One of the least publicized but still highly significant results from this years elections came last week in Washington state, where voters rejected a move promoted by the states progressive establishment, allowing state universities to pursue affirmative action policies that favored some racial groups over others.
In November 1996, the voters of California approved the California Civil Rights Initiative, making it unconstitutional to discriminate in favor or against someone on the basis of sex, ethnicity or race in governmental hiring, contracting or public education, including admissions at state universities. Successful in California, the promoters (led largely by African-American entrepreneur Ward Connerly) successfully had similar legislation (not always constitutional amendments) approved in several other rather large states, including Washington and ultimately (2006) Michigan. The Washington Initiative 200 passed with more than 58% voter support in 1998.
Fast forward to 2019. Progressives in the university community and in the legislature do not like the restraints the civil rights initiative imposes, especially the legal difficulty it creates for race-conscious admissions decisions. As the continuing Harvard legal action clearly attests, race is importantly considered in admissions at most of the nations top universities, and from university rhetoric diversity and inclusion seems to trump learning as a primary objective at some schools.
The Washington legislature, dominated by progressive Democrats and supported by the governor and other political heavyweights, decided to enact legislation effectively negating Initiative 200, which was not an amendment to the Washington constitution. But they did not reckon on the fierce and ultimately successful opposition of a growing political force: the states large population of Asian ancestry. They mobilized to put on the ballot the pro-affirmative action proposition approved by the legislature. They were effectively outspent, as they had to devote considerable resources merely to get petitions signed to get the issue put before the voters. Nonetheless, they narrowly prevailed.
Washington is a pretty left-leaning state. Nine of its 12 Members of Congress are Democrats, as is its governor. Democrats solidly control both the House of Representatives and Senate. Yet the voters sided with the Asian-Americans arguing that race (and other biological attributes) should not be a factor in making decisions about who to admit to colleges and universities. The nearly religious devotion of college administrators and faculty to making hiring, contracting and college admissions decisions partly on racial considerations does not comport with the wishes of the people.
Again, I observe: in a democracy, there are limits to the extent to which universities, heavily supported by governments, can pursue policies that the American people mostly disagree with. Ultimately universities, even so-called private ones, are wards of the state, receiving large direct government subsides (state university appropriations), or indirect subsidies, such as tax deductions for university gifts.
The American people do not like the fact that loud protesters can disrupt individuals from expressing their opinions on campus; they dont like the racism arising from universities picking a student for admission over another more academically qualified student because some racial designations are considered better than others. They dont like the excessive costs of schools either. Hence, opinion polls have shown public support for universities is trending downward.
Add to all of this some disquieting fiscal reality. Our nation is heavily debt-ridden, with the federal government currently borrowing $3 billion a day to pay its bills at a time of near-record low unemployment. Talk of expensive new government programs like free college or student loan forgiveness simply is not fiscally responsible, unless we increased taxes by, say, 20% at the federal level.
To be sure, not all higher education is created equal. Harvard will be a major institution 50 years from now unless American capitalism itself dies, if for no other reason than it has an endowment approaching $40 billion. But, using a Washington state example, will Evergreen State College survive? A school with a far left reputation, Evergreens enrollment has trended sharply downward, particularly since the infamous 2017 incident where white students and faculty were asked to stay away from campus for a day. Citizen tolerance for seemingly outlandish behavior is very limited. Universities are not islands unto themselves.