Affirmative action is a very tough issue, which I swing back and forth on. Usually, I think that it has gone too far, but I'm not sure what to do about it. Is imposing a rule that aims to defeat discrimination considered discrimination itself? That case certainly can be made. But if there is some discrimination occurring (and while it is much reduced I can’t say that it’s zero), what other options do we have? Should we throw up our hands and declare that any cure would be worse than the disease?
One way to look at this issue, rather than asking what cannot be considered in admission decisions, is asking what can be considered. Can life experience be considered? Family circumstances? Obstacles overcome? Dedication to learning? Or only grades and scores on standardized tests?
Part of that is to ask what the purpose of college admissions (and colleges themselves) is. I can think of several possibilities. If they are to be viewed purely as private entities out for maximum financial gain, wealthy well-connected applicants would probably get preference. They would be most likely to make future donations and add to the prestige of the school – what school doesn’t like trumpeting the story of their graduates being in high positions?
A lot of people recognize that colleges perform, to some degree, a public educational function, especially when it comes to state schools. That suggests different admission goals. Merit is easily claimed as the ultimate measure of admissions, but how can that be measured? Are we looking for students who would get good grades in college, or do well in their after-college lives? How do you measure that? Much as we try to come up with objective measures, such as high school GPAs and test scores, we all know how bad those measures are. Plenty of low-score people excel in college and life, and plenty of high-score people don’t.
Should race be a factor all by itself, which outweighs everything else? I don’t think so. Should race be totally irrelevant? I don’t think so. But the colleges and legislatures and courts are trying to find a rule that can be applied in every case, and I don’t think any such rule makes sense. There comes a point where the only answer is “well, that’s what was decided – you didn’t get in, and someone else did”. Not everyone who can make a case for admission is going to get admission, and that’s life. If there is evidence of systematic discrimination, whether conscious or not, then we can look at whether someone’s thumb is being put on the scale. But accepting the inherent subjectiveness of the process seems to be the only way to avoid every rejected student getting in line at the courthouse. How to get from here to there is the sticking point.
My apologies for the overuse of question marks in this post.
I started out on Burgundy but soon hit the harder stuff. Bob Dylan, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
How on earth did I get 7 QPs?