"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why Race Should NOT Matter In Admissions

In an opinion piece in the New York Times (Why Race Matters in School Admissions, 10.5.12) none other than the Deans of the Harvard and Yale Law School have argued that race should be considered when reviewing applicants’ backgrounds.  They contend that test scores and other standard submissions are not enough for identifying the best candidate because the are looking for the intangible elements of a prospective student’s background that might give an insight into why they would not only become a good lawyer but a good citizen:

We look for character; for virtues such as curiosity, flexibility, judgment, drive, determination and a commitment to use the advantages of one’s education to give back to society. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that “universities, and in particular, law schools, represent the training ground for a large number of our Nation’s leaders.” The character of our students is relevant to the quality of our leaders. Character is most often revealed in the life circumstances of our applicants. We look to see how candidates have responded to the challenges they have faced.

There are problems here.   First, the authors have have admitted that they are not only looking for the best students, they are looking for those who will contribute to the larger body of the law school community.  It is not enough, the imply, to simply recruit students who are the best of the best, they have to do more:

Our reasoning is simple. We admit students to accomplish two goals: to get the best possible students and to assemble the best possible class.

What does “the best possible class” mean?  The authors never define what they mean by ‘best’; but it can be inferred that they intend to assemble a class which, in Bill Clinton’s term, “looks like America”.  What they say is that the struggles that black people have had to endure are valuable experiences which suggest that these people are: a) stronger because of their constant fight and survival in a racist world and b) true Americans because they have never wavered in their quest for equality and excellence. 

While searching for such qualities in an applicant may be valid; and granting that admitting students who are not only the best and the brightest but who also embody the best American spirit possible, this gives no one license to assume that race is the only intervening variable in the equation.  There are plenty of white men and women who have struggled just as valiantly, are annealed in the forge of adversity, and emerge better people.  Immigrants from the state of the former Soviet Union come to mind; or refugees from Cambodia.

Struggles of course do not have to be defined by race or ethnicity.  Many students have struggled against abusive parents; or simply parents who consistently demeaned their musical or artistic talent – students who despite personal insult and unfair limitations broke out of these controls and became artists.

It is the fact that race is assumed to be a more important conditioning agent than others that is offensive and smacks of liberal social engineering. 

If it is overcoming struggle that the Deans want, then by all means sift, cull, and vet for that characteristic.  By going through the pile of applications and looking for black faces first, assuming that they have all struggled, is both wrong and patronizing to the black applicants.

The authors then disingenuously dismiss the ‘patronizing’ allegation:

While we agree that it is inconsistent with the dignity of persons to consider only race, we firmly believe that it is equally inconsistent with their dignity to refuse to hear what applicants have to tell us about the role that race has played in their lives.

In all this argument about racial preferences, who ever said that anyone was refusing to listen to applicants?  No one.  This is an invention and another bit of sanctimony that reveals the truth behind the opinion.  These Deans are still reliving faded ‘progressive’ dreams of engineered social, racial, and ethnic harmony.

If this were not enough, the Deans have pulled out the oldest chestnut from the cooling ‘progressive’ coals – that racial diversity is a key element of class makeup.  They do not praise true diversity – the inclusion of students with many talents, life experiences, character, and personality – but only one kind of diversity, race.  Of all the diverse characteristics one might want a fellow student exposed to, would race be the first and most important one?  I doubt it.

The arrogant and self-righteous quick-stepping around the real issue only gets worse as the op-ed piece continues and concludes:

Exposure to people with different backgrounds, ideas and views also helps to prepare students for the practice of law, the work of businesses and nonprofit organizations, and the challenges of public service. Our graduates will inevitably interact with increasingly diverse clients, managers and colleagues. Research amply demonstrates that diverse teams are better at solving a variety of problems when compared with homogeneous groups, even when such groups are rated higher on standard ability measures.

This is hard to believe and hard to stomach.  Of course lawyers will deal with all kinds of clients – smart ones, dumb ones; ignorant, stubborn, obstreperous ones; and black and white ones.  The course of study at Harvard and Yale ought to be how to deal with a type of client, not with a particular racial or ethnic background.  The backsliding on this issue is familiar: “Rosenbaum?  A Jew.  Be careful, will nickel and dime you on every clause.”  Or “Pantucci? Probably got connections we need to watch out for”.  Or “Orlovsky? Right out of the gulag.  We can easily get him to settle”.

Worst of all is the assumption that white people cannot possibly understand black people.  That they have lived in caves for their entire lives, have paid no attention to Southern history, the Three-Cornered Trade, or civil rights in America; or are simply stupid and unable to have the empathy and respect to simply listen.

I have read many articles for and against affirmative action in higher education; and I almost didn’t read this one until I saw who the authors were.  What a disappointment.  Of all arguments this was the most biased, retrograde, and self-serving of them all. 

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