Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools
When students apply to public universities or colleges, should they be admitted - or rejected - based on their race? Should they be taught that it isn't their drive and determination that count, it's their skin color?
The United States Supreme Court has been asked to hear a high-profile lawsuit that asks these questions. Many analysts expect that the justices will accept the case - Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin - and issue a ruling that could affect public universities nationwide.
The petitioner is Abigail Fisher, from Sugar Land, who was denied acceptance to UT-Austin. She sued because she was not evaluated on an equal basis with applicants from other racial backgrounds.
The university categorizes applicants by their race, with favoritism for African-Americans and Hispanics.
In other words, tougher admissions standards are imposed on Caucasians like Abigail Fisher. But the biggest losers may be Asian-American students. They need an average SAT score of 1,322 to get in, compared to 1,193 for Hispanics.
These race-based double standards are defended in the name of diversity. Admissions officials aim to create an entering class consisting of targeted percentages of various racial groups. It's a paint-by-numbers approach that requires picking and choosing applicants by race.
Does this end justify the means? Does the goal of a racially diverse student body justify discriminating against individual students on the basis of their color? Moreover, is a campus truly "diverse" simply because its racial makeup meets a pre-determined formula?
No, no and no.
The Constitution, properly interpreted, doesn't accept excuses for racial discrimination. If the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment means what it says, then government - including public schools and universities - must treat people as individuals, not classify them as faceless members of racial categories.
Focusing on skin color in pursuit of diversity amounts to stereotyping. It implies that all members of racial groups think or act alike, so that racial diversity automatically equates to a diversity of perspectives. In the real world, shared skin color does not ensure shared backgrounds or beliefs. Color-coding students is as unrealistic as it is unfair.
Sad to say, the Obama administration has weighed in on the side of discrimination. At the appellate level, it filed a brief against Abigail Fisher that not only supported the admissions scheme that deprived her of equal rights, but argued for imposing race-conscious policies in K-12 schools as well.
Advocates of race-based admissions seem more interested in sociology and politics than in education. Their goal isn't genuine intellectual diversity, but to make the undergraduate classes mirror the larger community.
UT-Austin admits its admissions policy reflects an "acknowledgment that significant differences between the racial and ethnic makeup of the University's undergraduate population and the state's population prevent the University from fully achieving its mission."
No one can deny the swift and broad changes in America's demographics. For instance, African-Americans are no longer the largest minority group; Latinos are. And the black and white populations are growing at far slower rates than Latinos and Asians.
Meanwhile, the number of Americans who identify themselves as belonging to "two or more races" has increased by 32 percent over the last decade. That doesn't even count people, like President Obama, who are multiracial but for whatever reason declined to identify themselves that way on the census form.
But race-based preferences are exactly the wrong response to this dramatic evolution. Fixating on race becomes more and more impractical as the country's social mosaic becomes more and more complex.
If the Supreme Court accepts the Fisher case, it would revisit its controversial 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. That ruling accepted diversity as a rationale for race-based admissions at the University of Michigan Law School, but with the suggestion that the policy should be temporary, not permanent.
It's time for the court to take another look at this area. If it thought it had put universities on the road to phasing out preferences, we're afraid it should think again. The University of Texas is not alone: When the Center for Equal Opportunity analyzed the use of preferences at the University of Wisconsin recently, it found the worst degree of undergraduate admissions discrimination ever.
As America's racial tapestry grows more varied, the best policy is the one prescribed by the Fourteenth Amendment: Government shouldn't play favorites based on race. Anything else is a recipe for social division, suspicion, and strife - not to mention an affront to the constitutional principle of equal justice under law.
Browne is an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation. Clegg is president of the Center for Equal Opportunity. They filed a brief opposing admissions discrimination at The University of Texas at Austin.