Grab the Right End of the Stick!

The Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, a revisiting of affirmative action in education, has moved me to reflect on the matter. I find the idea of racial preferences of any kind distressing although I can understand the need for them to redress historic wrongs. That’s a need that is slowly evaporating with time. I have always thought the “critical mass” theory embraced by the Court in Grutter v. Bollinger was a crock, a thinly veiled argument for permanent racial discrimination.

The view I’m trying on for size right now is that the Court should abandon “critical mass”, return to correcting a prior history of racial discrimination as the sole basis for present systems of racial or ethnic preference, and subject any plan that is not race neutral to substantially more scrutiny than has been the case. For example, I think that any institution that has an admissions policy that is not neutral with respect to race should be required to make its admissions criteria public. I also think that redressing historic wrongs should be more narrowly tailored. So, for example, I believe that in order to qualify for such de facto quotas the individuals involved should be born in the United States of parents who are both members of the target race or ethnicity and born in the United States. I am aware that this would rule out many prominent beneficiaries of racial preference.

The Christian Science Monitor has grasped the right end of the stick on this question:

No matter how this divided court rules, what was missing from the arguments was any challenge to the idea that higher education has so few openings that it must dole them out through preferences, whether by race or – an alternative path – by income.

This notion of scarcity has long pervaded the ivy halls of academia. And yet it is being challenged today as never before. Universities are being forced to change by advances in online learning, by competition from for-profit schools, by a parent rebellion over tuition, and by cash-strapped governments demanding proof of skills learned.

Schools wouldn’t need to fight over issues like race if they would lift the perception of education as a limited good and adopt new ways to expand the pie of learning.

I’ve already made my suggestion for making higher education more available to all. How’s this for a more limited version? Have California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois band together, produce a full, accredited online two year degree program with credits fully transferable to four year institutions in those states at no or low charge?

It may be the case that you can’t completely replace four year institutions with online instruction but I find it hard to belief that an online program could not be developed that would be better than a lot of the community colleges out there.

5 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw

    I believe the implications of the last SCOTUS decision is that blacks, etc. are there to provide diversity, which strikes me as a complete sham form of diversity. True diversity would entail a broader range of socio-economic classes, not children of doctors and corporate lawyers. It would require more Southern Baptists and Pentecostals. And the cause of diversity makes it irrelevant whether someone has been victimized by slavery or Jim Crow.

  • PD Shaw

    Of course, its also grating that these issues arise at the college level because (a) college is too late to serve any significant remedial purpose and (b) private colleges are free to practice some form of affirmative action and many do.

  • It would require more Southern Baptists and Pentecostals.

    The dirty secret of the diversity industry is how many of those who are granted preferences are Africans, people from the Caribbean, and sons and daughters of the black middle and upper middle class. How this helps the black underclass in the U. S. is a puzzle to me.

    The British-sounding dialect (to an American ear), the different affect are a leg up.

  • Jimbino

    Why don’t we just grant everybody a BA degree at birth? Then everyone would have the credential he needs for a job and we could dispense with all this fake education that turns out English, History, Poly Sci and International Relations majors like the SCOTUS justices.

    The real benefit is that classes (apart from Baby Physics and Baby Math that we’d have to keep for the med and law majors), once free of dolts, would be dedicated to those who were in college to learn something.

  • Jimbino

    Your rule that:
    “…in order to qualify for such de facto quotas the individuals involved should be born in the United States of parents who are both members of the target race or ethnicity and born in the United States” is way too narrow.

    It would rule out a Black child of Black American parents– a “native born American citizen”–who, like George Romney, was born in Mexico. It would also rule out a child of Americans, one Hispanic and the other Black, one Black and the other Native American, etc.

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