As Supreme Ct Issues Weak Ruling, the Affirmative Action Preoccupation with Race is Wrong


Considering the astounding variety of characteristics and accomplishments that applicants to America’s most competitive colleges present to the admissions boards every year, it is disturbingly narrow-minded and off-base for our society to focus so much attention and angst on the color of an applicant’s skin. The totality of a college applicant is about so much more than her racial group, or even her SAT scores.

The US supreme court ruling today is basically a “do over” on the issue of whether universities can consider race in the admissions process, sending the Texas case back to the lower courts. If it does anything, today’s ruling sets an even tougher standard for public universities to use race as a factor in their admissions. If the court ultimately rules against affirmative action, the higher education community will be forced to take a huge step backwards – perhaps absorbing the final blow in American society’s decades-long assault on affirmative action.

It’s fascinating to note that all this debate about affirmative action on college campuses has occurred even as the business world and the military so strongly support affirmative action and believe in the importance of diversity. Consider that a slew of Fortune 100 companies (pdf), in addition to the US department of defense, submitted friend-of-the-court briefs to the Supreme Court urging it to keep affirmative action in place.

If the value or appeal of a college applicant was just about his GPA and standardized test scores, schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford and MIT wouldn’t even need an admissions board. They could simply fill each freshman class with all the students who boasted perfect SAT scores and 4.0 (or better in this era of inflated grades) GPAs. But in building universities that more closely resemble the real world that their students will be entering upon graduation, in creating vibrant and varied academic experiences for their student bodies, top schools know that they must cast their gaze far beyond a cursory look at a student’s racial group and test scores.

When cello-playing honor roll student Abigail Fisher filed the lawsuit against the University of Texas challenging the school’s policy of considering an applicant’s race, she claimed she was denied her lifelong dream of going to Texas while students in her high school class with lower grades and similar activities were admitted. She alleged that “the only difference between us was the color of our skin”.

University officials contended that Fisher wouldn’t have been admitted even without the race factor because her numbers weren’t high enough. University of Texas President Bill Powers argued that in academia and the business world, no one ever gets hired based only on their class rank in college or high school.

Abigail Fisher’s analysis presents an exceedingly limited view of what goes on in the admissions offices of ultra-competitive schools like the University of Texas. If Fisher wanted to focus exclusively on grades, why single out the student whose skin color is different from hers? Why not challenge the university on its acceptance of the prima ballerina or the chess grandmaster or the linebacker or the award-winning essayist or the daughter of the Fortune 100 CEO or the all-state violinist or the hundreds of other students with fascinating resumes who likely were admitted with lower GPAs than Miss Fisher?

It is obvious that any school must look beyond just test scores and race when building a viable incoming class, so why have we become so preoccupied with the race of admitted students? Why didn’t Fisher take on school “legacies” or athletes or musicians and accuse them of taking her spot?

To read the rest of this post, go to The Guardian.

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Nick Chiles

Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.

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