The reality of “reverse discrimination” in higher ed

William Ayers brings the reality check:

Setting aside whether this sort of initiative within the DoJ is a good or a bad thing – people can form their own opinions on that subject – I can say from inside higher education that this effort, if it ever gets off the ground, will be far less significant than it might appear. There are relatively few institutions vulnerable to this kind of investigation. Most universities will be ignored, because admissions works very differently in different kinds of places. [emphases mine]

The wealthy private elite institutions – the kinds of places that the NY Times writes about whenever it talks about “higher education” – have long ago insulated themselves from this charge by adopting very complex wholistic admissions practices. Race is but one consideration among many, and so much of their process is subjective that being able to credibly argue that any given student was turned away primarily because she is white will be impossible. Yale, Harvard, Amherst and Williams turn away thousands of students every year who are just as qualified as the ones they admit – that’s the nature of the game. No investigating lawyer is going to wade into that world, because there is no victory to be had there…

Over in the public university area, the vast majority of public institutions are regional and desperate for students. Two that I have worked for, Wright State and the University of Toledo, will take any and all qualified applicants. They and a host of similar schools – Youngstown State, SE Missouri State, Millersville University, most of the SUNY campuses, Central Florida, and a thousand more – are enrollment and tuition-driven. The notion of having to select some students over others on the basis of race – or anything else – is irrelevant to these schools…

That leaves only the flagship public universities like Michigan and UT-Austin. It’s no coincidence that the major affirmative action cases in the last two decades came from those two schools. These schools, and a handful of others around the country (Ohio State, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Florida or Florida State, Ole Miss, Penn State, Minnesota, UW-Madison, etc.) have enough cache and status that they get a lot more applicants than they can accept. They do care about diversity (which, according to the Supreme Court, they are allowed to do), and they do take race into account. Because of the Fisher case and others, all of them have long ago adopted admissions procedures that stay well within the boundaries of what the court says is Constitutionally permissible.

So we’re really talking about a small handful of universities here – maybe 30 in all – that are potential targets of any kind of DoJ effort. And all of them have spent years making sure that their admissions processes can withstand legal challenges. They don’t get caught up in the kind of accusation leveled against UT-Austin so many years ago.

In other words, this “effort” is unlikely to affect 99% of America’s universities, and it is unlikely to actually change much even in the few that might be targeted. This is pure symbolic politics – sound and fury signifying nothing, to borrow from the Bard. To my colleagues in higher education: don’t panic. This, too, shall pass.

Okay, no panic here.  But I still find this highly problematic.  The last thing we need is more aggrieved white people convinced that every desire they fail to obtain is because of unfair affirmative action.  We have a problem with race and equality in this country.  Efforts like this only make it worse.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to The reality of “reverse discrimination” in higher ed

  1. Terrant says:

    Even if there is something to it, it can be hidden behind other indirect requirements.

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    All the talk is to show the Republican base that their leaders care for them, keeping their voters loyal.

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