Racial Preferences and Higher Education

Here are some thoughts on recent news stories related to race and higher education. 

First, as we await the Supreme Court’s decision in Schuette v. BAMN, consider how that case might fit in with the latest news from California on SCA 5.  That is, in the Schuette case, it is being argued that a Michigan ballot initiative banning, among other things, racial preferences in university admissions ought to be struck down as antiminority.  And yet, in California, the SCA 5 legislative effort to repeal the ban there on racial preferences in university admissions was withdrawn because of pressure from a racial minority, namely Asians. 

The takeaway, of course, is that racial preferences are (increasingly) unworkable and untenable in a society that is (increasingly) multiracial and multiethnic.  And we have learned that, gee, maybe banning racial preferences and discrimination is not so “antiminority” after all.

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Second, Inside Higher Ed reports that the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating whether Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship program illegally discriminates against black and Latino students.  The item follows a news story in The Miami Herald; the state scholarship program is based in part on SAT or ACT scores, state lawmakers recently raised those score requirements, and, while OCR officials declined to discuss specifics, they did say that the agency is “investigating allegations that the state of Florida utilizes criteria for determining eligibility for college scholarships that have the effect of discriminating against Latino and African-American students on the basis of national origin and race.” 

But wouldn’t a decision to rely less on standardized test scores likewise “have the effect of discriminating against” those groups that do well on these tests?  The takeaway here, of course, is that the “disparate impact” approach to civil-rights enforcement leads to nonsensical results.

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Then there’s a big pull-quote in this recent Chronicle of Higher Education article on disease and genetic research:  “One thing we can’t do is use race as a proxy.”  Unless, of course, one is a university admissions official.
Seriously, this is perhaps the most common error in the Left’s defense of racial preferences in university admissions, namely that if some desired criterion is thought to have a racial correlation, then it must be okay to use race as the way one selects for it.   Thus, if a disproportionate number of black people are poor, then this justifies giving black people an admissions preference — even if most of the black people admitted are not poor (86 percent at the more selective schools studied in the propreference bible, The Shape of the River), and even if plenty of poor whites and Asian Americans end up being discriminated against. 

Race as a proxy is “profiling” or “stereotyping” or bad science in other contexts, but fine in admissions.

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And from an Inside Higher Ed article this week on a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by Miami University:

“Marvin Thrash brought the suit after he was rejected for tenure. He had joined the public university in Ohio as an ‘opportunity hire’ after he was a finalist, but not selected, for an open tenure-track position in paper science and engineering. He argued that his record was devalued because of bias against those hired with affirmative action.”

Well, yes, it’s quite plausible that, if you are hired according to lower standards, some people will devalue your record.  That’s just another one of the many costs of racial preferences.

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This is an area, as our supporters know, of great interest to the Center for Equal Opportunity, and we spend plenty of time talking with journalists about it.  We were recently quoted by this San Francisco Chronicle columnist, and you can listen to a recent interview here, on Chinese-language television no less (at about the 13:30–14:50 minute mark).

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Finally, here’s a wide-ranging and thoughtful piece by Center for Equal Opportunity board member Abigail Thernstrom on the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas and the recent grassroots revolt against racial preferences among Asian Americans in California.