Affirmative-Action Case Will Affect Private Schools

by Sam Staley

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that might upend affirmative action plans for college admissions. What might be missed, however, is the potential implications for private colleges and universities. The case involves a public university — the University of Texas — and the decision to turn down an apparently successful academically promising white student in favor of minority candidates. But, since most private institutions receive federal money, they may be bound by the same Supreme Court decision in another example of how mixing public and private inevitably compromises the independence of the private sector. From the New York Times:

A Supreme Court decision forbidding the use of race in admission at public universities would almost certainly mean that it would be barred at most private ones as well under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids racial discrimination in programs that receive federal money. In her majority opinion in Grutter, Justice O’Connor said the day would come when “the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary” in admission decisions to foster educational diversity. She said she expected that day to arrive in 25 years, or in 2028. Tuesday’s decision to revisit the issue suggests the deadline may arrive just a decade after Grutter.

As anyone going through the admissions process for colleges can attest, colleges and universities use a variety of criteria for determining how to fill their classes. Academics are part of it, but other factors include leadership, sports, innovative extracurriculars, geography, income, travel experience . . . the list goes on. Second-guessing admissions through one-size-fits-all judicial decisions compromises both the integrity and the effectiveness of higher education.

The reality is that race no longer serves the purpose of exclusion, at least in most private colleges. This case is highlighting how tethered our private institutions of higher education are to the federal trough and the need to follow in the footsteps of schools like Hillsdale College in Michigan and Grove City College in Pennsylvania which strive for complete independence to preserve their academic integrity.