Thursday, June 29, 2023 was a very good day for the Supreme Court and the U.S. Constitution. On that day the high court struck down affirmative action and disallowed race preferences in college admissions.
Way back in 1978, the Supreme Court – brimming with good intentions – left open the door to race-conscious admissions, and we’ve been dealing with the fallout ever since. In practice, every elite institution of higher learning currently discriminates, covertly but systematically, against whites and Asians, in order to diminish the number of white and Asian students it is obligated to admit, and to maximize the number of Hispanic and black students.
The magnitude and scope of this discrimination is not exactly minuscule either. For instance, an Asian-American college applicant must generally score 140 points higher on the SAT than a white student, and 450 points higher than a black student, to have the same chance of admission to a private college. What’s more, a vast Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) infrastructure has been fostered in American higher education that supports this grossly biased and unfair approach to admissions and in general views “whiteness” (though not “Asianness”) as a blight on society that only “anti-racism” (which looks an awful lot like racism) can overcome.
The big takeaway today, therefore, unfortunately, is how far we still have to go to make this a truly color blind country. The Left is, as everyone knows, obsessed with race, gender and sexuality. They are determined to drive this country apart, into special interest groups and “protected classes,” and to hand out favors to these groups based on totally subjective considerations of “equity.”
To illustrate the ambiguities of equity, consider the case of the (Ivy League) University of Pennsylvania. What would an “equitable” percentage of black students in Penn’s student body look like? Penn is an institution of national prominence, so perhaps black students should be 13% of the student body, to mirror their percentage of the national population. Then again, blacks are only 11% of Pennsylvania’s population, so perhaps that is a reasonable figure. Then again, Penn is located in the city of Philadelphia, in which blacks are 38% of the population. On the other hand, in greater Philadelphia only 19% of the population is black. So, in short, which is it? Which metric would satisfy the conception of “equity” that the Left is advancing? And, if equity is not essentially numerical, then how are we to measure it at all?
The sad truth is that the Left need not, and will not, pin itself down in defining the specific factors that produce “equity,” or which define “diversity” or “inclusion” either (if it’s a question of including anyone they don’t like, you can bet that they’ll forget about inclusion in a heartbeat). This ambiguity allows them to shift constantly the battlefield on which the struggle for equity is fought – and it further permits them never to admit that the battle has been won, and thus to hold DEI as cudgels over the heads of their putatively racist, sexist and homophobic enemies forever. Meanwhile, members of protected classes are informed that “Nazis” are hiding behind every bush, and only the tender mercies of big government and the DEI apparatus can protect them. You can call it “divide and conquer” or “social justice” or whatever you like, but it’s the heart and soul of the progressive movement nowadays, and it isn’t going away simply because the Supreme Court says so.
In fact, colleges and universities have long since developed contingency plans to deal with a SCOTUS ruling like the one we saw on Thursday. Downplaying the importance of objective tests, like the SAT and ACT, is a big part of higher ed’s fallback strategy. This allows admissions decisions to be made based on much more subjective factors, which gives colleges and universities the wiggle room they crave.
In many parts of the country, because of local and state laws that already prohibit race preferences, colleges and universities have already shifted gears to supposedly race-neutral admissions policies that still, in practice, promote the interests of one race over another. At the University of Texas, for example, the policy is to let in the top 6% of every high school class. Never mind that you might come from the worst high school in recorded history — you’re in! The object of this approach was, of course, to promote “diversity” at the cost of academic rigor and personal merit. And it’s working.
Another neat ruse to boost the numbers of black and Hispanic students, and to stymie white and Asian applicants, is to place a very high value on subjective factors such as character and likability, and then to find whites and Asians deficient in these qualities en masse. Harvard has been accused of doing exactly that, and such strategies will proliferate in the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision. Indeed, the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, practically recommended such an approach: “…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.” If, therefore, one assumes (systematically) that black and Hispanic students have superior “grit,” because they have had to shoulder their way through “systemic racism” all their lives, whereas whites and Asians have lived lives of idle privilege, then a new, superficially “race-neutral” form of discrimination might be permissible.
Expect, therefore, almost every institution of American higher education to reach deep down into its bag of tricks to ensure that this Supreme Court ruling has little or no practical effect on the demographics of the students who attend our colleges and universities, nor on the background of faculty, staff, and administrators, all of whom will continue to grow less white (though not necessarily less Asian), by the day, as leftists insist they should and must. This is the “social justice” ideology to which almost all colleges and universities are implacably committed. It would mortify them, by contrast, to see any demographic indicators move in the “wrong” direction. And so they won’t.
What’s more, institutions of higher ed are beholden to accrediting bodies, and other oversight authorities, which are captive to the DEI agenda. Any college or university that actually practiced color blind admissions or hiring would quickly find itself in big trouble with accreditors, with the federal Department of Education, and with the media and the donor class. This assumes, of course, that some institutions of higher learning might actually dissent from DEI orthodoxy. There is precious little evidence that any of them do.
Ergo, don’t expect one Supreme Court decision to dent, even slightly, the culture of identity politics that infuses the progressive movement, the Democratic Party, and American education as a whole, including colleges and universities. These forces in America all have one thing in common: they view meritocracy as analogous to white supremacy, and they demand that government and other powerful institutions act to promote the advancement of disadvantaged groups, even at the cost of fairness to individuals. We can expect them to act accordingly.
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.