The opposition to racial preferences in college admissions (widely used at selective institutions that want to look more “diverse”) has been gaining strength as the claimed benefits are discovered to be mostly illusory and the long-ignored harms are finally getting serious attention. Within the last couple of years, Asian-Americans (I hate writing those hyphenated terms but they seem to be unavoidable) have come out strongly against preferences and it’s easy to see why. Most of the excellent students who are rejected in favor of “underrepresented minority” students are of Asian ancestry. Many institutions evidently have a ceiling on Asians, who have to compete against each other, not against all applicants. Many exceptional Asian students have to settle for one of their “backup” schools because the top colleges have already filled their Asian quotas. We have even reached the point where such students are advised to try to hide their ancestry.
In my Pope Center Clarion Call today, I write about this opposition, focusing in particular on Yukong Zhao, a Chinese immigrant who has been very successful in business in the US and is immersed in the battle against racial preferences. He was interviewed last Saturday by Kate Bachelder of the Wall Street Journal and that interview produced some great material. I particularly liked Mr. Zhao’s line, “College is not a theater.” The administrators and admissions people at most of our top institutions act as if they were casting a play, needing to have so many students who look one way, so many who look another — and losing sight of the fact that the point of college is for students to learn what the faculty has to teach.
Mr. Zhao is supporting the legal action by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard, contending that it violates the Civil Rights Act by using a quota system in admissions. Harvard contends that its “holistic” evaluation system is entirely legal and can spend enormous amounts of money fighting to preserve its notion that the university is better if it enrolls a more “diverse” student body. I think that argument is feeble, but federal judges might buy into the “educational benefits” claim. Justice O’Connor did back in Grutter.
So my suggestion is not to focus entirely on the law, but also to argue that schools like Harvard should abandon racial preferences because they are educationally bad. In other words, work to build consensus that schools improve by judging and admitting each student based on his academic qualities, not on the color of his skin. As I recall, Dr. King was in favor of doing that.