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.”
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.