American Opinion: There’s a way forward on campus diversity

From the editorial: ongress should require transparency on how those thumbs on the scale work and condition more federal aid on their elimination.

Affirmative action demonstration
Proponents for affirmative action in higher education rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)
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Though the oral arguments were contentious, lawyers on both sides of the debate over race-conscious admissions at the University of North Carolina and Harvard and their respective allies on the Supreme Court agreed on something significant last week: There ought to be a very high bar for allowing colleges to continue to use race as a factor in comprising their classes, and race-neutral admissions are far preferable if and when they can reliably be used to build pluralistic student bodies.

American Opinion
American Opinion
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If, as expected, the court’s conservative bloc makes the mistake of invalidating race-conscious admissions entirely and immediately — rather than continuing to allow schools to use applicants’ background in a limited way as one among many criteria to ensure a diverse class — it should offer colleges strong guidance on exactly what tools are acceptable in furtherance of that objective. (It is interesting indeed that even the court’s conservatives seem to value racial diversity as an end; they are simply squeamish about schools using certain means to achieve that end.)

We’d also support the courts formally disfavoring the many ways schools continue to give a boost to wealthy applicants, most of whom happen to be white, chief among them legacy admissions. While it’s unlikely that the justices can outright bar such privileging of the privileged, they can make it harder for colleges to continue in one breath preaching the value of diversity and in the other giving a huge boost to the children of alumni, and the children of anyone who donates large sums to the university.

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Elite schools like MIT and Cooper Union have never given a boost to second- and third-generation students. Institutions like Johns Hopkins and Amherst have recently ended the pernicious practice. But for 56% of the top 250 American colleges , including Harvard, Princeton and their peers, legacy admissions and related preferences are the biggest enemy of truly progressive admissions systems that enable economic mobility. Congress should require transparency on how those thumbs on the scale work and condition more federal aid on their elimination.

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