Affirmative Action Is Not About Whites

It appears Donald Trump has riled the left again.  To quote a Star Wars saying, “That doesn’t sound to hard.”  Specifically, in a win for conservatives it was reported by the NYT that the Trump administration is opening “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.”

Citing an internal memo the paper, the Times article raised the hackles of the left and academics who miraculously found evidence this meant more white students would be allowed in schools.  By evidence, I mean imagination.

For 40 years, conservatives and libertarians have questioned the wisdom of raced based admission preferences.  When the Supreme Court in the mid 70’s found “diversity” was a “compelling government interest” it opened up a can of worms (like Roe vs. Wade).  This created a brand new right for millions to be vaulted to the front of the line but also gave a brand new power to the government and university officials.  It was bound to have unintended consequences.

However, the Supreme Court hardly seemed settled on the issue.  In Bakke, Grutter, and Fisher, the Court found in favor of universities by only one vote and found the preferences must be limited.  Among the general public, race based admissions are unpopular.  Voters in states as different as California and Michigan have barred the practice.

That’s important because it means affirmative action is not a political issue.  Rather, it is a ideological divide among camps who see diversity as a good thing and others who question the wisdom of diversity at all costs.  For example, does a college student learn better if another student of color is beside them?  Maybe.  But probably not.  In their chosen profession they are going to have to learn in diverse settings regardless.

Proponents of affirmative action have never had to reconcile the practical consequences of race based admissions with their lofty ideals.  Until now.  A bevy of new studies have found these admissions policies disenfranchise students at the lower end of the applicant pool (hint, they are not all white).

One of the most interesting findings on race based admissions preferences is known as “Mismatch Theory. This theory contends these admissions policies force students into academic environments they are unprepared for.  This is particularly true for STEM fields and minority students being accepted into majority-white, elitist schools.  Such policies might make white liberals swoon, but tell that to the Hispanic kid who feels out of place.

It is important to note when the affirmative action era began, it could be viewed as a pitched battle between white and black students.  But, with our society becoming more diverse and Hispanics and Asians increasingly entering the age of being college eligible the impacts of the era have become less black and white.

Take the Asian community.  The average SAT scores of Asian-American, the fastest growing ethnic group in America, easily exceeds those of whites, followed by Hispanics and blacks.  As a result, Asians suffer under race based admissions policies.  According to a Princeton University Study of 120,000 applicants to elite universities in 2004, looking at SAT scores, “”Asians experience the greatest disadvantage in admissions vis-à-vis other comparable racial/ethnic groups.” The researchers claimed that being Asian is “comparable to a loss of 50 SAT points.”  Some studies have found that Asian students have to score 150 points higher on average than their white peers to get into some elite schools.

Compare this to CalTech, where race based admissions policies are banned.  In 1992, Asian enrollment was 25 percent.  In 2013, it had grown to 43 percent.  Asian students are not disenfranchised here.

Framing the Trump administration’s actions as benefiting whites suits the progressive academics at the Times.  But, as my brother says, we don’t argue with facts.  The memo obtained by the Times said nothing about a particular race and only indicated it would join a lawsuit by Asian students against Harvard for race based admissions policies.

As mentioned before, this is not a particularly partisan issue, as California Democrats learned in 2014.  The State Senate voted to put the repeal of Proposition 209 (banning race based admissions in 1996) on the ballot despite the fact Asian-Americans and Pacific-Islanders made up only 14 percent of high school graduates but a whopping 49 percent of Cal-Berkley first year students in 2012.  The response from the community and even some conservatives was swift and a coalition of Democratic legislators announced they would block the bill, dooming the effort.

It is very unlikely the Trump administration is going to go all in and deny non-white students admissions to big and small universities.  Rather, it is more likely the Trump administration will increasingly scrutinize race based admissions policies at elite universities and join lawsuits alleging discrimination.  One such case, filed by a group of Asian students to the Departments of Education and Justice, alleges in a 46 page complaint that Harvard and other Ivy League colleges have discriminated against Asian Americans in their admissions processes in the form of fixed enrollment numbers and racial stereotypes and prejudices.

Asian-Americans are a solid Democratic constituency.  They have not voted for a Republican President since 1992 and backed Hillary Clinton by 40 points last November.  However, in Virginia, Georgia, and even California, they have backed local Republicans.   It’s unlikely using the power of the federal government to demand greater transparency and limit reverse racism will net much electorally in the near future.  However, it will promote real racial equality, merit on on effort, and in the long-term might accelerate the significant shifts in the electoral realignment of second and later immigrant Americans.

So far, a majority of Asian-Americans favor affirmative action policies.  The 2016 Asian Community survey found 64 percent favored these policies and 25 percent opposed them.  However, as the California experience shows, poll numbers only tell you so much before the community reacts to policies they see as detrimental to their action.  Trump and the Department of Education highlighting the inadequacies of race based admissions policies is not just good politics but it is also just plain fair.




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