Before the George Floyd’s death a month ago perhaps the leading story in race relations was the growing momentum in California to roll back the voter-approved prohibition on racial preferences in public contracting and university admissions. The University of California has taken the first step with its decision to abolish the SAT and ACT tests for admission purposes (against the recommendation of the faculty, incidentally), with the substitute screens for admission left vague at the moment. This opens the door for an expansion of explicit race-conscious affirmative action admissions and hiring.
But there’s a larger backstory to this move. If you pay close attention to the academic left (I know, a dirty job which I do so that you don’t have to), you will have quietly noticed the last few years a slowly building drive to question the idea of meritocracy. (See also this article from a Yale law school professor.) The irony here is that the idea of meritocracy, and the development of achievement tests like the SAT, were the invention of liberals to open up university admissions to talented students and end the days of universities (especially elite ones like Harvard and Yale) being mostly finishing schools for the wealthy and connected elite.
But the problem for the left is that at Berkeley, Harvard, and other elite universities, not enough officially sanctioned minorities (meaning blacks and hispanics) score well enough to qualify for admission on a straight-up basis, while too many Asians (who are increasingly considered “white” by the identity-mongers) score so highly on the SATs that Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley, and other elite universities could fill perhaps 40 percent of their freshman classes right now with Asians. UCLA has for a while now been said to be the “University of Caucasians Lost among Asians.”
Meanwhile, there is a torpedo in the water heading for the current “diversity” regime of race-based preferences. I suspect that the drive to jettison the SAT is a pre-emptive move in anticipation of an eventual adverse Supreme Court ruling in the lawsuit over Harvard’s discrimination against Asian applicants. If the regime of “diversity” and affirmative action admission is to survive, colleges will have to come up with a new scheme of “holistic” admission screening to get around the problem of meritocracy. Better to get a head start.
As everyone familiar with the history of the “diversity and inclusion” regime knows, it all began with Justice Lewis Powell’s straddle in the famous Bakke case in 1978 that struck down explicit racial quotas for admission to the University of California, but with the caveat Powell supplied that “diversity” could be a “plus factor” in admissions. At the risk of upsetting Gail Heriot and a lot of other loyal readers, I wonder whether we’d have been better off if the Supreme Court had simply upheld explicit racial quotas in Bakke, instead of bequeathing us this deceptive regime of “diversity,” which pretends to be in service of equality when it is clearly not. Yes, it makes a total hash of the “equal protection of the law” in the 14th Amendment, but at least it would end the dishonesty and corruption of the diversity racket. Maybe Justice Gorsuch will save us when the Harvard case reaches the Court, and re-legitimizes explicit quotas. A lot of “diversity and inclusion” bureaucrats on campus can be laid off. It might have the salutary effect of making explicit what is going on, and place the identity politics crowd on the defensive, as I expect explicit quotas would be universally unpopular, except among white liberals.
Postscript: we are told endlessly that economic inequality among racial groups is the result of “systemic racism,” “white supremacy,” “neoliberalism,” and so forth. Yet we have this data to ponder: