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Demosthenes's avatar

Trump to put an end to consideration of race in college admissions: good or bad thing?

Asked by Demosthenes (9792points) July 4th, 2018

From the article:

In a joint letter, the Education and Justice Departments announced that they had rescinded seven Obama-era policy guidelines on affirmative action, which, the departments said, “advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution.”


A highly anticipated case is pitting Harvard against Asian-American students who say one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions has systematically excluded some Asian-American applicants to maintain slots for students of other races. That case is clearly aimed at the Supreme Court.

I don’t support affirmative action as a principle (especially when it causes unfair discrimination as the Harvard suit claims), so I consider this a good move by the Trump administration.

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24 Answers

Irukandji's avatar

Republicans: “This private club should be allowed to exclude anyone it wants.”

Also Republicans: “This private university should not be allowed to exclude anyone it wants.”

zenvelo's avatar

Why should Harvard, a private institution, be restrained from seeking a diverse student body? Those who are not accepted have no claim upon Harvard.

As to public universities, a diverse student body makes for a healthy exchange of ideas. There are qualifications beyond just grades and test scores.

kritiper's avatar

Good. No person’s skin color or ethnicity or what-have-you should determine anything.

Demosthenes's avatar

@zenvelo I have to laugh a little at that considering how solidly left-wing most universities skew and the way free speech is stifled on campuses these days. If you really want diversity of ideas, don’t silence every student who isn’t a Marxist. I’m exaggerating, but only a little bit.

notnotnotnot's avatar

^ Ask yourself why you believe these things to be true. They are not.

SavoirFaire's avatar

You’re against equal access to educational opportunities “as a principle”? Interesting. In any case, racial diversity serves an educational purpose (as demonstrated by the work of many education researchers, including James Coleman, Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, Diana Cordova-Cobo, Kenneth Henson, and Ben Eller). Integrated schools see better educational outcomes for all classes of students, and also see improvements in hard to teach life skills (something that has impressed many businesses to institute their own diversity programs).

@kritiper “No person’s skin color or ethnicity or what-have-you should determine anything.”

Indeed. That’s why affirmative action was invented: to undermine the previous system in which skin color and ethnicity could be used to exclude those who were not born Anglo-Saxon whites and reward those who were. Meanwhile, modern affirmative action programs are merit based (which is to say that you have to qualify for a spot independently before race can be considered as a factor).

@Demosthenes “I have to laugh a little at that considering how solidly left-wing most universities skew.”

The numbers aren’t exactly clear on this score. The most recent surveys suggest that about 60% of academics identify as liberal, whereas the most complete studies suggest that the number is 44% (which is less than the 46% in that study who identified as moderates). And of course, liberalism is a center-right political philosophy (something that most people don’t seem to realize, but that academics generally understand).

But sure, that’s still to the left of the American political center, which is probably the only perspective you are familiar with. And in any case, it leaves self-identified conservatives somewhere between 9% and 12% of academics in the US. So If you’re only looking at the number of conservatives to determine the liberal lean of a university (which is an absurd methodology considering how many alternatives to liberalism there are other than conservatism), then it will look even worse.

Nevertheless, the concentration of a particular political ideology is highly correlated to academic discipline. Sociology departments are overwhelmingly leftist (actual leftist, not liberal), but economics departments tend to be less so and business schools skew conservative. Political science departments tend to be mixed (for pragmatic/educational reasons as much as anything), as are philosophy departments. Furthermore, work by Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner suggests that these numbers are a result of self-sorting (conservatives choosing not to pursue academic careers), and work by Amy Binder suggests that conservative students thrive even at liberal universities (and thus are making these choices based on their personal values and not because they feel unwelcome).

It also doesn’t help that conservative leaders routinely attack academia, which makes it more likely that academics with ideas that might seem more aligned with conservatism on their face will nevertheless identify as liberal politically.

“Seems like true diversity would include a diversity of ideas itself rather than just skin color.”

Universities do include a diversity of ideas. Leaving aside the fact that the left is far more ideologically diverse than the right, there’s also the fact that being a liberal or a leftist doesn’t stop someone from discussing non-leftist or non-liberal ideas (and even discussing them in accordance with the principle of charity).

I took a class on conservative political philosophy as an undergraduate that I would have sworn was taught by Antonin Scalia’s personal tutor until I read some of his own published work (he’s actually a moderate Republican, but got into character as a hardline conservative for the purpose of maximizing our educational experience). And thing is, this wasn’t a unique experience. The best education involves the presentation of multiple points of view, and professors receive training in how to do so effectively.

And last but not least, increasing racial diversity also increases the diversity of ideas. One of the things that contemporary academics in all areas have been discovering is the tunnel vision that can overcome a discipline by excluding people of different races, ethnicities, sexes, orientations, and so forth. Not only does an increase in diversity mean a decrease in the amount of brain power left on the table, but it can also mean an influx of ideas and perspectives that might have otherwise been left out entirely.

So you can see why academics might support a system aimed at reducing bias in admission procedures until that day when prejudice is eliminated from the hearts and minds of those making the admission decisions.

Also, you might want to read this. Numbers are not always the same thing as power.

flutherother's avatar

I always felt a bit uneasy with affirmative action. Everyone with the ability to benefit from a college education should be admitted. Race should have nothing to do with it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Affirmative action back fired sometimes.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@flutherother “Everyone with the ability to benefit from a college education should be admitted.”

Right. And we used to have a system where certain people were systematically excluded from going to college, often based on race. That’s the problem that affirmative action was created to fix. I understand people having a problem with particular ways of implementing affirmative action. But that’s not the same as being against (or uncomfortable with) affirmative action itself.

That’s one of the big problems with conversations on this subject, though: too many people do not actually understand how affirmative action works in practice. What they are against (or uncomfortable with) is some theme park version of it sold to them by a flyer or a talking head.

@Dutchess_III Can you show any examples of affirmative action backfiring that weren’t due either to the particular way that the program was implemented or to prejudicial reactions to the mere existence of affirmative action programs? Because the only putative examples I can think of come from one of those two problems, neither of which is attributable to affirmative action itself.

snowberry's avatar

There will be situations where it would be good and there will be situations where it will be bad.

I’ve noticed that every time somebody passes a law that is intended to do good, sooner or later (often sooner), there will be people who will be victimized by that very same law.

Then depending on who is being victimized and how the media chooses to portray them, that law will be labeled as good or bad. And then because everybody knows that your favorite brand of media only prints the truth,.. (If you’re smart, you should be able to fill in the rest.)

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, all I have is my own experience @SavoirFaire. Spent 3 years substitute teaching, trying to get my own classroom. I was a stellar teacher, got nothing but good marks from the teachers I subbed for. But…I never got my own class room. My BIL was offered a job within a month of his graduation.
One time I was sitting in a break room and a Vietnamese-American girl came in and proudly announced that she had been offered a position as soon as she graduated (she was doing her internship at the time.) She didn’t even apply, they just offered it to her.
I’d been looking for two years at that point. Men were far more likely to be hired than me.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Dutchess_III Do you have any evidence that the Vietnamese-American woman was hired because of affirmative action? Because a lot of internships are created as a way of vetting potential hires, so the fact that she got hired directly from it doesn’t really tell us anything. And even if she was hired because of affirmative action, it’s not a case of the program backfiring if she was also a stellar candidate for the job.

And of course, men have pretty much always been more likely than women to get hired for most jobs.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

It’s good. Affirmative action served a real purpose many years ago. Academic and employment selection should be on merit. No special treatment for anything that is not material to the subject of the appointment/election/award. We were already away from true affirmative action but schools were allowed to force diversity. That is wrong on every level, in my opinion. It’s time to stop dumbing down America.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I have always thought that it was a little condescending and at the same time draconian and unfair when it came to quotas (yes, companies still do this off the record) . Academics need to be merit based and merit based only. Race and gender should not even be a consideration. I’m pretty sure I got into a particular graduate school simply because I was non-asian. In the workplace I have seen it bring in great people and also people who have no business in the job they have. Being a part of the hiring team at times I saw some things that made my blood boil. When a diversity numbers are off and can be questioned that’s when things that should not happen end up happening. In certain professions getting qualified applicants to maintain diversity is extremely difficult. People don’t see the good parts of it though because that’s generally transparent which is how it’s supposed to work. When it’s administered in a lazy and sloppy way and people get to their positions because of diversity factors yet are not qualified it’s as plain as day and impossible to ignore. Anyone working in a large corporate environment knows exactly this scenario and has probably seen it first hand. Especially in tech.

Darth_Algar's avatar


Were your BIL and the Vietnamese-American girl going for the same position at the same employer as you?

MrGrimm888's avatar

Considering Trump, undeservingly, rode his father’s coattails through his early life, it’s hypocritical at best…

Dutchess_III's avatar

@SavoirFaire, of course I have no proof. It’s just that seeing the same thing happen over and over and over again was just frustrating.

@Darth_Algar No. She was going to work for the Wichita school district, which is a far flung employer, and my BIL was hired by a completely different district, 4 years earlier.

Demosthenes's avatar

I would like to find more information about how race is “considered” in admission. On NPR they were saying that the problem is that it was decided in previous Court cases that it was supposed to be vague: no quotas, no rubrics, just looking at a lot of factors holistically and considering race as one of those factors, which means that we don’t know for sure exactly how admissions officers consider race.

One person I was talking to indicated that “underperforming” students who are admitted based on race tend to flunk out, which means that this didn’t benefit them anyway. But then I’m hearing from people here that “underperforming” students are not admitted anyway, and it’s simply between students that already have the “merits” and then race is considered. But how do we know that? I would like to see some hard evidence that this is how affirmative action policies at various universities work.

@SavoirFaire “You’re against equal access to educational opportunities?” I’m aware of the sanitized “gotcha” definition of “affirmative action”. I’m against discriminating by race. As John Roberts said, “the way to end racial discrimination is to stop discriminating based on race”. I don’t agree that affirmative action, judging people based on skin color, supports “equal access”.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Race=brown skin v white skin. It’s dumb.

Darth_Algar's avatar


In that case I don’t really see where you personal experience comes in to play. Different people applying for different jobs with different employers who likely had different specific needs from your employer.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Dutchess_III ” It’s just that seeing the same thing happen over and over and over again was just frustrating.”

I’m sure it is. No one likes being continually passed over for a job. But that happens regardless of who the other candidates are. I have a friend who is leaving academia because he has only been able to find one job in five years, and even then it was only a one year position with no chance of renewal. This is in a discipline where pretty much all of the job applicants are white and male.

@Demosthenes “I would like to find more information about how race is “considered” in admission.”

I can tell you something of how it’s done where I work. All applications are stripped of demographic data for the first two stages (in which most of the winnowing occurs). This is where people whose grades, test scores, and/or writing skills indicate that they simply will not be able to hack it are removed from consideration. The point of the first two stages is to get the number of applications down to a manageable size.

So depending on the size of the applicant pool, many people who probably could have hacked it may also be removed from consideration in favor of more desirable candidates. Basically, the initial applicant pool is reduced to a size slightly larger than the number of admission offers the university plans to send out (which is itself slightly larger than the number of offers that are likely to be accepted).

In the third stage, the remaining candidate’s unredacted applications are distributed among the various admissions officers according to which division they are involved with (e.g., Arts and Sciences, Visual and Performing Arts, Business, Engineering, and so forth). Each officer is tasked with selecting a percentage of those applications to forward for admission to the selection committee (acting as advocate for their selected candidates).

In the fourth stage, the selection committee discusses each of these candidates, voting to accept, reject, or revisit. If they end the first round of voting with a full class, they’re done. This almost never happens, meaning it is time to return to the “revisit” pile. At this point, the candidates are evaluated “holistically,” meaning that factors beyond grades, test scores, writing skills, academically relevant extracurricular activities are taken into consideration.

There are two places, then, where affirmative action comes in. The first is in stripping all of the demographic data in the first two stages (thereby eliminating the possibility of excluding all or most members of any particular group from the pool of applicants still under consideration). The second is in the “revisit” round of the fourth stage where race may be considered as one factor among many when filling out the remaining open slots.

Of course, this is an idealization. Once the applications are unredacted, bias of all kinds can seep in. Note, however, that the initial redacting of applications is itself one of the fruits of affirmative action. The old system meant that bias could be used to exclude people at every step of the way, often in ways that were much harder to detect (because of how much winnowing occurs in the first two stages).

I don’t know anyone who would say that the system is perfect. No system will be perfect so long as prejudice exists in our hearts and minds. And of course, there’s always been the problem of potentially winnowing out people who would have done well at a school in the initial phases (something that is true with or without affirmative action because it is a product of human limitations regarding the size of the applicant pool). But the procedures are always being examined for ways to improve them, and the process gets tweaked every year based on the best data available.

“I’m aware of the sanitized ‘gotcha’ definition of ‘affirmative action’.”

It is neither “sanitized” nor a “gotcha” definition (nor was it offered as any sort of definition at all). It is the original and ongoing purpose of affirmative action and appears as such in textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and much of the academic literature on the topic. Indeed, there has been a great deal written on the issue in both political philosophy and political science that you would do well to familiarize yourself with if you are interested in the topic.

It’s fine that you haven’t yet done so, of course. Nobody can read everything, and not everything is worth reading. But while I don’t expect you to agree with me just because I might know more about this topic than you do, I am also not obligated to cater to your misunderstandings. The proper response to someone operating under the theme park version of an idea is not to play along, but to lead them away from the funhouse mirrors.

“I’m against discriminating by race.”

I am, too. That’s why I support affirmative action, which exists to help people who have historically been discriminated against for their race.

“As John Roberts said, ‘the way to end racial discrimination is to stop discriminating based on race’.”

And affirmative action is aimed at a very real way in which people are discriminated against based on their race. So unless it’s a meaningless tautology, that quote seems to support my position perfectly well.

LostInParadise's avatar

That’s why I support affirmative action, which exists to help people who have historically been discriminated against for their race.
Then all this talk about diversity is just a smokescreen. Given that people have been and continue to be discriminated against because of race, is it proper to discriminate in their favor due to race? My personal point of view is that it is appropriate even if it means that there may be a degree of reverse discrimination.

JLeslie's avatar

I didn’t read answers above. California voted against affirmative action for college admissions several years ago if I remember correctly. I leaned towards agreeing with that vote.

However, I would say that the admission process needs to be more blind then. Applications should have names crossed out, and maybe not allow face to face interviews. Similar to what some symphonies do now. Some orchestras were predominantly male, and then they went to auditioning with the person behind a curtain or partition, which caused the gender ratios to change drastically. Suddenly, many more women were hired.

Interesting to me that Asian Americans are mentioned in the original details. At my university when I was in attendance in the late 80’s supposedly an Asian American had some sort of gripe, maybe law suit, that he should get the same GPA allowance as other minorities to get into the engineering school. The school argued Asians aren’t a minority.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

@SavoirFaire What discipline would that be?

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