J. Brady McCollough

Confession: I used to be against race-based college admissions. This was a result of my incredible frustration senior year, having to defend every college acceptance even in light of all my high school achievements. Colleges, I once thought, needed to consider socioeconomics rather than race in admissions.

Too often, when debating affirmative action, students speak in broad, ideological prose: “I think people should be admitted on their ability” and “diversity is necessary.” Yet, these statements are akin to statements like: “I think justice should be served” with respect to the death penalty. This column is my attempt to reinsert reason into this argument using the information that swayed, but did not entirely change, my former opinion.

To deconstruct the argument that affirmative action plans are unfair because they value being a minority over being qualified, let me state some truths about admissions. First of all, the University’s admissions plan is not a quota because the percentage of minorities fluctuates. Furthermore, the points given to applicants of all types represent the varying factors in college admissions. Though this does not justify the infamous 20 points (or the infamous 4 and 16 point donations), foundationally, it says that because there are a plethora of factors in college admissions, one fact rings true: It’s hard to get into college. There were many other applicants who got in “over” Gratz and Hamacher, many of whom were white, so there must be other factors.

To deconstruct the notion that affirmative action is reverse discrimination, let me pose an important question: Can one assume that one specific minority got in “over” another applicant? Given the composition of the undergraduate class, with 5 percent of the incoming class being black, how can anyone logically say that one black person “got in over” one of the thousands of applicants who didn’t get in? The reverse discrimination argument is unfounded because there simply aren’t that many minority applicants, and admissions are not inherently comparative.

Eliminating race-based affirmative action will do nothing more than console rejected applicants. Studies show that minority enrollment will fall drastically, while admission rates for whites will rise marginally. With existent societal imbalances (imbalances, by the way, that research shows still exist even at similar income levels), these admissions disparities are regressive.

There are two arguments for affirmative action: the fight for diversity and the fight for the disadvantaged. The diversity argument only holds water if you consider all applicants equally: equal admissions rates for all races, religions, etc. What most do not realize, however, is that equal admissions rates do not imply equal admissions procedures, and the prospect of providing affirmative action for factors other than race (i.e. political persuasion) is shaky at best. Blacks, Latinos and in truth, all those who are economically disadvantaged, need help, and affirmative action is an effective, temporary solution; the permanent solution, in my opinion, is equalizing secondary education. I liken the program to school vouchers, but unlike that program, affirmative action has a noticeable societal impact.

These two arguments form a comprehensive model for how admissions should be run. It is possible to consider economics and race, keep admission rates equal, purport diversity and be fair to every race, while realizing the socioeconomic and racial reality of life in the United States. Research shows that underrepresented minorities and all other applicants can benefit from economic affirmative action, and by striving for equal admission while remembering race, we can maintain diversity and fair play.

Race still matters, and affirmative action purports – and does not resist – the idea of a colorblind nation. Demanding colorblind, economically blind admissions negates the fact that our nation simply is not equal and college admissions are multifaceted. To be honest, the way in which the University conducts admissions is at least unfair, but negating race and even economics as factors is just as unsavory.

Few Americans oppose affirmative action ideologically. So, we must retain our ideals but remember reality.

Jean can be reached at acjean@umich.edu.

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