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race and admissions
Affirmative Action on the Brink

The Supreme Court heard arguments for and against race-based preferences in college admissions this morning, and it doesn’t look good for the pro-affirmative action side. The New York Times‘ Adam Liptak reports:

A majority of the Supreme Court justices seemed unpersuaded on Wednesday that an affirmative action plan at the University of Texas was constitutional. But the member of the Supreme Court who almost certainly holds the crucial vote, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, devoted almost all of his questions to exploring whether the case should be returned to the trial court to allow the university to submit more evidence to justify its use of race in deciding which students to admit.

By the end of the unusually long and tense argument, Justice Kennedy indicated that the Supreme Court might have all the evidence needed to decide the case. That could mean that the Texas admissions plan is in peril and that affirmative action at colleges and universities around the nation may be in trouble as well.

We aren’t legal scholars here at Via Meadia, so we don’t have much to add to the constitutional arguments surrounding this case. Suffice it to say that while we are skeptical of the ability of the Court to craft a one-size-fits-all solution that works for all 50 U.S. states and all 3,000 U.S. colleges, we also believe that “dealing with historical injustice is a hugely difficult task, and there is little sign that today’s bureaucratic diversity industry is up to the job—or really even very interested in the job.”

In any case, focusing narrowly on race in admissions distracts from some of the broader injustices in the American higher education system. College tuition is skyrocketing, thanks to heavy-handed federal regulations, overly generous subsidies, and the perpetually enlarging academic bureaucracy. Prohibitive costs may do more to prevent underprivileged students from getting an education than admissions policies. Moreover, we have set up a grotesquely unfair system in which elite schools are the gatekeepers to elite status, handicapping millions of talented students who didn’t want to go to elite schools, or who weren’t focused on academics at age 17. If our society were less obsessed with the value of fancy college degrees, the stakes in the affirmative action debate would be lower.

Regardless of how the Court ultimately rules in this case, policymakers and education professionals need to start thinking about ways to overhaul our higher education system so that it is fairer to all young Americans, regardless of their skin color.

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  • Fat_Man

    I think that affirmative action is a constitutional abomination. It never had any legal justification whatsoever. Further, I believe that college administrators and faculty have used it a splitting wedge for the purpose of replacing liberal arts education based on western civilization with multiculturalism based on political correctness.

    The Supreme Court ought to finally rule that AA is unlawful. But, even if they do. It won’t change anything. Liberal arts
    education is dead, killing AA won’t bring it back.

    The day after the ruling, nothing will have changed. The universities will still be run by the same miserable poltroons they are run by today. The faculty will continue to spout the same usless drivel they spouted before. The SJWs will still be out of
    control. The rest of the student body will still be solely interested in drinking, druging, and fornicating.

    Let’s face it the bubble has burst. Our colleges and universities are in ruins. Humpty Dumpty cannot be reassembled.

    • Anthony

      Wrong argument (and permit me a disclaimer: I do not argue in favor for or against Affirmative Action as I always considered it a racial bribe – just like the idea of “whiteness” which has been utilized as a psychological advantage (minimal material advantage yet racial bribe) for many poor and working class Americans of European descent throughout our history). That is AA (as you label it) has always been more cosmetic than effective from point of equity – “Affirmative Action particularly when it is justified on the grounds of diversity rather than equity (or remedy) masks severity of racial inequality in America, leading to exaggerated claims of racial progress and overly optimistic assessments of the future for African Americans.”

      Most importantly, the misguided assumption that Affirmative Action is unfair to white men as a group is not supported by the empirical evidence. Yet, the issue inspires such polarization that an alien would think it’s the main battle front in U.S. personal relations. That said, your overall description evidences refection on our present day college dilemma but AA is least of problem.

      • Fat_Man

        Did I say anything about fairness?

        • Anthony

          No, and I was not implying you did. As a matter of fact, I’m in general accord but just this morning my local paper headlines “Middle Class no Longer a Majority” (not attempting to change focus or subject just sense of what ought to be front and center of public policy engagement – but TAI selects on this platform).

      • Jim__L

        Actually, the fact that AA gives white women a huge advantage over white men is well-documented, a few glass ceilings notwithstanding.

        • Anthony

          I believe Eurydice addressed that quite well yesterday. Thanks.

  • Eurydice

    Information becomes obsolete no matter which college one attends and no degree, Ivy League or otherwise, can carry a person through another 60 years of life (or longer, considering how things are going). The idea that universities can stuff students’ heads with everything they need to know for the rest of their lives is straight out of the 19th century. At this point, we don’t even know what education is supposed to do, let alone how to make it fair. And if we want to talk about fairness, how about all the people who are out of school and living their lives with obsolete understanding and no effective way to upgrade themselves? Education needs to be a lifelong endeavor.

    • CapitalHawk

      Sure, but what the hell does that have to do with Affirmative Action?

      • Eurydice

        It’s this – the university system is dying, if not already dead, and affirmative action, for all the fervor and emotion, is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

        • Jim__L

          The credentialing system is alive and well, which is why this discussion has some currency.

  • Beauceron

    “policymakers and education professionals need to start thinking
    about ways to overhaul our higher education system so that it is fairer
    to all young Americans, regardless of their skin color”

    I agree, but let’s be honest– that is never going to happen. Not ever. As the nation’s demographics rapidly change over the next two decades, do you think the majority “minority” isn’t going to vote or demand special privileges for themselves? Or that they’re going to look at the privileges they already hold (and being granted entrance to schools they do not qualify for academically but got into primarily because of race is a privilege– as are the extra race-based scholarships, groups, special programs and race and ethnic based majors they have) and decide that they’re not fair?

    Make no mistake: this was never about fairness. They do not care about fairness or equality. They want stuff for their own. The largest latino rights group in the country, and by far the largest on college campuses, is La Raza, who’s official motto is “For those of the race, everything. For those outside the race, Nothing.” Do you seriously believe that crew is interested in fairness for people “outside the race”? They are not.

    We could have had a country– or at least made an effort to have a country– that treated people on the content of their character. The Left– and in particular that curious breed of vapid Left, the Academic Left– chose not to. They actively chose that route. And we are all on that road now, like it or not.

    In any case, it does not matter if the Supreme Court rules against the schools. They have already shown, repeatedly that they will simply ignore the law– or find loopholes or workarounds to do what they want anyway. The Left has done that on immigration as well.

  • Anthony

    Inequality is a grave social arrangement (with layers) but it remains a reality; we humans can find rationalizations wherever we choose to look but reflection on this post brings to mind statement made in 2012 by Michael Kinsley on subject: “you start to ask yourself why anyone ‘deserves’ any place in the hierarchy – brains, money, connections. It’s all just luck, really.”

    • CapitalHawk

      I’m not sure why inequality is a “grave” social arrangement, but you are correct that it remains a reality. And it will. Forever. Unless and until all humans are identical clones.

      • Anthony

        Sans the clones analogy, inequality remains (I’m referencing America here) a seriously neglected policy point (if adjective grave and noun arrangement cause pause, then attribute it to shorthand of response – but point remains).

    • Jim__L

      If what he says makes any sense at all, it’s as part of an infinite regression known to the parents of every 4-year-old…
      “He deserves the spot because he has expertise.”
      “Why does he have deserve to have expertise?”
      “Because he’s intelligent and hardworking.”
      “Why does he deserve to be intelligent and hardworking?”
      “Because he was born with intelligence and had a family that encouraged that and hard work.”
      “Why did he deserve to be born with brains? Why did he deserve to have a family that encouraged his intelligence and hard work?”

      And so on and so on and so on, and eventually it boils down to that shrug-of-the-shoulders called “luck”.

      Of course the way out of this infinite regression is to point out that everyone has a hand of cards they’re dealt, and you’re responsible for playing those cards as well as you can. It’s called “character”. (See Matt. 25:14-30.) Yes, inequality will result. But way down deep there is equality before God, and that matters more than any window dressing on this Earth.

      Of course, without a belief in God, Leftists have to force people to live perfectly while on this Earth, leading to really awful situations like the USSR and the Projects.

      • Anthony

        Short and brief (I have no idea what you’re writing to).

      • catorenasci

        Sounds like someone’s been reading Rawls….

        • Jim__L

          Never heard of him, although after you mentioned it I wiki’d his “Theory of Justice”. He reaches pretty much the opposite conclusion I do, partially because he doesn’t seem to get the concept of incentives, and partially because he seems to be coming from a point of view that’s beyond radical.

          Confiscatory policies that reapportion goods on a perfectly equivalent basis are toxic enough to public order and productivity. Confiscatory policies that unequally redistribute goods *giving preference to whomever a bureaucrat considers “needy” or “deserving”* is about the only thing that’s worse. It’s a Politically Correct retread of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”.

          (About the only thing salvageable out of Rawls’ argument is the idea that people should not simply maximize the interests of themselves or their class, to the exclusion of everyone else. Need for this idea is going to become far more acute as fewer people have kids. If you’re going to reject nepotism in professional terms (as we all should, seeing as how nepotism can lead to serious corruption, inefficiency, and incompetence), the natural care parents have for their children should extend to whatever economic level(s) the children are likely to land in. The idea that this might vanish is one of the tragedies that goes along with the disappearance of the wisdom and perspective that becoming a parent brings.)

          To use the wikian version of Rawlsian language, I believe that “primary goods” are very narrowly defined, and further the best way for these to be provided for people is *for people to provide them for themselves* through the job market and low-level social connections (see: subsidiarity), rather than through some kind of overarching redistributionist system. The self-respect that work and financial independence from government provides for a man is as good for the spirit as any material thing.

          Ironically, while the new modern radical student seems to be focusing on Rawls’ material goods (and in terms of race), they’re completely ignoring his first principle of political liberties from a class perspective. The New Student Radical believes that only New Student Radicals should be allowed a vote, and that the New Student Radicals should have the power to vacate any popular sentiment or tradition that they find “problematic”. The NSR’s basic demand is “Median Voters — sit down, shut up, and be governed by your betters”. It’s only a few steps from there to Bolshevism. It’s sick.

          As a side note — I think that in the musical version of A Theory of Justice, Rawls’ love interest “Fairness” should be cast as a green-eyed monster.

          Sorry about the essay there, but thank you for sparking my curiosity. I know it irritates Anthony when his posts lead to thoughts that differ from his own, but honestly, that’s just too bad. 😉

          • catorenasci

            The argument you lay out as a regression (not sure I’d use that term, but….) is what I saw as Rawlsian, a version of his original position argument. Rawls is more sophisticated than the Wiki version, and I do commend A Theory of Justice to you as an intellectual exercise. Read it along with Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, a more or less libertarian response to Rawls. Nozick is very good, but I have to warn you that his argument that his own theory of justice is unique in being unpatterned, and therefore avoiding Sen’s Paradox, is wrong. In fact, Nozick’s principle of justice in transfer meets necessary and sufficient conditions to be subject to Sen’s Paradox. Political philosophy is fun!

          • Jim__L

            Consider the following case of “Peter”, “John” and a Social Planner.

            Peter and John are both willing and committed adherents of the planner’s social order, so willing they would give their lives for its goals if necessary. Peter knows that this social order will lead him to great honors, but he has just learned he will die a horrible death. He learns that John will not receive the same honors, but will live a long life.

            When he complains about this to the Social Planner, the answer is “If John lives a long life, what is that to you?” Peter goes about his work (and to meet his fate), satisfied.

            The moral being, each of us has his role to play, and the game of distributing benefits and drawbacks equally is basically impossible — meaningless even — given the complexity of our life here on Earth. Peter made the contributions appropriate to Peter, and John made the contributions appropriate to John, and their fates were what they were. Any alternatives are born of vanity and envy.

            Now for me personally, I don’t believe anyone short of God Himself has any right to play the part of Social Planner. Having looked at the problem of quantitative political philosophy, nothing short of omniscience (and perhaps even omnipotence) could put together the solutions necessary for best results.

            Even knowing what “best results” are is beyond us. The free market is occasionally failure-prone, but alternatives to it have never amounted to more than envy, hubris, and tragedy.

  • johngbarker

    I wonder if AA is another means of reducing competition from Asian Americans; the threat to WASP ascendency was in earlier days Jewish and hence the quota system at the Ivies. Of course there is no quota system today, is there? When I go to our local university library on Friday afternoons, I see that Asian students are over-represented among serious studiers. Small in number they may leave with the largest aggregation of knowledge even though they may be deficient in sailing and skiing and drinking skills.

    • Anthony

      Affirmative Action as it applies (in this case) precedes large American (Asian) matriculation so it’s stretching initiated concept to apply to a current bias perhaps. Our imaginations can contrive (conjure) up…

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