Racial Profiling in College Admissions

`But let someone actually advocate a prohibition against considering the color of our skin, and we know at once that we’re hearing the words of an enemy — either a white racist or a black sellout.” — William Raspberry, columnist for the Washington Post, March 30, 2001.

Statistical correlation is a valuable thing, but when we start to apply statistical generalizations to individuals, a mathematical calculation can turn pernicious. This is certainly true in the case of racial profiling, where law enforcement officers single people out for scrutiny on the basis of skin color. Even if there is a real correlation between race and ethnicity and likelihood of crime, it is immoral to leap to the presumption that a person of a certain group has particular characteristics. Unless people are judged on how they act and what they do as opposed to membership in an ethnic or racial group their humanity is ignored.

Assumptions lurking behind the use of racial profile float over the different but intimately linked issue of racial preferences in college admissions. Both seek to classify using race on the grounds that skin color is associated with other characteristics. Recently, United States District Judge Bernard A. Friedman of the Eastern Division of Michigan ruled that the use of race in the admissions process at the University of Michigan Law School “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” The court further ordered relief to plaintiff Barbara Grutter who had been denied admission to the law school.

The case, which will likely be appealed to the US Supreme Court, is particularly interesting since many of the arguments in favor of using preferential treatment based on race were adjudicated and found wanting.

In the Bakke decision, the US Supreme Court hinted that if race were just one factor in the admissions process, essentially breaking ties in close decisions, it might be constitutionally permissible, even given the “strict scrutiny” the Court applies to considerations of race by the state.

Evidence presented at trial provided, in the view of the judge, “mathematically irrefutable proof that race is indeed an enormously important factor” for admissions at the University of Michigan’s Law School. Statisticians found that minority applicants with similar credentials were far more likely to be admitted than similarly situated white students. “For example if a Caucasian applicant has a 6-7% chance of being admitted, an African-American with a similar index score would have a 93% chance of being admitted. If a Caucasian applicant has a 10% chance of being admitted, a Mexican-American applicant with a similar index score would have a 90% chance of being admitted.”

The evidence is so overwhelming that no one can really believe that race is merely one of many factors used in admissions. Even the statistician for the University of Michigan admitted that if color-blind admissions were used, African-Africans would constitute 4% instead of 10-17% of the entering classes. One can argue that there are valid reasons for weighting race so heavily, but it is not honest to argue that race is not a definitive factor in admissions.

The judge found that the effect of the University of Michigan’s admissions policy was indistinguishable from a formal quota system.

The University of Michigan Law School argued that “diversity” in the classroom was an educational value. By admitting a “critical mass” of minority students, the defendants argued, the law school insured a diversity of ideas in the classroom.

Judge Friedman was uncomfortable with the generalization that different ideas are associated with race. Friedman wrote, “[A] distinction should be draw between viewpoint diversity and racial diversity. While the educational benefits of the former are clear, those of the latter are less so. The connection between race and viewpoint is tenuous, at best.”

Indeed, the former dean of the law school admitted that, “I cannot recall an instance in which, for example, ideas were presented by a black student that have not also been expressed by white students.”

To argue that we can presume that people of a different color will have different viewpoints is to engage in the same type of stereotyping that should have expired decades ago.

Few involved in the admissions process at many universities really believe that race plays a minor factor in admissions or that viewpoint diversity is the real goal. The hidden, but by no means ignoble, truth is that the Liberal attitude, so pervasive on college campuses, worships at the altar of equal outcomes. Liberals believe that unless outcomes are equal, society is unfair or racist and that the state is justified in taking extreme steps to alleviate the disproportionately low representation of minorities. But to clearly express this view and not hide behind the diversity argument or the fiction that race plays only a minor role in admissions would be to acknowledge the unconstitutionality of their remedy.

William Raspberry, a Liberal African-American, sympathetic with preferential treatment in the admissions process, admits as much when he laments, “…we are required to dance on legal and definitional pinheads to defend policies we believe ought to be sustained for at least a while.”

The other sad truth is that some conservatives who rail against affirmative action do not demonstrate similar concern for persistent under-representation of minorities. As Raspberry complains, “…we want the rest of Americans to desire — really desire — fair outcomes.”

Efforts to alleviate the problems of minorities will not succeed if the primary modality of the solution starts at college admissions or at the time people apply for jobs. Our job collectively via government action and through individual and private efforts is to nurture those institutions, schools, churches, and families that will ultimately provide the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual resources necessary for success. As long as minorities are given preferential treatment and as long as they believe they cannot compete with out it, they will be relegated to second-class status.

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