic status, combined with merit, as criteria for admissions.

Further, the “holistic” route was exactly what was used to keep Jews out of places like Harvard in the earlier 20th century:

In the 1920s, he recalled, Ivy League schools introduced “holistic admissions” to keep out high-achieving Jewish newcomers—only then they simply called them quotas. The much revered Harvard Man (or, for that matter, the Yale Man or Princeton Man) was a type: WASPy, athletic, well-connected, well to do.

After World War II, the old antisemitism gave way to the new meritocracy, which emphasized quantitative metrics like the SAT and grade point average to ensure that discrimination against Jews or any other unwanted minority wouldn’t rear its ugly head.

One asks: why do we consider it odious to have used holistic criteria to keep Jews out of schools, but perfectly fine to use the same criteria to keep Asian Americans (or whites out of schools)? You can respond that “discrimination like that is okay if it allows for more blacks and Hispanics to get into college,” but the whole problem is moot if you use socioeconomic criteria, which of course are correlated with ethnicity, but not perfectly. And to me, the imperfect correlation makes the whole process fairer, for there are disadvantaged people in every group.

The article winds up by noting that Asian Americans are pretty divided on the “holistic admissions” issue, but are gradually moving against this kind of affirmative action as they’re gravitating more towards the political right. In fact, as a new YouGov poll reveals, “considering race at all in the admissions process is viewed as unacceptable by 65% of Americans, while 25% say race should be allowed to be considered among other factors. About half of Democrats (48%) and Black Americans (47%) reject allowing colleges to consider race in admissions decisions.”

The graph:

I didn’t realize that so many Americans were opposed to any consideration of an applicant’s race. Surprisingly, 9% more black and 34% more Hispanics oppose using race as even one of several criteria. Even 8% more Democrats oppose affirmative action than support it. (The gap, of course, is much larger among Republicans, who don’t differ much from Independents.

Well, the decision will come down, perhaps today but almost surely within a week. Affirmative action will be dead, singing with the Choir Invisible. And colleges are already plotting workarounds.  This will involve devaluating data like grades and test scores, and more “holistic” admissions. But I don’t think that, in the future, universities will be able to get away with what Harvard did: using bogus “holistic” criteria to achieve the ethnic mix they want.  Let’s just think about to socioeconomic status, with more consideration of measurable “merit” and less “holism”.

h/t: Rosemary, R.

56 thoughts on “The end of affirmative action

    1. Don’t know but these two books should be read :

      Affirmative Action Around the World
      – An Empirical Study
      Thomas Sowell


      William G. Bowen and Derek Bok
      1998 Princeton University Press

  1. Good! I am very glad to see affirmative action disappear. It should be based on merit and merit alone, regardless of any other external factors that are out of our control. Lowering standards is NOT the answer either. You have the same set of standards that apply to EVERYONE. If you can make it, excellent! If not, try harder and see what you need to work on, then try again after you have strengthened those skill sets.

    1. The problem with merit only admissions is that people of low incomes tend to have lower test scores because of their education and upgrading. It is a generational effect, so that young people who would have had the academic merit don’t have the academic merit. If I was born and raised in a trailer park in Appalachia, I doubt if I could have ever gotten into college let alone be sitting on a PhD.
      It is often said that a diverse student body is good for students as they get to rub elbows with people from different backgrounds – different races but also different socioeconomic backgrounds – that they would not have otherwise done, and this is considered a valuable part of the broadening experience that you get from going to college. I agree with that. But to me what is even more important is that giving disadvantaged people a chance to get into college offers them a chance to move into the middle class. Generations have most certainly done this. They benefit, and so will their children and their children’s children. It’s the the most important way that I know to give disadvantaged people a chance.

      1. Unfortunately, this is used as a crutch far too often. There are plenty of people who have plenty of disadvantages of all kinds but if you want something bad enough, you WILL find a way of achieving it. You CANNOT lower standards based on disadvantages. This is NOT fair, or depending on the circumstances, safe for ANYONE. I was NOT born into a wealthy or rich family. My parents were blue-collard working class people, and my dad could barely read or write. They wanted the best for me, and made a lot of sacrifices to offer me good opportunities, and of course, I had to work hard to make things happen. By lowering standards people will always wonder “did I get in because of (fill in the blank) or did I get in because I deserved it?” And again, by lowering standards, you are putting people at risk and possibly endangering them if someone gets in who does not meet the required standards for the position.

        1. It’s just that what I am describing works. It is great that you got somewhere because of being born with a stronger than average work ethic, but many people don’t have that gift and it really isn’t their fault. How is having a gift somehow “merit”?
          There are also people who are disadvantaged, more so than you were but they have all the work ethic you’d want and they are trying their hardest to get somewhere, but they just can’t because of where they are. I don’t want a world that just says ‘too bad. Die in poverty’.

          1. You’re making the mistake of confusing a merit base for jobs and careers with a merit base for a good life.

            I think we should organize society in such a way that regardless of whether or not a person is born predisposed to have some talent or capability that society finds valuable they will be able to live a good life. Access to food, housing, vacations, recreation, etc… should not be based on how ‘valuable’ you are to society. We have reached the point in development (in ‘western’ nations) where there is enough wealth and productivity that as long as everyone contributes (in some way, even if that is as a janitor) there are enough goods and services to go around so that we can all live a good life.

            Access to education to better oneself shouldn’t be based on grades, but the education to better oneself can happen at home, or at a library, or any number of non-university/college locations. Medical schools and research universities are not primarily places for self discovery but should be places for training those who can build the next generation of medicine and technology. Yes of course we should better ourselves at school but once past the entry level and moving on to the more advanced degrees and competitive programs merit is the only thing that makes sense.

            I am wholly in favour of merit based scoring for jobs and education because in those realms merit matters. We should only want the best doctors, the best engineers. Ensuring that the best and brightest become scientists, engineers, and practice medicine, ensures that everyone will benefit as new technologies and medical practices are discovered.

          2. Mark I get what you’re saying, and I don’t think you’re wrong. As they used to say, AA was supposed to be a gentle finger on the scales in favour of a black or other disadvantaged person of equal ability or merit.

            But the medical school admission rates posted by dd @1 are not a gentle finger, and they imply admission of many relatively underqualified applicants: half the white applicants in the top tranche of MCAT scores go unadmitted, while half of black applicants in the bottom tranche get admitted.

            The cost of doing that isn’t borne just by the applicants who don’t get admitted. It must also affect the quality of the lawyers, physicians, engineers, and professors who come out the other end of those professional schools. That seems like a disservice to their clients, patients, and students, and to the citizens and taxpayers who fund the professional schools (at least the public ones). Those seem like very high costs to me. IDK whether they are worth the diversity benefit.

          3. Mark writes: “I don’t want a world that just says ‘too bad. Die in poverty’.”
            This does not make sense. Affirmative action applies to elite colleges only. If you are not academically strong enough to get into an elite college without AA, that by no means condemns you to a life in poverty.

            “it’s important to remember that affirmative action is not an issue that directly affects most college students, because the majority attend schools that are not at all selective.”
            Susan Dynarski: At Elite Colleges, Racial Diversity Requires Affirmative Action
            Susan Dynarski is a professor of education, public policy and economics at the University of Michigan
            since July 2021 professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

          4. If we consider that there’s no libertarian free will, we could always argue that the very notion of merit is as illusory as that of free will. Even trying harder is ultimately no more meritorious than being born smart, since both are the result of the inexorable laws of physics we’re part of. But I think that in the context of this discussion “merit” should be understood merely as synonymous with the type of capacity (whatever its source) needed to excel academically and in the professional world.

            Nobody wants “a world that just says ‘too bad. Die in poverty”, but I for one want a world in which the most talented surgeon operates on me and the most competent pilots fly my planes—whatever their race, sex, or gender—and giving priority to merit (as defined) alone in university and academic admissions is the best way to guarantee that.

            It’s often claimed that, in order to accept candidates that wouldn’t be considered otherwise, one can lower the bar “just so”, that is, without compromising the average competency of future professionals. But this makes no sense. Sure, a lower but still high-enough bar could ensure that, for example, all pilots thus selected could pilot a plane correctly under normal circumstances, but what about challenging and unforeseeable ones? In professional settings, minor differences in competence are bound to result in different outcomes of no small import.

            1. Higher education should not be conceived as primarily a matter of preparing people for work as members of highly skilled professions. It prepares young people for the many ways they will participate in a complex modern society. Being able to think about political and social issues, being able to think about what is involved in educating their own children, draw on education. Thinking of education in terms of turning out pilots and surgeons is a recipe for shortsightedness. What makes someone like Jerry Coyne who he is is not just being good at biology.

              1. Well, yes, certainly, but does affirmative action as currently practised for the next few hours anyway, contribute to that worthy goal? Will that goal be harder to attain without affirmative action?

              2. I don’t disagree but I don’t think that weakens my point. I’m all for teaching future civil engineers some philosophy, history, sociology, and the like, but I still prefer that the people who will design bridges in the future be the most talented at doing so.

                I was thinking primarily of careers in STEM and medicine, but I think that even in the humanities it would be more beneficial for all if universities always attempted to hire the top talent available from their pool of candidates.

          5. “How is having a gift Merit”? You’re getting pretty close to Harrison Bergeron there, mate. If someone is good at something, then they’re good at it. I have a natural head for numbers. I am better at math because of it. And therefore if I were trying to become a mathematician, I’d be better at it than most people. I would be better able to contribute to society as a mathematician than someone who struggled to get through algebra.

            That’s what we’re talking about. How good you are at something. If you think people shouldn’t be able to use their natural talents in order to get a job… then I guess we’ll have to start giving smart people noise-producing earplugs to prevent them from thinking better than other people, won’t we?

            Life isn’t fair. Some people are born with brains and brawn. Some people are born with neither. But the latter people aren’t going to be helped by preventing the brainy, brawny men from becoming astronauts.

          6. Merit can be viewed as the sum total of all of the “gifts” that one might possess that are favorable in becoming a successful scientist/doctor/lawyer/whatever-you’re-attending-college-to-become. As a state university science professor it’s painfully clear that more students are being recruited that lack sufficient merit to be successful in their intended professions. It’s a blight on those students because they waste years of their life and substantial $$$ trying to get a degree in a subject that is beyond their grasp. Meanwhile, the pressure to dumb down or repeatedly explain course material to the “less gifted” students erodes the quality of the education for the “others”. The opportunity to demonstrate your “chops” has long passed by the time you are ready for higher Ed. I totally get that kids raised in poor and difficult circumstances or in homes where English is not spoken are going to be disadvantaged in education. However, these issues need to be addressed in K-12 and not when one enters a University.

      2. A middle class life is perfectly possible after graduating from a middle-tier college, as is going on to graduate or professional education. My friends from my days at Cal State include a doctor, a lawyer, and an Ivy League tenured professor.

        Why is this always discussed as though it’s the difference between going to college and not going to college, when every high school graduate in the US will have a variety of schools offering them a place?

        We should clarify why we even have a tier of elite universities – particular elite public universities – before we decide how they should admit students.

      3. The kids raised in Appalachian trailer parks will still go to a good-enough school, and if they are bright they can end up with good grades. The main reason why such kids tend to do less well is that *adults* living in such circumstances are almost certainly not-so-good academically, and pass on genes for being not-so-good academically to their kids. Twin studies tell us that “shared environment” (circumstances that siblings would share, including any disadvantaged upbringing) has little effect on life outcomes (even if that statement is counter-intuitive).

      4. Then support affirmative action BASED ON CLASS.

        It has always been this simple. I understood it even as a child. I understand it more now that I’ve met a poor disadvantaged white girl who had nothing growing up (A good chunk of it without plumbing, just a river), and who got no support from anyone.

        Personally, I’m not even sure we should push for class based affirmative action, so much as we should acknowledge that doing well despite being poor suggests a diamond in the rough who has the potential to excel if given the chance. But race was ALWAYS a problematic stand-in for disadvantaged people.

        Race based hiring practices has only ever been attempting to solve racism with more racism. And, funnily enough, that breeds racial resentment and enmity. Which generates even more racism.

      5. I am not sure this holds. There are numerous studies that show that test prep does not really help, that early childhood education leads to little advantages. The fairest admission procedure would probably one based on intellectual aptitude. Pros are:
        1) Grade inflation is rampant, especially at the highschool level.
        2) It bars legacies.
        3) It is purely focused on academic potential. No “leadership” bullshit, no extra-curriculars that favour the children of affluent people as children from poorer backgrounds cannot afford them. It also stops the insane cv building that is required of highschool students who are kids. Foster their curiosity, leave them alone with employibility nonsense.
        4) It would lead to a relatively higher intake of students with lower socioeconomic status as has been shown.

  2. The time for trans-intersectionalizing everything has come, to increase the chances of making the cut in Utopia.

    Remember the guy who “CRISPRed” himself? I wonder how that worked for him – might be a new disruptive technology – transgenetics.

  3. I think it is quite reasonable for a private college to use various criteria in addition to academic abilities for admission. For example, they may want to have students from small rural communities as well as from big cities. Taking such considerations into account in admissions does not mean the college is “lowering standards”. I went to a small liberal arts college with extremely high academic standards, and also a commitment to admitting students with very different backgrounds. Why should a private college not take the view that exposure to fellow students who have different backgrounds and talents and interests is part of a good education? I think this is a disagreement with the “merit alone” argument in the comment from ajeanneinthekitchen.

  4. I also favor weighing in class-based admissions as a way to maintain diversity in college. But I worry that it might not work so well on racial and ethnic diversity if there are more poor white kids applying than poor black or hispanic kids. I could be wrong, though.
    Maybe a way that would work for smaller colleges is to have a system that includes sampling from this or that geographic region. Since people tend to concentrate by race and ethnicity, that could help maintain diversity and it wouldn’t be overtly race based so it could be legal. Of course admissions will really have a matrix of factors, including merit based criteria (that is probably the main one), but then also considerations based on geographic region and other factors like legacy admissions. I think colleges love legacy admissions because that encourages donations from alumni.

    1. Have you read the Sowell or Bok books I cited above?

      The results of Black performance in college is discussed in part of Sowell’s book. He shows that regardless of “race”, the fact is that pursuing a degree at a school matched to ability is better for the student and society than using race to get students of lower ability into faster paced schools because those students can be expected to end up on academic probation or – I suppose – expelled – a fact that Bowen and Bok ignore in their tome of Excel graphs if students who graduated.

      1. ‘No’ to your question.
        But I am a bit bogged down in your description. Are you saying that there are better outcomes for both the student and for society if admissions are based on ability rather than on race? That wouldn’t be surprising.
        Also it isn’t surprising that students of lower ability are admitted to top notch schools that they have a very high probation and drop-out rate.

        1. Alright, I don’t know, but I just think readers will find both books worth examining – I found it good to keep my head out of the clouds, and Bowen and Bok’s “river”, personally.

        2. “. Are you saying that there are better outcomes for both the student and for society if admissions are based on ability rather than on race? ”

          Fine point – match the student with a school – there are lots of schools.

          Discussion like this I tend to imagine only one school – the top choice – and one student. That is paralyzing. This should be easy. Change the school variable – apply to lots of schools. Obvious but has to be stated.

    2. I cannot disagree with anything you have written, but I might add: Contrary to a comment in the original article, the purpose of the SAT was to keep Jews out of the Ivy League. They did so by employing geographic quotas. I remember getting Honorable Mention or Runner-Up in some scholarship competition or other, even though my score on a test exceeded those of students from the southwest who were actually awarded the scholarship. That said, when you admit a student to college, you are partly assessing their potential. If a person from a poor high school does comparatively well, can we not reasonably infer that they have more potential than someone from a wealthier high school?

    3. I’ll give an excerpt from Sowell – remember, this is 2004 :

      “Other claims made as rationales for preferential admissions of black or other minority students have tended to be either not testable empricially or not to have been subjected to any empirical test. One of these claims is that “diversity” enhances the educational experience for all students. Typical of this genre of claims was an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Why Affirmative Action Works at Michigan” – but the article in fact provided no empirical evidence of either why or whetherit “works” by any definable standard, but only assertions and anecdotes.[59]
      Often a related claim is made that black students must be admitted in numbers sufficient to provide a certain “critical mass” on campus that will enable individual black students to feel socially comfortable and secure enough to be able to do their best work. Again, empirical evidence in support of this proposition is neither asked nor given. ”

      Ref. 59:

  5. ” I am pretty much a merit-based admission person, but I don’t want to see colleges—especially “elite ones”—devoid of people of color.”

    The racial makeup of a college is not relevant. The lived experience of the people I went to school with, who were my shipmates and my colleagues at all levels didn’t mean much at all, and to assume it does is to engage in stereotyping.

    For me, Peter Arcidiacono’s work, demonstrates the limited success and futility of affirmative action at the post-secondary level, The disparity problem is rooted in the lack of academic skills gained by students of color during their K-12 education. Ironically, Harvard’s education college is notorious for academic theories that make excuses for this lack of achievement.

    Students of color are not benefitted by placing them in universities they are ill-equipped to succeed academically. That’s a fundamental truth we can’t deny.

    1. Dorian Abbot et al.: In defense of merit in science. Journal of Controversial Ideas, 2023, 3(1)
      page 16:
      Some form of affirmative action might be effective in college admissions, when students do not yet possess demonstrated credentials and many have lacked educational opportunities. However, when preferential selection goes overboard, e.g., when the mean scores on admission criteria of affirmative action students is a standard deviation (or more) below those of students admitted under conventional standards, the practice becomes counterproductive in helping underrepresented groups to advance.131 This failure of affirmative action in the U.S. is well documented; despite being in place for more than half a century in U.S. colleges, race-conscious admissions have not led to proportional representation in STEM.52 The total number of Black students matriculating in U.S. medical schools has not changed in over three decades.131 This is striking because, in the U.S., students from minority backgrounds indicate more interest in STEM than white students: a 1985 study of 27,065 incoming freshmen in 388 colleges found that the initial interest in STEM majors was 53%, 34–35%, and 17% for Asian American, Hispanic/African American, and white students, respectively.52 Despite this initial interest, the rates of graduation with STEM majors vastly differ: 70% of Asian Americans persist in their ambition compared to 61% of whites, 55% of Hispanics, and 34% of African Americans. The disparities are even more extreme at elite institutions.52 The analysis attributes this attrition to academic mismatch—by admitting minority students to schools that do not match their academic preparation, these students are at a disadvantage and often drop out or change to non-STEM majors, ironically, often to identity studies. In better-matched schools, students do well and graduate in STEM fields. Paradoxically, strong affirmative action appears to lead to a decrease of African- and Hispanic-American students entering STEM fields.52

  6. As our host points out, colleges have been gaming the Bakke decision for 40 years. The very term “affirmative action” is a contentless euphemism. The “holistic” admissions gimmick has always been transparently dishonest. Could it be, I wonder, that accepting these crooked practices in admissions offices has normalized other sorts of deception and make-believe elsewhere in academe? For example, the underhanded replacement of the word “equality” by its look-alike “equity”, the increasingly weird rejection of simple biology, and the charades of academic scholarship exposed by the Boghossian/Pluckrose/Lindsay experiment?

  7. “As I’ve said before, affirmative action is a tough one for me. I am pretty much a merit-based admission person, but I don’t want to see colleges—especially “elite ones”—devoid of people of color.”

    Aren’t Asians considered people of color?

    1. Actually no, because the term is limited to people who, because of their skin colour, are assumed to be pre-destined to fail at academic endeavours unless white people step in with affirmative action in a noble gesture to save them from themselves. To be called a person of colour is really to suffer a racial slur, (much like the old “coloured people”), the racism of low expectations (Michael Gerson). Even some people considered white on the census can be called people of colour, unless they vote Republican.

      I’m not being snarky. I have never heard the term people of colour to refer to any successful person individually. It’s always used collectively for groups predicted or observed to fail. Why anyone would want the student population at selective colleges to be enriched with these folk, even as some would discriminate against Asians in order to do it, is beyond me but I’m only a foreigner.

      1. “The term people of colour… It’s always used collectively for groups predicted or observed to fail. Why anyone would want the student population at selective colleges to be enriched with these folk, even as some would discriminate against Asians in order to do it, is beyond me but I’m only a foreigner.”

        Same with me. If you ask me, all that is needed is to blind the admission procedure so that talented individuals from the underperforming group do not suffer prejudice.

  8. All this sneaking around, with the government chasing you, a shower of virtue signaling, Wokes joyous with the hideous confusion.

    Stop government schools.
    Private education only.
    Plenty of help with money, voluntarily gathered.
    Universities compete on the marketplace of ideas.
    Requires transparency.

    Do you want a degree credential from a school that recruits based on bias and quota? Do you want to have a doctor whose degree came from that school? Do you want your tax dollars to go to a “state school” that fiddles with reality to look good to Woke?

    If not, choose one that goes only by merit. Regardless.

  9. When the elite colleges all violate the law–I mean, do an “end run” around the law–I am sure the employees there will all chant in unison:

    Nobody is above the law! Nobody is above the law!

  10. Is there any hard evidence that affirmative action has helped the black community?

    We need to judge policies by consequences, not intentions, and we need to do what works. Just because a well-meaning person dreams up a policy doesn’t mean it will have the intended effect.

  11. In Nobel Laureate Arthur Kornberg’s autobiography “For the Love of Enzymes” he mentions how difficult it was for all of his high-achieving Jewish classmates at City College of New York to find their way into medical school. Only five of 200 found their way into a medical school. Kornberg was one of them, finally filling one of two Jewish slots at the University of Rochester Medical School in 1937.

  12. There are race neutral strategies colleges can use to admit students from challenging circumstances but they may be labor intensive. One example, colleges can build or partner with foundations or community organizations to build leadership programs that support students in those circumstances. A community program teaching different street arts, for example. Or contemporary music. Or robotics, commerce, or any academically oriented focus important to the kids and parents in those communities. With a mentorship component. Offer middle school and older kids extracurricular education and mentorship, focusing, in the beginning, on an area in which they have an interest and building from there. The colleges can build into their exception admits students from these leadership programs. This type of approach has several ancillary benefits. Program sponsors will be helping students prepare to benefit from the educational opportunities they will encounter in college and beyond. The public tends to accept exceptions who bring a special talent or who have earned an award of some sort. And colleges won’t have to dismantle or pervert an admission system that uses mostly objective criteria.

    Snoop Dogg has created the Snoopy Football League for inner city kids, often from single parent homes. A number of those kids have gone on to play college and professional football. He offers a successful model colleges might examine in their efforts to diversify without discriminating.

    1. “species assigned today: H. sapiens adjacent”

      So that would be….

      Hang on.. I’ll get it…


      Well done!

  13. I think the original post and some of the comments mistake how affirmative action actually works on the ground, and what universities are trying to do. They are not particularly interested in socio-economic diversity, only racial and ethnic diversity. Indeed, from their perspective, using socio-economic measures has two drawbacks. First, at every income level, whites and Asians perform better than blacks and Hispanics at the same income level, so it’s not clear that socio-economic diversity would end up producing racial diversity. Second, an admissions program that gives some preference to students from poor families, or poor schools or neighborhoods, would not end up admitting the minority students that universities really want — the students from good schools (including private schools and suburban or other good public schools). When the University of Texas defended using racial preferences on top of the “10% program” (which automatically admitted the top 10% of every Texas HS and produced a student body that essentially mirrored the population of Texas in terms of race and ethnicity), one of the arguments they made early on (dropped later, I think) boiled down to “the 10% program gives us poor black kids but we want the offspring of black doctors and lawyers.” They called this “intra-racial diversity.”
    Basically, universities want the smartest, best-prepared, best-performing, most likely to succeed students they can get, both the white one and the minority ones. So they admit the top white students, and the top minority students, but the latter are simply way below the former on every measurement that might indicate success in college. Then, of course, we get grade inflation (or the elimination of grades altogether) so that it is no longer as obvious that one group performs better than the other.
    The only way out is to somehow improve the preparation and performance of minority students before they get to college age (really, before they get to HS, and likely before they get to kindergarten) and nobody knows how to do that. Unfortunately, to figure out how to do that, you have to figure out why there are performance disparities (say, between white and minority kids of rich parents at the same prestigious private school) and right now it is taboo to investigate any possible cause except slavery, Jim Crow, and “systemic racism.” We have to look at black culture, values, and family structures to see if they play a role — but if anyone seriously tries, they end up being called a racist or worse. (To say nothing of the lack of grants for such investigations.)

    1. You are right, there is pretty much a society-wide taboo on any evidence-based discussion or investigation of what the causes of such disparities actually are. And yet, understanding the causes is necessary in order to try to fix them.

      1. Maybe they’re not fixable. How do you repair someone else’s culture when they already blame you for their failure? We tried that in Canada. It didn’t work and we are now charged with literal genocide (even though no one was murdered or starved to death in a residential school.). But knock yourself out trying. Wish you well.

        1. To me, the problem is that many communities want to stick to their own cultures but also to have the perks naturally resulting from the culture which they now vilify and blame for their failures.

  14. Are the criteria for “holistic admissions” published transparently for all to see? Or are “holistic admissions” simply an opaque way to allow university admissions officers to meet in smoke-filled rooms and choose to admit whomever they please? It seems to me that institutions should be required to publish their admissions criteria openly so that applicants can evaluate where they might want to go to college or graduate school. This includes publishing the criteria themselves as well as how each factor is weighted.

    If it turns out that holistic admissions criteria include factors that are not allowed by law—and this includes factors that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering in relation to Affirmative Action—then those universities should be subject to legal sanctions. After all, using criteria that are not allowed by law is, well, breaking the law. We need colleges and universities to unpack what these “holistic admissions” criteria really are, don’t we?

    1. It isn’t clear what it would be to specify such criteria. An applicant will have, in addition to academic grades, an essay. A particular applicant may also have had to deal with long-term health problems, and might also be artistically talented and have won prizes and exhibited sculptures. Admissions officers can’t be expected to set out in advance how they will weigh these things in relation to other candidates with health problems but not such debilitating ones, say. And how much weight the sculpture is given depends on imponderable judgments of how impressively original the work is. Different admissions officers may disagree about the quality of the essay. I am not clear whether Norman Gilinsky thinks an admissions department should be able to set out criteria that individual admissions officers would apply in the same way. Sometimes agreement will be forthcoming, but often experienced people will see differently how a candidate’s traits add up. This needn’t at all be a matter of people admitting whomever they please.

      1. It’s pretty close to that, and pretty subjective. I think test scores, an essay, and grades–the traditional criteria–are sufficient. An interview could be useful, but again, look what Harvard did with those!

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