The Corner

Education

Affirmative Action and the Admissions Scandal

Libby Nelson writes in Vox:

The children of alumni get a leg up. So do the children of major donors; a recent lawsuit over Harvard’s admissions policies revealed the details of how they are treated as much as revenue generators as they are for their potential as students. And athletes are routinely admitted with lower grades and test scores than other students.

None of these advantages in the admissions process typically attract as much attention and outrage as the most notorious admissions preference: race-based affirmative action. That outrage rarely considers that, legally, affirmative action cannot exist merely to help individual students overcome discrimination. Colleges, according to the Supreme Court, can consider race in admissions only to educationally benefit all students on campus by creating a racially diverse environment, and only if considering race is the only way to create that environment.

There is no similar requirement to justify the admission of legacy students, donors’ children, or athletes. It does not matter if Jared Kushner — who got into college on the back of a $2.5 million gift — added anything to his classmates’ time at Harvard. It is enough that it was in Harvard’s interest to admit him.

I think this passage takes the Supreme Court’s reasoning on affirmative action more seriously than colleges do, or the Court itself does. It is not as though the justices have ever insisted on rigorous evidence that racial discrimination in admissions delivers educational benefits. Leaving this issue aside, though, why should we find it problematic or even noteworthy that government regulates discrimination on the basis of race more tightly than it does discrimination on the basis of other characteristics?

While we’re on the subject of the college-admissions scandal: I’ve written about how it strengthens the hand of populists for Bloomberg Opinion. (The Sorting Hat from Hogwarts makes a cameo.)

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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