MAYBE IT'S the magical ride of Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin that's been on my mind lately. When I heard that the Supreme Court would hear a case claiming that affirmative action at the University of Texas had resulted in discrimination against a white woman named Abigail Noel Fisher, I immediately thought: How do Asian students fare under college admissions and affirmative-action programs?
Asians, after all, are a minority group, like blacks and Latinos. It turns out that Asians are seen as a worse enemy of the sacred goal of diversity on college campuses, and some studies have indicated that they must get substantially higher SAT scores than even white students to be considered for admission to the top colleges.
Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1,600 (today it's 2400), and he found that Asian-Americans needed a 1,550 SAT to have a chance of getting into an elite college equal to white students with a 1,410 or black students with an 1,100. This problem is so pronounced that USA Today did a piece on the fact that many Asian students try to avoid identifying themselves as Asians on their applications. Those of mixed heritage often check white rather than multiracial. Isn't this an interesting reverse quota and further proof of what happens when you stray away from the meritocracy model?
I think it also undercuts the notion that students won't learn as well unless the bean counters on college campuses can manipulate their admissions to cut down on these Asians who are viewed not as individuals but as a group of boring academic robots.
In reaction to the Supreme Court hearing this case, the New York Times reports, Tom Parker, dean of admissions at Amherst College, said, "Bright kids have no interest in homogeneity. They find it creepy." I find this diversity obsession to be creepy and not really about true diversity.
Is diversity just the outward characteristics of the person and their background, or is it about their views and distinct abilities? Is Jeremy Lin in the NBA because it needed an Asian point guard and not another outstanding black point guard? No, he's there because he has sparked the Knicks and gotten them to play better as a team. Would they be worse if he did the same things but he was black?
The reaction to the fact that a more conservative court may overturn the guiding principles of the 2003 University of Michigan School of Law that allowed race to be used as a factor in admissions has dusted off the argument that it's not time yet to end this discriminatory practice. The Philadelphia Inquirer and others took that position.
When will it be time? What perfect set of circumstances must result to get rid of a practice that, stripped of its good-intentions armor, is just discrimination?
The other factor that I found revealing was that the debate over this was couched as poor minority kids versus wealthy white kids. College admissions officers reject looking at income tests as a way to level the playing field but they reject this. Stephen Farmer, vice provost at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is typical, and he told the New York Times that "without race-conscious admissions, I don't think we could get the same results."
This comment took me back to my debate with U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah when he was on my radio show to discuss the Michigan Law School case. He stood on the ground that he and his wife's kids would start out behind my kids because of their race.
Now, Fattah is a well-connected politician and I'm a talk-show host. His wife is a major Philadelphia media star and my wife is a pre-K teacher. Whose kids have more income and other resources to get into the best schools? This attitude, though, seems to be the infrastructure of this desperate attempt to move away from seeing our society as having gotten past a lot of the racial barriers of the past.
My prediction is that the Supreme Court will overturn the University of Texas system that uses race as a criterion to determine admission and that we will see colleges gradually be forced to admit students on the basis of merit. Who knows, maybe the ivory tower might be replaced by the NBA /NFL model.