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Commentary

The Public’s View: End College Racial Preferences



A new poll from Boston public broadcasting station WGBH shows that Americans very strongly oppose showing preferences for minority groups in college admissions. Some 72% of the population disagree with the proposition that race should be a consideration in college admissions--three times the proportion (24%) that support Supreme Court rulings allowing some consideration of race.

Americans generally seem to accept Martin Luther King’s 1963 peroration that people should "not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," a controversial position today on many campuses. They are disgusted by university obsession with race, with obsequious college officials fawning over campus protesters of perceived racial injustice who disrupt classes or intimidate members of the college community not bowing to their demands. Heather MacDonald, herself shouted down at Claremont McKenna College by students intolerant of views other than their own, has written a book (The Diversity Delusion), filled with examples of outrageous treatment by college administrators of their faculty challenging racist university policies.

Yet most colleges remain obsessed with racial considerations, ostensibly in order to promote diversity in the make-up of the student body, a concept that in principle most of the 1,000 respondents in the WGBH poll supported. Many studies have shown that at many selective admission schools, African-Americans are admitted with SAT scores averaging 200 or more points lower than those of Asian or white students. In their single minded determination to get more black, Hispanic and Native American students, some schools are eliminating admission tests like the SAT or ACT, emphasizing a so-called "holistic" approach--decision-making largely determined by the subjective assessments of admissions officials and/or committees. The "diversity" bureaucracies get bigger, more expensive and interfere more in academic decision-making. Thus the impending lawsuit asserting pervasive racial discrimination at Harvard brought on behalf of Asian students potentially could dramatically impact the future of race-based campus policies. Meanwhile, the research of Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor show that affirmative action has perversely worked in law schools, often mismatching students with schools, actually reducing minority access to good jobs (because large numbers fail the bar exam).

On the few occasions where the public has had an opportunity to express themselves through voter referendums, they have almost uniformly opposed allowing race to enter into college hiring, admission or contracting decisions. An African-American, Ward Connerly, led the Proposition 209 initiative that largely successfully constrained affirmative action in California. Voters in four other states with diverse political cultures--Washington, Michigan, Nebraska and Arizona--have similarly approved initiatives similar to Proposition 209. To my knowledge, only one set of voters (in Colorado) has rejected (very narrowly) such a proposal.

Given the feelings of most Americans that race should not play a role in admissions or hiring, why are campuses so hellbent on promoting preferential race-based admissions? Most American universities have a strong left-of-center political orientation. University presidents maximize their campus popularity and enhance job security by catering to the political tastes of powerful progressive forces on campus.

Bucking popular sentiment, however, comes with consequences in a democracy. 2017 Pew Research and Gallup polls suggest public support of universities has declined over time. Enrollments are falling nationally partly because of a 21st-century decline in birth rates, but also other factors seemingly are at work. Schools where race enters into significant campus protests have been particularly hard hit by sharp enrollment declines--the University of Missouri and Evergreen State College are prime examples. Weak public support for universities has contributed to state government financial subsidies for universities rising rather tepidly during the recent expansion, in some cases to levels still below that prevailing when the Great Recession began. An increasing number of employers are dropping requirements for college degrees for some job openings, reflecting a shortage of available workers but also perhaps some sense that colleges are out of sync with the real world.

Younger Americans in particular are becoming more disenchanted with college. The WGBH poll website reports that "Only four in 10 under 40, a demographic that includes college age and recent grads, believe college is worth attending....by comparison, seven in 10 Americans over 40 feel college is worth attending." By ignoring public sentiment on race issues, universities are fiscally speaking cutting their own throats.


Richard K. Vedder is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ohio University, and co-author (with Lowell Gallaway) of the award-winning Independent Institute book, Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America.


From Richard K. Vedder
CAN TEACHERS OWN THEIR OWN SCHOOLS?: New Strategies for Educational Excellence
In Can Teachers Own Their Own Schools?, Richard Vedder examines the economics, history, and politics of education and argues that public schools should be privatized. Privatized public schools would benefit from competition, market discipline, and the incentives essential to produce cost-effective, educational quality, and attract the additional funding and expertise needed to revolutionize school systems.







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