Skip to main content

Opinion

Opinion

Supreme Court in poor position to judge Harvard admissions

Dec 13, 2022

Share

The Supreme Court is once again trying to answer the decades-old question: What constitutes racial discrimination? On one side is Students for Fair Admissions, an organization that has fought racial preferences in school admissions. On the other side, Harvard and the University of North Carolina contend that they aim for a student body this is demographically diverse, and their admissions committee “need not ignore a candidate’s race any more than it does a candidate’s home state, national origin, family background, or special achievements.” Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette argues that it’s ridiculous to suggest elite schools like Harvard are lowering their standards by including race in admissions criteria.

Americans waited decades for the definitive word from the Supreme Court regarding affirmative action in college admissions and all we got was a bunch of lousy arguments.

The Supreme Court doesn’t dive into this contentious issue very often. It did so in 1978, 2003 and 2016. And again in October, when it heard arguments by the conservative activist group Students for Fair Admissions. They’re arguing against the admissions policies at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University. The activists want to prevent colleges from diversifying their student bodies by taking race into account in admissions, along with other factors. They claim that affirmative action – a phrase coined by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, when he signed an executive order requiring contractors who did business with the government to ensure their workforce was diverse – that this program somehow gives an unfair advantage to Latinos and African Americans while discriminating against white and Asian American students.

Look, I’ve studied affirmative action for nearly 40 years and that argument is just plain dumb. At selective schools like Harvard, standards don’t get lowered. You have more than 60,000 applicants competing for fewer than 2000 seats in the freshman class, you can have your pick of the litter. There are plenty of Latinos and African Americans to choose from, world class valedictorians or student body presidents or star athletes. Besides, it’s absurd to suggest that whites and Asians are being discriminated against in admission when they represent most of the student body.

But it wasn’t just the flow of arguments that bothered me. It was the fact that the six conservative members of the high court – Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch and Barrett – all of them, by the way, received elite education at places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Oxford – seem to have already made up their minds to deny that opportunity to Black and brown kids.

That’s it. Americans waited decades for the definitive word from the Supreme Court regarding affirmative action in college admissions. And all we got was a bunch of lousy arguments. The Supreme Court doesn’t dive into this contentious issue very often. It did so in 1978 2003 and 2016. And again October, when heard arguments by the conservative activist group students for fair admissions. They’re arguing against the admissions policies at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University. The activists want to prevent colleges from diversifying their student bodies by taking race into account admissions, along with other factors. They claim that affirmative action, a phrase coined by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, when he signed an executive order, requiring contractors who did business with the government to ensure their workforce was diverse, that this program somehow gives an unfair advantage to Latinos and African Americans, while discriminating against white and Asian American students. Look, I’ve studied affirmative action for nearly 40 years, that argument is just plain dumb. At selective schools, like Harvard standards don’t get lowered. We have more than 60,000 applicants competing for fewer than 2000 seats in the freshman class, you can have your pick of the litter. There are plenty of Latinos and African Americans to choose from world class valedictorians or student body presidents or star athletes. Besides, it’s absurd to suggest that whites and Asians are being discriminated against an admission when they represent most of the student body. But it wasn’t just the flow of arguments that bothered me. It was the fact that the six conservative members of the High Court, Roberts, Alito, Thomas Cavanaugh, Gorsuch and Barrett, all of them, by the way, received elite education at places like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Oxford, seem to have already made up their minds deny that opportunity to black and brown kids. No suspense here, Thomas who attend Yale Law School, and who was George HW Bush’s affirmative action pick, when the 41st president needed a black Republican to replace flexure as Thurgood Marshall made his bones and conservative legal circles in the 1980s by being a black man against affirmative action, why conservatives smile and that sort of thing you say? And Alito? Well, after graduating from Princeton and attending Yale Law School, he joined a group called concerned alumni of Princeton, the group’s sole mission seemed to be to keep their precious alma mater from getting too woke and admitting to many Latino and African American students, you know what they say? Well, there goes the neighborhood. Meanwhile, at the other end of the ideological spectrum, we find Khatami brown Jackson, the first black woman on the court and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Those credentials are, by the way, identical to those of Chief Justice John Roberts. Although I can assure you Kbj traveled a much bumpier road to get them. Jackson argued in favor of preserving the rights of universities to take race into account. And she mocked the idea that a college could according to the majority, look at all sorts of other factors and applicants personal background, just not race that she insisted put students of color at disadvantage, saw a bad argument, but it’s not a good one either. It suggests that black and brown students are somehow perpetually disadvantage, by virtue of something they cannot change their skin color. That’s not a message I want to spread, particularly to young people. Empowerment is all about the opposite message. If you want us fine. If not, that’s fine, too. We don’t want you either. Don’t expect us to come beg you to keep a program that may not be doing us as much good as people think. Because it masks the fact that black and brown kids are being shortchanged where it really counts the K through 12 level. Whether or not affirmative action survives much longer, life will go on and Latinos and African Americans will need to press ahead and make it on their own. Same as always

Video Library