On June 29, by a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) overturned affirmative action. No longer can colleges and universities use race as a factor for admissions since doing so violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Interestingly, the SCOTUS decision did not apply to military academies (citing national security as the reason). Additionally, the decision allows colleges and universities to consider how an applicant’s race might have affected their life.
Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” Nonetheless, the court’s decision outlawed affirmative action and reversed four-plus decades of legal precedent.
SCOTUS’ ruling was the culmination of a protracted effort spearheaded by Edward Blum, president of an organization called Students for Fair Admission (SFFA). In 2014, SFFA filed suit against Harvard (and the University of North Carolina) in 2014 alleging racial bias in the admissions process.
At TQC, we agree with SCOTUS’ decision to end affirmative action. However, we believe that scrapping race-conscious admissions should be done in conjunction with abolishing legacy admissions, applying wealth-based affirmative action (which is legal), and ending scholarships for what former Harvard president Larry Summers eloquently referred to as “aristocratic sports.”
When SCOTUS overturned Roe v Wade earlier this year, there was public outrage as most Americans disagreed with the high court.
In this case, protests have remained nuanced, which is not surprising because most Americans agree with SCOTUS’ ruling.
According to ABC News/Ipsos, 52% of Americans agree with the high court’s decision, approximately 33% disagree, and 16% are unsure. Broken down by party, 75% of Republicans, 26% of Democrats, and 58% of Independents agreed with SCOTUS’ decision. Broken down by race, convincing majorities of Whites and Asian Americans support the ruling, Hispanics are split 50/50, while most Black Americans disagree.
Not surprisingly, most (but by no means all) Asians decried affirmative action. For them, it was a “double whammy” as they were penalized because of their race when applying to selective schools and were targets of racial discrimination in general, especially since the Covid pandemic.
Surprisingly, while it is irrefutable that affirmative action was effective in admitting black and other historically disenfranchised applicants to highly selective institutions to a level ~in-line with their representation in the general population, affirmative action did a shoddy job of helping the most disadvantaged black and other minority students.
Slate.com noted that, In Harvard’s case, “Black enrollment has increased from 1 percent of the freshman class in the early 1960s to 15 percent today. At the same time, research finds that Harvard’s student body has about as many students from the top 1 percent by income as the bottom 60 percent. Seventy-one percent of Harvard’s Black, Hispanic, and Native American students came from the richest one-fifth of those groups.”
In short, data suggests that affirmative action disproportionately helped wealthy black and other minority applicants, to the detriment of less fortunate peers. While affirmative action helped wealthy minorities, legacy admissions continue to disproportionately help wealthy whites and should be abolished.
Said James S. Murphy, Deputy Director of higher-education policy at Education Reform and published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “…at Harvard, at least — legacy applicants are five times as likely as other students to gain admission. And that inevitably has a racial dimension…”
Argued The Economist, “The extraordinary benefits that Harvard and Yale shower upon the children of alumni and donors make a mockery of meritocracy and progressivism. Those practices, the subject of a new legal challenge, should go.”
Edward Blum, who spearheaded the litigation against Harvard that led to affirmative action’s undoing also agrees that legacy admissions should be relegated to the trash heap.
Using public information, economists Peter Arcidiacono of Duke University, Josh Kinsler of the University of Georgia and Tyler Ransom of the University of Oklahoma concluded that “At every level of qualification, children from families in which one parent had attended Harvard were much less likely than others with similar qualifications to be racial or ethnic minorities and far more likely to be admitted.”
Immediately following SCOTUS’ decision, a complaint was filed with the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights against Harvard by a group called Civil Rights, a Boston based nonprofit. They claim the school’s legacy admissions preference discriminates against applicants of color. At TQC, we agree with the rationality, logic, and moral underpinnings behind this legal challenge.
Another admissions policy utilized by the most selective schools is for recruited athletes. Often, academic standards are lowered to admit stars and help their teams compete. This practice has also come under increasing criticism.
On this issue, we are split. We think the practice is justifiable for mainstream sports such as football, basketball, lacrosse, etc.
Ivy League schools (and many other highly selective colleges and universities) compete in National Collegiate Athletics Association’s (NCAA) Division 1, the highest level for athletics. In Division 1 athletics, a general rule of thumb is that men’s and women’s basketball pay for themselves and football funds most other sports. Furthermore, competitive football and basketball teams, and to a lesser degree soccer and lacrosse, encourages alums to stay engaged and allocate financial and other resources back into the school’s ecosystem, which can be channeled toward other endeavors, including providing financial assistance to those in need.
For esoteric sports like squash, fencing, racquetball, etc., we agree with former Harvard president Larry Summers who opined in the Washington Post that we must “take a hard look at admissions preferences for those who excel in ‘aristocrat sports.”
The stark reality is that even at Harvard 10,000 people rarely show up to watch a chemistry experiment, or a fencing duel for that matter, let alone pay for the privilege of doing so. In our view, lowering academic standards for a small number of athletes in a few mainstream sports that are played by people of all races has positive net benefits for the entire student body. The argument for lowering academic standards for fencing and racquetball is easy to “squash.”
A Better Way
In our view, applying wealth-based affirmative action is by far the most preferable way to truly diversify a college campus. Not to mention, it is legal to do so. The Economist stated, “Universities seeking social justice should stop using race as a proxy for disadvantage and start looking at the thing itself. Instead of giving a leg-up to members of groups that are on average badly off, they should favor individuals who are poor.”
Indeed, poor students of all races are grossly underrepresented at the most selective schools, while these institutions have the most financial flexibility to help.
To be fair, many selective schools do provide financial relief to students of modest means, but the net number of poor students pails in comparison to the fat endowments of the Ivy League that could and should help them.
Hence, select colleges and universities should allocate a certain number of places in each applicant class for studious but poor students of all races who are qualified but would probably not make the cut on academics (or athletics) alone, all else being equal.