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Affirming Equality

By Zachary K. Goldman

This is the first—and probably the last—time that I will ever say this, but for once President George W. Bush has gotten it right. Earlier this month, he came out against the use of the point-based affirmative action admissions system currently in place at the University of Michigan. The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Michigan case finally allows us to confront the issue of race in college admissions head on and move towards a race-blind university admissions system that truly gives an equal opportunity to all.

Undergraduate admissions decisions at the University of Michigan are currently based on a system that awards applicants points for various achievements. A high score on the SAT coupled with a high secondary school GPA will yield a large number of points, and thus a greater chance of acceptance. Under the university’s affirmative action program, however, 20 points are awarded for the “achievement” of being black, Hispanic or Native American. If prospective students are of any other racial or ethnic group they have nothing to fall back on except the merits of their applications. Simply put, affirmative action is discriminatory because it establishes standards for university admissions based exclusively on race.

Automatically adding 20 points to the application of a black person would have the exact same effect on acceptance rates as automatically deducting 20 points from the application of a white person. Such blatantly inequitable and racially-biased policies cannot be countenanced in today’s society. In an age where college admissions have become brutally competitive, giving a significant number of “extra points” to an applicant merely because he or she is black or Hispanic is at odds with everything that is meritocratic about higher education today. The Michigan program denies applicants the right to be judged as individuals. Instead it attempts to artificially elevate a wronged group and “right a past wrong.”

While campus diversity is valuable and should be pursued as an end in itself, affirmative action is predicated upon the preservation of the discriminatory and divisive system that brought about its inception. These double standards distract admissions committees from their true goal: creating a diverse class without undermining the meritocratic foundations of our society.

The government and educational institutions would do better to focus their efforts on addressing the root cause of racial imbalance in higher education. America as a society must ensure that the largely minority (and largely failing) inner-city schools are brought up to standards that will guarantee that everyone’s access to educational opportunity is based on merit. While increasing the quality of inner-city education may not be the immediate, quick fix solution that politicians are looking for, ultimately it is the only way to achieve a university environment that values both diversity and success. In the meantime, the universities should increase minority recruitment and outreach programs to ensure that they maintain a suitable level of diversity on their campuses in the short term.

Many proponents of the Michigan program cite instances of preference in the admission of legacy students and recruited athletes as justification. But these other programs are themselves morally bankrupt, and cannot be used to justify affirmative action. While it is no secret that the children of alumni have an increased chance of acceptance, legacy admissions policies also undermine the meritocratic foundations of our society. Unfortunately, not all schools have the financial freedom to deny these candidates admission—but as universities become wealthier they will hopefully move away from these inequitable policies.

Similarly, athletic recruiting programs are injurious to notions of fairness in college admissions. But these too have come under intense scrutiny of late. Colleges across the country, especially those in the Ivy League, have undertaken a thorough reexamination of their recruiting policies. Indeed, just this past summer, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents reduced the number of football recruits that each school is allowed from 35 to 30. These trends indicate a decreased tolerance for unfair admissions policies, of which affirmative action is a prime example

Those who defend our inalienable right to free speech must never hinder the ability of another to speak his mind. So too must the leaders of minority communities be ever vigilant against the menace of discrimination. While race should be considered as a sometimes-integral part of an applicant’s personal background, policies that discriminate against a person, whether that person is white, black, brown or purple, are immoral and antiquated. It is time that we move past race and start assessing people based on their merit, not on their skin color.

Zachary K. Goldman ’05, an advertising manager of The Crimson, is a history concentrator in Dunster House.

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