The Supreme Court should leave college admissions alone
As the world shifts its focus towards mourning the victims of senseless violence directed at racial and religious minorities, we should recognize that the Supreme Court actually has an opportunity to show the world where America really stands on racial diversity and race relations.
The Supreme Court has held numerous times that racial diversity and inclusion is a compelling government goal that should always be sought after. But the plaintiffs in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College are asking the Supreme Court to overturn its previous ruling that race should be one of many factors used in the admissions process for America's universities.
As it stands now, college admission programs must, in the words of former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "adequately ensure that all factors that may contribute to diversity are meaningfully considered alongside race." Other factors listed in the present case include but are not limited to test scores, geographic background, family background (whether the applicant's parents previously attended Harvard and whether the applicant is first in her family to attend college), student-athlete status, and financial aid eligibility.
You read that right. The plaintiffs are fine with students getting "points" in the admissions process for being rich, but not for being an underrepresented minority.
In 2018, the last year cited in the case, Asian students were 19% of Harvard's student body. The Asian population in America was only 7% two years later, in 2020. This success is apparently not enough.
By contrast, Black students were 12% of Harvard's student body in 2018 and 13.4% of the American population in 2020. Since the national percentage of Asians (7%) is less than half of Harvard's percentage of Asians (19%), Asian students are not underrepresented minorities at the prestigious university.
Harvard explained to the court that in its first read of applications, the admissions committee gives applicants points for geographic diversity. This rewards those from Idaho or Wyoming over those from California or Massachusetts. These plaintiffs have no issue with geographic diversity.
Their only complaint is that they feel the Asian community is discriminated against in the process. However, as Harvard mentions in its brief, the Asian plaintiffs failed to find any Asian applicant who was denied admission in cases in which he or she should have been admitted.
There are a number of factors for colleges to consider in admissions. Administrators want a fair representation of students who exhibit qualities that would enrich the college experience for everyone and enrich the state, if it is a state university, and/or the country as a whole.
The Essay Factor shows writing communication skills; the Interview Factor shows oral communication skills — poise and confidence; the References Factor from teachers can help assess leadership skills, work habits, discipline, and camaraderie ability that were displayed over the applicant's four years in high school. Outside activities, extracurricular activities, achievements, leadership roles, and honors attest to the student's character, passion, and fortitude. All of these characteristics are evaluated for tens of thousands of students who could be among the tiny percentage (4-9%) of students deemed worthy of admission to the country's top colleges. A standardized test should not be the predominant factor.
Diversity and representation are kindred spirits. Major national colleges and top universities seek to have America's diversity represented at their institutions.
It is essential to making and maintaining our greatness.
Let us take the Asians' suggestion of "race neutral" admissions and extrapolate it to "geographically neutral." It is highly likely that some parts of America would be eliminated from attending the top schools. It is likely that most, if not all, the spots would go to a handful of states.
That is why colleges use geography as a factor in admissions. It is not a dominant factor unless it is a state school intent on investing in its state's population and there is nothing wrong with that. It is not wrong for the University of North Carolina to look past geography-blind admissions because UNC must be responsive to the state's citizens who help fund the school in most instances.
More importantly, it would not help advance the state. The state wants to train and educate its best and brightest so these graduates will remain in the state and help it grow.
Adding to that logic from an economic development perspective, Black Americans attending top schools improve the prospects of decreasing the racial economic gap. Upon my graduation from Yale University, I had three Fortune 500 companies offer me positions that each paid more than the jobs of my mother and father combined.
This improves the country in a number of ways, including racial harmony. Black children see hope, opportunity, and fairness while white students get to see that the racial stereotypes learned over the years are not necessarily true. Both are good for America.
The plaintiffs in this case against Harvard and UNC seem to profess that smart Black Americans should instead go to lesser schools. America, that is wrong.
Gary Franks served three terms as U.S. representative for Connecticut's 5th District.
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