Here is The New York Times columnist in the wake of the Supreme Court ending affirmative action today:
We’ve been debating affirmative action since I was in diapers, and increasingly the Supreme Court has gotten into this issue, and now it has ruled basically to eliminate racial preferences in college admissions.
On the whole, I’m probably sad that affirmative action is going away, but I’m hopeful that we can take advantage of this moment, whether we’re angry about it or happy about it, to think in a much bigger way about who should get into what schools. I think it’s time for us to step back and look at the whole system and really produce a system that will be fair to students from whatever background.
So in the 1950s, Harvard University decided they weren’t just going to accept the sons of the elite. They needed to accept the people who were smarter, frankly, and from a broader swath of American society. So they decided: We’re going to take G.P.A. much more seriously, and we’re going to take the SAT test much more seriously, and everybody will be able to get in as long as they qualify.
Several decades later, they haven’t gotten rid of the elite; they’ve just swapped out one elite for another elite. Harvard and other schools over the last 50 or 60 years have made the competition to get in ferocious. And if you grew up in an upper-middle-class home with your parents investing tens of thousands of dollars in your upbringing, you just have a leg up over kids whose parents can’t afford to make those kinds of investments.
So we’ve wound up with a system where rich kids dominate elite schools. There was research done in 2017 by an economist, Raj Chetty, who found that students from families in the top 1 percent of earners were 77 times as likely as poor students to be admitted to the Ivy League. And you’ve got school after school after school where you’ve got more kids from families in the top 1 percent than families in the bottom 60 percent.
So these elite places become these little islands where rich people pass down their advantages to their kids. They marry each other. They invest massively in their kids. Their kids then go to these exclusive schools. They move to the same few metro areas. And people who don’t grow up in these kinds of resource-rich families are really left behind. We’ve created a caste society based on who gets into what exclusive colleges.
So I view the college admissions process through my own personal lens. Like everyone else, by today’s standards, I wouldn’t qualify for any of the elite schools. I went to a public high school outside of Philadelphia. I didn’t do particularly well in high school. I didn’t graduate in the top third of my class. My G.P.A. was probably around a 3.0. And yet in those days, the University of Chicago, where I ended up going, admitted 70 percent of the applicants. I was lucky, and I learned to work while I was in college, and I started doing better at writing and things like that. And so I managed to have a very nice career, way more successful than anything I ever expected. But I wouldn’t have made it under today’s regime.
As an adult, I’ve gotten to see the college admissions process from the other end of the spectrum, from a perspective of a professor and also from the perspective of a parent. The process is not only divisive but doesn’t give people later in life a fair chance to alter the trajectory of their life.
I think colleges should select students holistically. They should look at their grades, they should look at their test scores, but they should also look at their resilience. They should look for example of kindness and generosity in their lives. And then, well, we live in a class-divided society, and so we should have a system that’s biased a bit toward kids who grew up in poorer homes and didn’t have the resources growing up that the richer kids had.
Read the rest here.
I am reminded of Richard Rodriguez’s critique of affirmative action in his 1982 memoir Hunger of Memory. I looked for my copy today, but I think I loaned it to my 22-year-old daughter which means that I may never see it again.