There's a trial going on in federal court right now that many hope will put an end to affirmative action in college admissions. Asian students are suing Harvard, claiming that a quota system limits their admission to elite universities. Yesterday, they presented as evidence internal emails that revealed Harvard admitted students with ties to wealthy donors, including one who had promised them a new building.
I don't know why this comes as a shock to anyone.
When I attended (a pretty prestigious) college in the 80's, it was very well known. In fact, it was a running joke. You heard stories. A friend once told me of a classmate who failed to get admitted into any of the ivies, but his grandfather was persuaded to make a donation to Brandeis, who granted him admission.
But you didn't have to come from a wealthy family to get benefits. Another joke was that the easiest way to get into Harvard was to be from Wyoming, where the applicant pool was very shallow. If you attended school in the Boston metropolitan area, the field was a lot more competitive. I once met a guy at Amherst that flat out told me the only reason he got in was because he was from Delaware. You see, all elite universities brag that they have students from "all 50 states plus the District of Columbia," and then list how many foreign countries are represented in the student body. Apparently, it was a lot cheaper to give a scholarship to some dude from Delaware than to have all of your glossy brochures reprinted. "We have students from 49 of the 50 states" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Another tidbit revealed in this week's trial is that a third of incoming freshmen had a parent that attended Harvard. That's because Harvard gives extra weight to the students of alumns during the admissions process.
So, if schools give preference based on financial contributions, athletic abilities, what state you come from and family ties, why SHOULDN'T they give minority students a boost? After all, they are less likely to have wealthy parents who graduated from Harvard (and there are fewer of them from places like Wyoming.)
You know what would make all of this a lot easier? If colleges would just admit their whole admissions process was a scam. Let's be honest: there are a lot of students who are capable of attending Harvard and succeeding. Far more than the university could possibly admit. But just admitting everybody who qualified would remove that elite appeal of "selectivity" they have going for them.
There's a whole industry built up in America around getting your kids into Harvard and other elite schools. There's test prep, coaching, interviewers. People who know how to game the system stand a better chance than those who don't.
Personally, unlike a lot of other conservatives, I don't get worked up about racial quotas in college admissions. Maybe that's because I got into my school of choice. (And graduated. And am still paying for it.) The cold, hard truth is that if these elite schools DIDN'T give preferential treatment, they would admit about 10 minority students a year - all of whom would drop out after the first semester because they felt so isolated. Don't laugh. I've seen it happen. I myself felt like I had moved to a foreign country when I left for college in Massachusetts. They weather was different, it got dark too early, the food was weird, there was a whole separate slang (took me a month to figure out what a "frappe" was.) and nobody else followed the Bulldogs. I hated it so much that I called my father and begged him to let me come home.
And if Harvard DIDN'T put a cap on Asian students, they would be 80% of the student body.
Of course, there's that pesky law about discrimination on the basis of race. So, what are schools like Harvard supposed to do?
Here's my idea, first they need to admit that the whole thing is a racket. Admitting a student because he's a left-handed, transsexual, cello player from Des Moines doesn't make him any more qualified to attend than having a wealthy father who graduated class of 85. No matter how many criteria you use, there's always going to be someone who didn't get in that would have done just as well (and we'll think it's unfair that they weren't admitted.) Of course, they have to have SOME minimum standard. So, set a minimum GPA and SAT/ACT score and admit students by lottery. Drawing names out of a hat would be just as random as the current selection process. And it would be a lot more fair.
One reason we've all been laughing at Elizabeth Warren and her "Cherokee heritage" story is that it exposes just how ludicrous the whole push for "diversity" in college admissions has become. Frankly, I don't know anyone from the South that doesn't believe that they are "part Cherokee." My own mother always said that HER mother was part Cherokee. I just didn't put it down on my college application. Now I wish I HAD!
The other thing that these elitist schools could do to foster minority enrollment would be to offer ACTUAL scholarships. You see, these colleges all practice what they call "needs blind" admissions. That means, that they decide who they're going to let in BEFORE they look at the financial aid application that each student is required to fill out. (Unless your grandfather already promised them a new building, in which case your name goes to the top of the list.) Then, they see how much federal aid the student qualifies for first. After all, why tap into that billion dollar endowment when you can get the taxpayers to foot the bill? Then, after exhausting the Pell Grants, student loans and parental contributions, the school makes up the difference with its own aid in the form of grants, loans and work study. Many lower income students that COULD HAVE gone to Harvard, wisely choose not to because they don't want to graduate saddled with debt. A few years ago, there was a young man who made national news after being accepted to ALL of the Ivy League schools. And yet he chose to attend the University of Alabama, because they actually gave him a full scholarship. I'm sure that young man will go far in life, since he's already demonstrated good judgement.
I don't know if the federal court will side with the Asian students or not. They certainly have the facts and the law on their side. And they've done the nation a service by exposing what a crap shoot the college admissions process really is. Because some kids are rolling loaded dice.