In a landmark decision yesterday in favor of advancing equal treatment for all and moving towards a colorblind society, the Supreme Court voted 6-2 to support Michigan voters’ decision in 2006 to end the discriminatory practices of affirmative
action discrimination and racial preferences profiling for admissions to the state’s public universities. Here’s from today’s front page WSJ article “Court Backs Affirmation Action Discrimination Ban“:
The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Michigan’s decision to end affirmative
actiondiscrimination at its public universities in a 6-2 ruling, but the justices were divided in their reasoning, suggesting continued uncertainty over the broader issue of racial preferencesprofiling.
The ruling leaves in place a 2006 Michigan ballot initiative where voters ended race-based admissions at state schools, and means racial
preferencesprofiling won’t soon return to the University of Michigan—or any other public university in states that have chosen to end the practice.
The court’s ruling didn’t alter the ability of universities in states without bans to consider race as one factor among others in admissions. Instead, the court chipped away at affirmative
actiondiscrimination by giving its blessing to one path for foes to challenge admissions policies: ballot initiatives. Opponents have also gone to courts and state legislatures to end affirmative actiondiscrimination practices in a decadeslong battle over university policies.
I’ve made this argument before, and will make it again today following the Supreme Court decision, that to understand why it’s time to end racial
preferences profiling in higher education, we should consider the following hypothetical scenario of race-based grading.
A university professor walks into class at the beginning of the semester. After a review of required texts, assignments and examinations, the professor discusses the grading policy. The professor explains that there is a new university policy that applies a double standard for grading and is an extension of the university’s race-based admissions policies.
The professor explains that a standard grading scale will apply to all white, Asian and Arab students. African-American and Hispanic students will automatically receive extra points for all assignments and will receive a final letter grade based on a preferential grading scale. Most people would find this blatant form of discrimination objectionable for many reasons.
1. The students receiving academic favoritism might justifiably complain that they are being stereotyped as a homogeneous group. It would be offensive to many of those students to assume automatically that they all need preferential academic treatment.
2. This form of academic profiling creates a disincentive for preferred minorities (black and Hispanic students) to study as hard as they would otherwise.
3. The racially advantaged students could face a special-preference stigma when they enter the job market or apply to graduate school. If a student graduates from college with a 3.5 grade point average, a prospective employer or graduate program would justifiably question the academic credentials and potential abilities of those students who received race-based adjustments in all of their undergraduate course work.
4. Finally, most everyone would object to the fundamental unfairness of giving preferential treatment to certain groups of students. The students who didn’t receive special grading preferences would rightfully feel they were being treated unfairly and being discriminated against. Why should an Asian student with an 85% score in an accounting class get a letter grade of B if a black or Hispanic student with the same percentage score gets an A?
These and many other reasons explain why the only acceptable practice in the classroom is the equal treatment of all students as individuals, without regard to race, sex, ethnicity or religion. And yet the hypothetical classroom-based discrimination is exactly the type of admission-based discrimination that prevails today at many American universities. And it is the obvious objections to academic favoritism in the classroom that explain why racial
favoritism profiling in college admissions has been legally challenged.
Students are treated as individuals without regard to race by university professors once they enter college. Treating all students as individuals when they first apply to college will ultimately move us further along toward the ideal of a colorblind society than maintaining the current admissions practices of double standards, special preferences and racial profiling.
President John F. Kennedy said: “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races and national origins contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial discrimination.” Fortunately, President Kennedy’s vision prevails in Michigan, now that the Supreme Court has voted to end state-sponsored racial discrimination in admissions to public universities in the state.
Bottom Line: How can it be logically and legally consistent for somebody to support affirmative
action discrimination when practiced by a staff member in the admissions or financial aid office of a university in one building on a college campus, but object to “affirmative action grading” when practiced by a college professor on that same college campus in another building? If race-neutral grading is the accepted standard for the treatment of college students IN the classroom, then race-based preferences cannot be justified when selecting students for admission to the university in the first place.
Note: I think that substituting the term “racial profiling” for “racial preferences” and the term “affirmative discrimination” for “affirmative action” also help to understand why those practices are objectionable. Words and terminology matter. As George Carlin said, “Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought and we’re stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words.”