According to a recent report by the New York Times the Trump administration is set to begin investigating affirmative action admissions policies “deemed to discriminate against white applicants.”
Except there is nothing in the remainder of the Times story, nor in the leaked internal announcement that formed the basis of the story, that suggested the investigation was aimed at white students. Indeed, just two paragraphs down, the Times admits, “The document does not explicitly identify whom the Justice Department considers at risk of discrimination because of affirmative action admissions policies. But the phrasing it uses, ‘intentional race-based discrimination,’ cuts to the heart of programs designed to bring more minority students to university campus.”
Oh really? While the New York Times is no doubt desirous of viewing things through this provocative lens, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division quickly announced that their real aim was the revival of a 2015 joint complaint against Harvard by 64 Asian-American organizations. The groups alleged that Harvard was intentionally discriminating against Asians through decisions that ultimately amounted to an illegal quota system.
Unfortunately, this is a somewhat murky area of constitutional law. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, and national origin” in federal institutions. And the 14th Amendment establishes that “no state shall make or enforce any law…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” But these fairly straightforward words have been twisted to allow for race-based admissions so long as they serve a compelling state interest, such as a diverse student body. This allowance has limits however, and the Supreme Court has found that race must be part of a holistic, multi-factorial process, not part of a racial balancing or quota.
This allows for some wiggle room, which several top flight institutions have used to create quotas by a different name. Jeannie Suk Gerson writes for The New Yorker:
At selective colleges, Asians are demographically overrepresented minorities, but they are underrepresented relative to the applicant pool. Since the nineteen-nineties, the share of Asians in Harvard’s freshman class has remained stable, at between sixteen and nineteen per cent, while the percentage of Asians in the U.S. population more than doubled. A 2009 Princeton study showed that Asians had to score a hundred and forty points higher on the S.A.T. than whites to have the same chance of admission to top universities. The discrimination suit survived Harvard’s motion to dismiss last month and is currently pending.
Yale demonstrates a similarly problematic attempt at racial balancing. David French writes that “from 2001 to 2008 the percentage of Asian-American students never exceeded 13.80 percent of the student body or dropped below 13.50 percent – an unbelievable almost decade-long fluctuation of only 0.3 percent.” This has happened despite the fact that the percentage of Asian applicants to elite schools has risen substantially in recent decades.
The story that many colleges attempt to tell in order to pull off this stunning consistency in racial make-up is an ugly one. Suk Gerson writes of her personal experience:
When I won a scholarship that paid for part of my education, a selection panelist told me that I got it because I had moving qualities of heart and originality that Asian applicants generally lacked. Asian applicants were all so alike, and I stood out. In truth, I wasn’t much different from other Asians I knew. I was shy and reticent, played a musical instrument, spent summers drilling math, and had strict parents to whom I was dutiful. But I got the message: to be allowed through a narrow door, an Asian should cultivate not just a sense of individuality but also ways to project “Not like other Asians!”
In other words, Harvard’s “holistic” approach to fostering diversity is little more than a smokescreen for furthering harmful stereotypes about Asian conformity and discrimination against a successful minority population. In order to avoid the Scylla of constitutionally impermissible quotas, elite colleges have sailed directly into the Charybdis of labeling Asian applicants as homogenous workaholics with no individual personalities.
How is that acceptable? How is it just?
Quite simply, it’s not. Individuals, regardless of race, should be admitted or rejected based on the content of their character and the product of their hard work, not because of the color of their skin. That’s the basis of Attorney General Sessions’ investigation. And no amount of racial baiting by the New York Times can make it otherwise.