Affirmative action is in trouble. The Supreme Court seems intent on scaling back the use of race in admissions in Fisher v. Texas, and even if it doesn’t, support for the practice has been declining for a generation, leading a growing number of states to ban it at their public colleges and universities. At Via Meadia, we think that this is more or less a good thing: Remedying historical injustice is a hugely important project, but we don’t see many signs that today’s militant academic diversity bureaucracy is competent to execute it responsibly. Moreover, in a 21st-century America wracked by class inequality, it makes little sense for striving immigrants or poor whites to be penalized for past misdeeds they took no part in.
That said, continuing racial mistrust in the U.S. is a real cause for concern. The year 2015 saw the assertion of a particularly strong form of identity politics. Racial gaps in employment, housing, and income persist, and, despite much progress toward assimilation, our society is still too divided along racial and ethnic lines. So we are encouraged to see that the University of Michigan has had some recent success at building a racially diverse student body—and, therefore, a more racially diverse pool of potential future elites—without resorting to racially biased admissions policies. The New York Times reports:
A year after Dr. Ishop began her new job here as enrollment manager at the University of Michigan — responsible for shaping the makeup of incoming classes — the university increased the number of minority students in the 2015 freshman class by almost 20 percent, to the highest percentage since 2005.
African-Americans gained the most. It was a significant change at an institution where minority enrollment plunged after Michigan voters banned affirmative action in 2006.
“It’s a courtship,” Dr. Ishop said, explaining the strategy.
The piece goes on to detail what that “courtship” looked like in practice; it’s worth a read. It’s too early to tell whether Michigan’s new strategy of aggressive minority recruitment combined with race-blind admissions will succeed in the long term, much less whether it is transferable to other states with different demographic makeups. Still, other colleges should study Michigan’s efforts closely, and attempt to replicate and improve on them where possible. The development of a permanent racial underclass is incompatible with America’s melting pot ideals, and colleges have an important role to play in promoting integration (given their unfortunately large role in determining access to middle class careers). Affirmative action is not the answer—indeed, there are some compelling arguments that it helps perpetuate racial divisions on campuses. And if the promising numbers out of Michigan hold up, the case against affirmative action will grow even stronger, as continued success would help show that race-conscious admissions are unnecessary.