The National Science Foundation gives big money to circumvent the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action

September 10, 2023 • 9:15 am

Like many scientific organizations, the National Science Foundation was established to support science, but is rapidly altering its mission to achieve “social justice.”  As its webpage notes:

The U.S. National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports science and engineering in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

NSF was established in 1950 by Congress to:

    • Promote the progress of science.
    • Advance the national health, prosperity and welfare.
    • Secure the national defense.

If you conceive of “advancing the national welfare” as “promoting DEI initiatives,” then you might think it’s okay that the NSF handed out a $1.3 million grant designed to promote racial diversity in universities without violating the Supreme Court’s recent prohibition on race-based admissions. (That money, of course, came from the taxpayers, as the NSF is the biggest source of non-health-related science funding in America.)

Now the Court’s ban on race-based admissions applies to graduate schools as well as to undergraduate schools.  Nevertheless, SFA v. Harvard , while prohibiting race as an explicit criterion for admitting students, still allows race to be used in a circuitous way. Wikipedia describes and quotes the majority decision (my emphasis):

The majority opinion, written by Roberts, stated that the use of race was not a compelling interest, and the means by which the schools attempted to achieve diversity bore little or no relationship to the purported goals. It was noted however that this prohibition on the use of race in deciding who would be accepted did not stop universities from considering a student’s discussion of how their race has impacted their life “so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university.

Ergo we should expect to see a lot of admissions questions in which students can mention their race (especially if they’re members of minorities) in connection with their character or accomplishments, giving admissions officers an implicit lever to promote their applications.  But you can also expect that this practice, too, will be monitored like Harvard’s “personality scores” to see if it leads to ethnic discrimination. That would lead to more court cases.

Enter the National Science Foundation, which has decided to throw money at designing “rubrics”: guidelines, presumably for vetting grad-school admissions,  designed to promote racial diversity without violating the Supreme Court’s guidelines. Click to read:

Below is the University of Southern California’s announcement of the grant awarded to “understand” the effect of evaluation rubrics on racial diversity, presumably by using mock evaluations by groups of students.

The recipient, Dr. Julie Posselt, is an associate professor of education, and I’ve quoted USC’s entire announcement (indented, bolding is mine).

USC Rossier Associate Professor Julie Posselt (and project Principal Investigator) and a team of Pullias Center and University of Minnesota researchers have received a significant grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will examine evaluation rubrics and how they affect racial equity outcomes in graduate school admissions.

Using a mixed methods design, the four-year study led by Posselt and University of Minnesota co-PI David Quinn seeks to understand rubrics’ potential and limitations in racial equity outcomes at three levels: individual bias in judgment, organizations’ standard practices, and shared values. “Rubrics are tools, and we are investigating how their design and implementation affect outcomes,” stated Posselt.

Dr. Posselt, who also serves as Associate Dean of the USC Graduate School, has long been a leader in equity and admissions in higher education. Discussing the origins of this project, she shared, “The higher education community is looking for strategies to improve the fairness and transparency of admissions. And they need tools to advance mission-driven diversity within the bounds of the new Supreme Court rulings. We were inspired to conduct this research in part by listening to our community partners in the Equity in Graduate Education Consortium and Inclusive Graduate Education Research Hub. We hope to provide them and many others with generalizable evidence to advances equitable practice.”

More broadly, this project will enable universities across the country to improve their approaches to admissions following this summer’s rulings from the United States Supreme Court. Whether and how race-neutral admissions policies can be designed to mitigate inequities is an urgent question for the country, and people are looking to rubrics as a race-neutral tool that may improve diversity.

“This project will build on over a decades-long scholarship that Dr. Posselt has been engaged with that has focused on improving equity in graduate admissions.  It is exciting to see her scholarship put into practice and with support from the NSF,” added Dr. Adrianna Kezar, Director of the Pullias Center.

Given what is bolded, particularly the last bit, it’s hard to interpret this endeavor as anything other than a way for the NSF to fund tools for grad-school admissions that can promote racial diversity while being at the same time “race neutral.”

Note two things here. The first is the deep hypocrisy, if not duplicity, of using “race neutral” tools to improve racial diversity. These may be “race neutral” in the sense of not taking race explicitly into account, but they are a means of affirmative action nonetheless, for their aim is to “mitigate inequities”.

A recent article in the NYT suggests ChatGPT-based “rubric” questions that could be used in such a way, like asking “If you could teach any college course, what would it be?” This is taken from an actual question asked by Yale University Here’s what one bot came up with, with no prompting about social justice!

If I could teach any college course, it would be a seminar on the intersectionality of social justice issues, focusing on how systems of oppression intersect and impact marginalized communities. Through discussions, case studies, and community engagement projects, students would gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of social justice work and develop strategies for creating positive change.

Now give that applicant an extra 50 points on their ranking!  And yes, this is the way that the “rubrics” are likely to work.

Second, and make no mistake about it: the “inequities” are not socioeconomic inequities, nor political inequities, religious inequities, family-history inequities (are you the first in your family to apply to grad school?, etc.) or viewpoint inequities. They are racial inequities, pure and simple. There is only one kind of “diversity” that this grant was designed to promote, at least according to USC’s description.  The Supreme Court decision mentioned viewpoint diversity, and explicitly noted that “members of the same race do not all share the exact same experiences and viewpoints, far from it,” adding that suggesting otherwise constitutes “the same naked racism on which segregation is built.”

Yet after the Supreme Court banned race-based admissions, Harvard President-Elect Claudine Gay, echoing many other college presidents, said this:

“We will comply with the Court’s decision, but it does not change our values. We continue to believe—deeply—that a thriving, diverse intellectual community is essential to academic excellence and critical to shaping the next generation of leaders.”

This conflates intellectual diversity with ethnic diversity, and does so deliberately.

Don’t take this post as an attempt to justify the absence of ethnic diversity in colleges or graduate schools.  An all-white or all-Asian Harvard or University of Chicago would suggest that America has failed in some important ways.  The reparations needed to achieve ethnic diversity in college, graduate school, or among professors, however, need to be enacted not by devising higher-education “rubrics” to somehow promote equity. By the time students get to grad school, and probably college, it’s too late. But some programs can help with promoting ethnic diversity in college, including mentoring, tutoring, or casting wider nets for applicants.

But the real work would involve creating equal opportunity for all Americans from the moment of birth, and realizing that this may not result in equal outcomes. Creating equal opportunity in this way would be immensely hard work, and would involve a huge investment of national will, effort, and resources. But it’s the only method that will finally allow us to do away with affirmative action and the workarounds funded by the likes of the NSF.  And one thing is for sure: contrived “rubrics” won’t get the job done.

h/t: Anna

24 thoughts on “The National Science Foundation gives big money to circumvent the Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action

    1. Indeed! Sadly (on a related note, according to a piece published recently in the LA Times), “Caltech, in the name of equity, is shifting gears” towards less rigorous requirements, as the madness of woke-ism infects one of the most celebrated bastions of academic standards.

  1. Sunlight, openness, transparency. All public universities should be compelled to publish complete information about how they are evaluating candidates, and any candidate should be able to see how he was evaluated and why he was rejected. Sue, sue, sue. If “misinformation” can get a hold in the law, then bet that this will be one of those areas that will be hidden.

  2. Ideas that come hastily to mind as a stream of consciousness :


    Dialectical synthesis




    …. if the desired goals are not met, power will be exerted on individuals to be more Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive – in ways designed and hidden by Trojan Horse word alchemy in the tons of “rubrics” written out – until everyone is melting steel in frying pans their backyards.

  3. I think that if money is to be given for racial diversity, it should come from private donations. I have worked for decades in a foundation that supported poor students, preferring those from a particular city (the city of the person who had established it). The same way, private funds could pay tuition for black students, or give research grants to black scientists. So diversity proponents can put their money where their mouths are, and achieve their goals without huge collateral damage.

    1. As a rule, Diversity activists do not put their own money where their mouths are. Instead, they view their role as putting government and foundation money where the academic centers of “DEI leadership” are. For example, here is one of the many projects of the Pullias Center which shares the NSF grant under discussion with Professor Posselt.

      “Pullias Center and American Council on Education (ACE) join together for latest in the Shared Equity Leadership series
      Shared Equity Leadership is a leadership approach that scales diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work and creates culture change by connecting individual and organizational transformation. As leaders in higher education increasingly recognize the importance of prioritizing DEI on their campuses, so too does their awareness grow for the inherently emotional nature of DEI work. …The Shared Equity Leadership project is funded by grants from the TIAA Institute, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation. “

      1. DEI might be Inner School – indoctrinating the proles to become activists or adepts.

        The Inner Circle would be where the money pot is. E.g. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Zuckerberg, UN, etc.

        Not necessarily those here, but B&MGF definitely funded CRT in the past.

        Oh I forgot – that’d be schools of a cult. Outer School, Inner School, Inner circle.

    2. If I were to donate a huge pile of money (which I don’t have) to my alma mater, could I specify that the money could be used only for tuition support of certifiably white students of Protestant heritage? I think the answer is that I can specify whatever conditions I like but the university would regard the gift as radioactive and would be forced to decline it, either before the fact or later, when the news got out.

      I would hope an American university would do the same with a gift earmarked for students or scientists of any defined race. (I know Canadian universities would find some excuse to accept the money on behalf of historically disadvantaged groups and their feelings would be hurt if anyone squawked about it.)

      1. > could I specify that the money could be used only for tuition support of certifiably white students

        Would love to hear from legal minds, but it’s my opinion this would be illegal.

        If I remember right, quite a few fellowships / internships which used to advertise race (and perhaps sex) restrictions have been scared into not doing so, in the last year or two, by threats of a lawsuit.

        > preferring those from a particular city (the city of the person who had established it)

        But this is I think legal. Whether you could restrict to (say) a list of 100 zip codes which happen to be nearly all one race… I suspect judges would see through it.

        1. In Canada this is indeed legal. The graduate students in my university biology department did exactly this last year. Scholarship fund is up & running. Black or indigenous students only need apply. No Irish.

  4. But the real work would involve creating equal opportunity for all Americans from the moment of birth, and realizing that this may not result in equal outcomes. Creating equal opportunity in this way would be immensely hard work, and would involve a huge investment of national will, effort, and resources.

    Do you have any concrete suggestions for equalizing opportunity from birth? You imply that whatever they are they would be enormously expensive and, because they might not produce equal outcomes the efforts will be regarded as insufficient, calling for effort and spending to be redoubled. How do you tell when you actually have achieved equal opportunity so that calls to spend more on the effort can be rebuffed as grifting? The recipients of this “investment” might not be inclined to “realize” that unequal outcomes do not necessarily mean inequality of opportunity. They have every incentive to believe exactly the contrary.

    What if it is possible to ablate, say, 50% of inequality of opportunity with such measures as free pre-natal care, a bounty for abortions in unwed mothers, spending even more on failing schools than you do now, and free child care so single mothers can go out to work? To ablate another 10% of that inequality might entail spending 10 times as much in the form of income redistribution. To get another 10% might require 20 times as much. And too much income redistribution might degrade equality because it would produce a disincentive to work or to improve one’s schooling to be competitive in later employment.

    In the end, what if Americans decide they don’t want to spend those enormous sums to chase the will-o’-the-wisp of equal opportunity which never seems to come to fruition? To the extent that opportunity comes from within the individual rooted in his culture, a hard residual nut of inequality of opportunity (never mind outcomes) may be uncrackable by external efforts no matter how good-hearted and expensive (not to mention wrong-headed, like de-emphasizing racist math or elevating primitive ways of knowing.) At some point people will just decide it’s economically better to live with the consequences of residual inequality of opportunity than to spend more money, fruitlessly, trying to eradicate it. If you believe in democratic (small-d) principles, they have to right to choose that course. (Yes, it’s easy to be generous with other people’s money.)

    When people talked of equal opportunity way back when, I don’t recall an explicit definition but wasn’t the idea that an employer or college would give black and white applicants an equal chance at being hired and not automatically reject the black one? When did that concept morph into the right, claimable from the state, to grow up in a two-parent family who both cared for the educational and social achievement of the child….or to replace that never-was opportunity with money?

    1. I agree with you, I don’t see much evidence that, nowadays, oppportunity is that unequal. (Though people are very welcome to present such evidence.)

      Up until the 1960s, opportunities were indeed hugely unequal. But since the 1980s or so, that has largely been fixed. For example, it is not the case in the 2000s that the schools that black Americans tend to go to are systematically underfunded, or have poorer teachers, compared to schools that (say) Asian-Americans go to. Plus, all the evidence from twin studies tells us that “shared environment” (which includes schooling) matters much less for outcomes than is commonly supposed.

      It is thus unclear to me what inequalities of opportunity still exist nowadays that really need fixing. Again, I’m entirely open to people making the case that kids born in the 2000s have markedly unequal opportunity owing to their race. But the case does need to be made.

      1. Just speculating here:

        I don’t think we necessarily know what will stabilize or improve society a priori. Some times yes with your examples. But in the large structure – I think how many things interact are unpredictable.

    2. “Do you have any concrete suggestions for equalizing opportunity from birth?”

      Thanks for asking this question.

      I think answers would effectively be prophecy – so many variables, requiring complete information.

      I do not want to give personal info, but I know new parents can fantasize they know how to be a parent from their own life experience and knowledge – and then promptly start making irreversible poor habits and decisions, scrambling to correct for those, etc., and frankly realize they ain’t in Kansas anymore.

      Equal opportunity would have something to do with that process. And I can see why communism is so alluring – dissatisfaction is the beginning of utopia – if only everyone did everything right, without error, based on a predefined program. This is the realm of theology.

  5. There is an extraordinary effort by various entities, especially in academia and government, to traduce and gut the Supreme Court’s decision about affirmative action.

    And I wonder: Can’t those things become the basis for yet another suit against the remnants and closeted versions of affirmative actions?

    1. > Can’t those things become the basis for yet another suit against the remnants and closeted versions of affirmative actions?

      Yes but it may take 10 years. At least that’s how long the Harvard case took. That’s a long time in the career of any DEI official.

  6. Posselt was a coauthor on a paper a paper about GREs that I showed (in 2 peer-reviewed papers):
    1. Used an obviously biased method of imputing missing data.
    2. Had unnecessarily restricted range.
    3. Had unnecessary collider stratification bias.
    4. Improperly treated collinear predictors.
    5. Omitted key data.
    6. Improperly interpreted null-hypotheses on small subsets.
    7. Treated failure to reject the null as confirmation of the null.
    8. Made up error bars ~10x the actual ones to hide an effect.

    Strange to say, its conclusion was opposite to the implications of the data. It has not been retracted and continues to be influential in the GRExit movement.

  7. As for the possibility of realizing “equal opportunity for all Americans from the moment of birth” (J. Coyne), the problem starts with the ineliminable inequality of familial socialization, because “the internal life and culture of the family influence, perhaps as much as anything else, a child’s motivation and his capacity to gain from education, and so in turn his life prospects.” So “[e]ven in a well-ordered society that satisfies the two principles of justice, the family may be a barrier to equal chances between individuals. For as I have defined it, the second principle only requires equal life prospects in all sectors of society for those similarly endowed and motivated. If there are variations among families in the same sector in how they shape the child’s aspirations, then while fair equality of opportunity may obtain between sectors, equal chances between individuals will not. This possibility raises the question as to how far the notion of equality of opportunity can be carried[.]”

    (Rawls, John. /A Theory of Justice./ Rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. p. 265)

  8. “…to mitigate inequities…” – It should be mentioned that “equity” doesn’t mean “equality” but “justice” or “fairness”. To treat people /equitably/ is to treat them justly or fairly, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that to treat people justly or fairly is to treat them /equally/. However, many see a connection between equity and equality of treatment. On the other hand, in the case of affirmative action or positive discrimination we find the view that racial equity (social justice for racial minorities) requires /inequality/ of treatment in the form of preferential admission.

  9. Colleges can still make a special effort to find qualified applicants among students of color, such as outreach in areas where there are a lot of people of color. And have scholarships available for them. This is still legal, luckily, and colleges are likely to do more of it, to promote diversity.

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