Postmodern Conservative

A Lottery I’m For

Constitution-wise, the Supreme Court’s debate about affirmative action in college admissions goes on.  And on.  Do you want to talk about “substantive equal protection” means, or ought to mean?  I didn’t think so–perhaps another time.

But policy-wise, Samuel Goldman of The American Conservative is quite right to observe that no matter how the public might try to ban affirmative action that tries to increase racial diversity, as California did with proposition 209, your typical college and university is still going to try to “craft,” through its admission offices employing various sets of opaquely weighed factors, a freshman class that best exhibits its simultaneous “commitment-to-diversity” and prestigious selectivity.  So even if critics of affirmative action “win” with this Fisher case, the litigation about whether colleges are or are not abiding by such a decision would probably also go on and on and on.  As Goldman says, you can try to prohibit colleges from pursuing racial diversity in admissions, but through indirect means they’re “going to do it anyway.”  

And this leads Goldman to propose a lottery for college admissions instead:

In its simplest version, the process would work like this. The application would involve a checklist of more or less objective, externally verifiable criteria. These might include GPA above a certain cutoff, scores of 4 of 5 on a given number of AP tests, and so on. Extracurricular achievements could be considered. For example, there might be a box to be checked by applicants who played a varsity sport.  The application could even ask about socio-economic status, allowing applicants to indicate that their parents had not attended college or that they grew up in a high-poverty census tract.

Suppose the checklist contained ten criteria. Applicants who satisfied, say, six of them would be entered into a lottery for admission. Universities would then draw an appropriate number of admits. The whole exercise would take about two seconds.

In addition to its appealing transparency, a lottery would be extremely cheap. Under this plan, universities wouldn’t have to maintain a large and highly paid admissions office. All they’d need would be a good website on which applicants could enter their information and a few IT workers to manage the database.

Read the whole thing.  I sure don’t see a problem with this.  It would be important what “ten criteria” were adopted, but that seems amenable to decent-enough compromise.  And whatever they were, everyone would know.  

Private institutions surely couldn’t be forced to do this, which is the big problem with getting this proposal adopted widely, but it is something to think about.  If and when the higher-ed crack-up comes, and conservatives are forced to start more of their own colleges, this may be the way they’ll want to go on admissions.  

Even now, it seems it could be a better way for state schools to focus more upon serving their local sons and daughters rather than upon recruiting the “looks good” students from hither and yon, and to decrease the focal-points for contentiousness about either a) practicing affirmative action or b) forswearing it by means of a tight focus on test scores.  

What do you think?  

(Oh, and if you’d rather keep to the usual script, while you’re over at TAC, skip on over to Rod Dreher’s post on one of the attacks upon Scalia’s mere mention of the “mismatch thesis.”  Down in the comments you’ll find yours truly, defending those who want to talk about the “mismatch thesis” from being implicitly categorized as racists.)

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