Saturday, July 18, 2009

Racial mutterings II: Electric Boogaloo.

Watching some of this footage of Pat Buchanan on the Rachel Maddow Show, one of his comments arguing against affirmative action sticks out to me:

"[because of affirmative action,] Jennifer Gratz was discriminated against and kept out of the University of Michigan, which she set her heart on, even though her grades were far higher than people who were allowed in there." (1:24-1:34)

Because of my particular background and current expertise of employment, I feel particularly equipped to address this illustration of his greater "reverse discrimination" (the cool pejorative way to describe affirmative action) thesis. This illustration is, admittedly, one in a series of several, the others of which I am distinctly not informed about and thus must rule myself incompetent in their discussion. That said:

Buchanan's comment reflects an overly simplistic understanding of the nature of college admissions. He seems to be communicating that the thrust of Gratz's case against the University's form of Affirmative Action (Gratz v. Bollinger) lies in the idea that a student with a certain GPA or level of academic performance should always be accepted to a university

The Court's actual finding was not that Affirmative Action should be dismantled, but rather that the University of Michigan was at fault "[b]ecause the University's use of race in its current freshman admissions policy is not narrowly tailored to achieve respondents' asserted interest in diversity." In fact, arguing quite against Buchanan's point, "the Court ... reject[s] petitioners' argument that diversity cannot constitute a compelling state interest." The State is explicitly interested in affirming and creating opportunities for diverse representation in its academic bodies: the problem is not with Affirmative Action, but with monolithic and overly streamlined processes of evaluating students' racial (rather than cultural or ethnic) makeup.

The irony is that Buchanan's casting of the situation seems to reflect a similarly mechanistic understanding of grades as a factor in college admissions: that superior GPA conveys automatic superiority on a candidate's application for acceptance to a university. In an era of college acceptances becoming more holistic considerations of a candidate's "fit", personality, and resources, this is an obsolete understanding of How to Get Into College.

In fact, as I have pointed out before, I am a firm believer in the thought that a Minority Experience (whether Black American, African, Asian-American, Latino, etc.) is of positive benefit for anyone, whether that individual happens to be seeking office or, as in this case, applying to a university.

Universities in this era of college admissions are, at least according to all the resources to which I have been directed (both as a highly competitive high school student, as well as a college applications tutor), incredibly holistic: they are asking students what they bring to the campus not merely as intellects, but also as individuals; this focus benefits from reflecting a broader comprehension of the Successful Life as not merely a product of intellect, but rather of emotion, relation, and production. I personally know any number of students who were accepted to universities from which students with better grades were rejected; a few fractional points on one's GPA is simply not the only, or even the most important, factor in college admissions any more.

This construal of Success is born out in nearly every area of life, from job performance and satisfaction, to personal relationships, and even academic dialogue and progression: in all these areas, Human Intellect is not a quantity discrete from wider conceptions of Human Experience. It seems that more and more universities are happier to admit that the lone Professor, hunched over a desk producing publication after monograph - while a quaintly romanticized image - could well benefit from a better posture, better table conversation, a scion or two toddling about the nursery, and a thoughtful, doting husband [Yes, my Professor is female, confound your presumptive gender].

In short: The University of Michigan was wrong for their unsubtle and clunky handling of Race as a factor in admissions. That said, in all but the most clear-cut scenario of overt anti-White discrimination, I am very unwilling to concede that a White student with a high GPA, rejected in favor of a Black or Hispanic student with a lower GPA, has been the victim of anti-White discrimination, unless one could prove - beyond the burden of doubt - that the Black/Hispanic/other minority student has in no way brought to the table some other beneficial quality.

For what it's worth, I am similarly, though not equally, hesitant to conclude that a Black or Hispanic student in a position similar to our hypothetical White student has been discriminated against.

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