The Universal Notebook: An end to affirmative action

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Based solely on academic merit as reflected in GPA and SAT scores, next year’s entering class at Harvard may consist entirely of valedictorians, the majority of them women, since 70 percent of American high school valedictorians are female.

That’s what the Supreme Court has mandated with its wrong-headed decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Edgar Allen BeemI also imagine a disproportionate percentage of that valedictory class will be Asian Americans, for while Asian Americans are only 5 percent of the U.S. population, they make up almost a quarter of some recent Harvard classes. Students for Fair Admissions began as a group representing anonymous Asian American students who felt they had been discriminated against because Harvard admitted Black students whose grades were not as good as theirs.

The simplistic conservative rationale for the 6-3 Supreme Court decision that will prohibit institutions of higher learning from using race as a factor in admissions is “Everyone should be treated the same.” But treating everyone the same is only fair if they have the same histories and backgrounds.

Equity, inclusiveness and justice guide most institutions of higher education in admissions decisions. Affirmative action recognizes that African Americans suffer disadvantages in everything from education and economics to health care. So treating them “the same” is not necessarily fair.

A private college should be able to admit whomever it pleases based on stated criteria in an attempt to create a representative campus community. The Students for Fair Admissions decision is just one more example of the court dictating public policy.

What’s next? Will colleges be prohibited from considering gender in admissions? Geographic distribution? Athletic ability? Extracurricular activities? Legacy admissions are already being attacked.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who grew up in a Georgia community that spoke in the Afro-Creole dialect of Gullah-Geechee, is the poster child for affirmative action. He is only on the Supreme Court because he filled the bill as a Black Republican attorney, not because he is one of the best jurists in the country. But he opposes affirmative action because he doesn’t want to believe he has been given preferential treatment. He has.

In fact, every member of the Supreme Court was appointed for reasons other than merit. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, for example, is on the court because she is a conservative woman who can be relied on to rule against a woman’s right to abortion. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is on the court because she is a liberal Black woman. 

Every justice reflects a political choice. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong with Supreme Court justices ruling that the rest of the country can’t play the same game they play.

The Supreme Court should reflect the diversity of this nation and so should the student bodies of America’s major colleges and universities.

In her dissent, Justice Jackson writes, “The majority seems to think that race blindness solves the problem of race-based disadvantage. But the irony is that requiring colleges to ignore the initial race-linked opportunity gap between applicants … will inevitably widen that gap, not narrow it. It will delay the day that every American has an equal opportunity to thrive, regardless of race.”

Affirmative action is an attempt to put the American ideals of justice and equality into practice by mitigating America’s long history of white privilege. The Roberts Court is very swiftly undermining the ideals of this country and the constitution upon which it stands with decisions that ignore precedent and simply do whatever the hell the conservative majority wants.   

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen review column.

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