The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Justices Back Ban on Race as Factor in College Entry,” once again stirs up the bitterness of racial conflict in a zero-sum area, college admissions in a ruling by the Supreme Court.
College admissions is zero sum because there are a limited number of spaces available for each freshman class, and accepting one applicant inevitably involves denying another. Yet while racial preferences are admittedly a heavy-handed way of making up for previous discrimination, they do serve a role in ensuring diversity and considering factors other than pure academic scores in admissions decisions.
The Supreme Court claims that it is only letting voters decide about these programs, but by explicitly forbidding them, Michigan voters are allowing colleges to consider other extenuating circumstances but not race. That ban is a racial decision in itself because it means that fewer African Americans and Hispanics will be part of the freshman class.
In a perfect world, affirmative action would not be necessary or even desirable, but we live in a society where race continues to play a role in K-12 success rates. Given that situation, affirmative action gives people from underprivileged backgrounds a chance at success and social mobility. Until K-12 becomes a level playing field, colleges should consider multiple factors in their admissions policy.