With the Supreme Court set to hear argument this week on the use of racial preferences in student admissions by state universities, the deans of Harvard and Yale law schools ( Martha Minow and Robert Post) defend this practice in a Washington Post op-ed. Part of the defense consists, as usual, of touting the supposed virtues of a “diverse” student body. We have written about this tired, disingenuous argument in the past and will do so again as this latest case – Fisher v. University of Texas – moves toward resolution.
But Minow and Post present a more novel argument, one that makes the “diversity” riff seem well-reasoned and intellectually honest by comparison. Minow and Post suggest that their institutions consider race only insofar as it helps them assess the “character” of applicants. They do so by considering what applicants say about “the role that race has played in their lives.”
Let’s try to understand this. Elite institutions like Harvard and Yale typically admit classes in which Blacks are represented in percentages vastly greater than the percentages that would result from consideration of only objective criteria – essentially grades and test scores. A class that, under race blind criteria, might be only 3 percent Black will end up with, say, 10 percent Black representation.
Are we to believe that this huge bumps is results from the superior character of Black applicants as a group? In the eyes of Minow and Post, Black character must exist on a significantly higher plane than White character.
Long ago, employers and educational institutions sometimes justified racial discrimination based on claims that Whites possessed superior character. Blacks sometimes were said to be lazy, for example. But now it is Blacks whose character has been deemed massively superior.
What evidence of this superiority do Minow and Post rely on? In practice, as their op-ed makes clear, they rely on the ability of Blacks to write about race in some form of personal essay. In other words, superior character resides in the ability of Black applicants to BS law professors and admissions officers who are dying to be BSed. No one verifies the stuff that appears in these personal statements about race. Heck, no one verified Barack Obama’s BS about the role race played in his life until he had been president of the United States for three years. At that point, even the sympathetic David Maraniss found that Obama was making it up.
In the context of law school admissions, there is one fact that provides a real glimpse into the character of applicants: How did they do during their four years in college? Many law school applicants will already have received preferential admission from the undergraduate institution they attended (I wonder how often this fact makes its way into the personal essay on how race affected the applicant’s life). What did they make of this opportunity? Allowing for, say, a year to acclimate themselves, did their performance as an undergraduate demonstrate the qualities Minow and Post say are important, such as “curiosity,” “drive,” and “determination”?
If so, their college transcript will reflect it, and chances are they won’t need the massive artificial edge conferred through race based admissions. Either way, though, performance is always a more reliable indicator of character than words.
But I doubt that Minow and Post are interested in individual character (isn’t that just a “social construct,” anyway). More likely, their interest consists of admitting a large number of Blacks (and perhaps other minorities) because they think it’s the right thing to do as a matter of “social justice.” One could respect them for this if they were more honest.