Discover more from Apt. 11D
No Tears for Affirmative Action
Help More, not Less
At the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the admissions systems used by Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was unconstitutional. The Court found that those colleges’ use of race as a factor in admission decisions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
“Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful endpoints. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today,” said the decision, by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Unlike so many of my progressive friends, I struggle to care. If we really want to create a fairer world, the place to do that isn’t at Harvard. To erase race and income as barriers to success, then we have put all our efforts in Kindergartens in Camden, Detroit, Appalachia, and Buffalo. We have to reach students at younger ages and in bigger numbers. A decision that may impact a handful of students at a very small elite college does little to help the third grader in Newark who can’t read.
Let’s quickly talk about this court case. (Read the decision itself, rather than tweets.) The court focused solely on the issue of race as a factor in admissions, because that was the particular issue in front of them. “Students For Fair Admissions, Inc.,” who brought this case to the Supreme Court only complained about race, not other factors that help sway admissions committee, like legacy status, gender, SAT scores, or income.
The Court argued that educational institutions are not permitted to discriminate against people based on race (Brown v. Board of Education), and that the reverse is also true: students can’t get preferences based on race. “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it,” Roberts wrote.
Harvard said that diversity builds a more rigorous learning environment for students, but the Supreme Court said that Harvard had no evidence to backup that claim.
Okay, what’s the impact of all this going to be? US News Report says that of its 7,100 undergraduates, Harvard admits 12 percent Latino students and 9 percent Black. The rest are white, Asian, and International. Harvard has more international students than black students. Harvard actually has a really terrible track record on diversity.
This case only revolves around the 9 percent of the students at the school, who are Black, most of whom benefited from the Affirmative Action Program. That’s 639 students.
Now, Harvard can still find away to help those 639 students. I seriously doubt we’re going to see a massive change in those numbers nor a huge influx of Harvard rejects at HBC’s. Harvard is still permitted to use all sorts of other variables to tip the scales in favor of needy black students, like geographic location and income. I actually think this case is more about control than a true interest in diversity.
Harvard does not want the government telling them what to do. It’s an elite private college. If they want their next Freshman class to be composed entirely of students from Finland, then they want the prerogative to do that without meddling from outsiders.
As a private college, perhaps Harvard should have those privileges. However, they can’t have that freedom and still get a discounted tax rate, massive government grants, and the perks of the student loan system, which subsidizes their $80,000 cost of admission. They want to act like a private college, while getting the benefits of a public college.
Alexa, what’s “having cake and eating it, too?”
At the end of the day, I struggle to care about what happens at Harvard and other elite colleges.
The whole point of the college admission program is exclusion. It’s by definition an elitist system. You have to get great SAT scores, be president of some clubs, interview well, be good at deadlines, athletic, good looking, and have massive amounts of privilege. I just can’t get worried about people who have all that going for them. It honestly doesn’t matter which college that they attend; they have already won the Life Lottery.
All this hoopla for a program that benefits 639 students, who are really going to get helped just the same, but using different means. So, if we really want an equitable, fairer college system, what should we be doing?
We should start early, early, early. Recent standardized tests show that minority students are far behind their white counterparts, with inequities widening after the pandemic. Because school closures were particularly damaging in urban and minority areas.
Here are just some numbers from my state: Only 19% of all 3rd graders in Newark can read on grade level. In some schools, only 3 or 4 percent can read on grade level. This tragedy is way more important than admissions procedures at Harvard.
As a reminder, there are 639 black students at Harvard. Newark educates 40,423 students, most of whom are minority and low-income. We could help a LOT more students achieve their potential by putting in proven reading curriculum than by fiddling with college admissions.
We could also look at the colleges that have the most diversity — Community colleges.
Half of all Hispanic and 40 percent of all Black students in higher education are enrolled at community colleges, according to The Hechinger Report and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
However, few students actually finish their degrees at community colleges, because of finances and the complexity of the system. While the credits aren’t expensive, students need financial help to pay for childcare, rent, food, and often have to quit to get a job. We can solve those problems.
We all want to live in a more diverse, more equitable society. But there’s no way that the Harvard admissions decisions will have any impact on broader inequities in society. Let’s put our energies and passion in places where we can help the most people.
No links today. Running out the door to take Ian to the Museum of Natural History in an hour…