Racism in Student Selection

Bill Powers, President of the University of Texas at Austin, put an op-ed into The Wall Street Journal in which he attempts to defend a particular version of “affirmative” action for admission to that university.  The case on which he commented is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which is before the Supreme Court this term.  In this case, a young woman was denied admission in favor of a less qualified black student because, she argues, she’s white.

The subtitle for Powers’ piece is this:

My university once kept blacks out.  Now at Texas we ensure that their grandchildren can enter.

But what he omitted to say there is that UTA once kept blacks out for purely racial reasons.  Now UTA “ensures that their grandchildren can enter” also on racial grounds.

Before I expand on that, though, a couple of smaller points.  Powers wrote,

UT finds itself back in court superficially for the same reason—considering race in admissions—but with just the opposite motivation.

No motive can justify racism.  Woodrow Wilson’s racism was for lofty motives—poor, inferior blacks needed the protections of segregation.  Nor do the basest of motives justify it, as the Jim Crow laws demonstrated.  Racism is…racist.

Powers also wrote

[T]he fiction that will be dispelled by Fisher is that minority students are being admitted at the expense of more-qualified white students.  There are no unqualified students admitted to UT[.]

This is nothing but a non sequitur.  Admitting less qualified students at the expense of more qualified students in no way implies that unqualified students are being admitted.  Nor is this the argument Ms Fisher is making: she’s averring that race played the role, not qualifications.

But from his flawed logic, as illustrated by these minor nits, flows the larger problem.  Powers made his case thusly:

[D]iversity isn’t only acceptable but desirable in all aspects of life, especially education.  In my 38 years in the classroom, I often have seen how a diverse classroom enriches discussion, provides valuable insights and offers a deeper learning experience.


[W]e employ an entirely holistic review in which race is one of many factors along with leadership, extracurricular activities, awards, work experience, family-income level and community service.

With this argument, he’s demonstrated the bankruptcy of his race-based (however diffuse) admission policy.  That breadth of diversity for which he seeks—leadership, extracurricular activities, awards, work experience, family-income level, and community service—already is wide.  Moreover, those last two, family income and community service (which carry within them the diversity of communities in which his applicants live, that income is earned, and that service is performed), are alone richly diverse, and they contain ethnicity and race within them.  With that broad diversity built into his selection paradigm, there’s no need to consider race separately.  Doing so is just separate but equal papered over.

What diversity actually would accomplish, were it not for Powers’ double counting of race in  it, would be to give all disadvantaged applicants equal opportunities for access, rather than giving superior access to those belonging to Powers’ favored race.  Giving preference to race—regardless of the strength of that preference—is to give preference to race.  There’s no amount of lipstick that can be smeared on this bigotry by those who should know better that can disguise that.

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