April 11, 2013 | Commentary on Education
Pittsburgh high schooler Suzy Weiss has a 4.5 GPA, an SAT score of 2120 (out of a maximum 2400), and a slew of rejections from Ivy League colleges. But unlike most unsuccessful applicants, Weiss didn’t accept her rejection meekly. Instead, she penned a sarcastic open letter to those who spurned her — and got it published in the Wall Street Journal.
Weiss’s letter lampoons the in-vogue collegiate-admissions practice euphemistically known as “holistic” review of applications. Holistic review “frees” admissions officers from the old-fashioned practice of relying heavily on objective measures of academic success (such as grades and standardized-test scores) to determine who gets admitted. Instead, they are free to put much more stock in evidence of non-academic qualities, such as compassion and commitment to causes that might prove “valuable” to the campus community.
Weiss’s letter touches on all these points. But what seems to have most offended the academic community is her lampooning of “diversity,” the sacred cow of the modern university world.
Weiss asks what she could have done differently to get accepted at the schools that rejected her. Her tongue-in-cheek answer begins:
For starters, had I known two years ago what I know now, I would have gladly worn a headdress to school. Show me to any closet, and I would’ve happily come out of it. “Diversity!” I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker. If it were up to me, I would’ve been any of the diversities: Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, I salute you and your 1/32 Cherokee heritage.
Such sarcasm is seen as blasphemy in universities and colleges throughout America. Their faculty and administrative officers, and their professional associations, such as the American Council on Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the American Association of University Professors, overwhelmingly believe — firmly and unapologetically — that out-and-out racial and ethnic discrimination in college admissions is fully acceptable in the interests of “diversity.” Discriminating against culturally “nondiverse” Caucasians such as Suzy Weiss is, in their eyes, the right thing to do. And they want the Supreme Court to recognize such discrimination as constitutional.
How do we know that? Because scores of schools and their professional associations have recently filed amicus briefs in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin making that very argument.
Abigail Fisher’s story is little different from Suzy Weiss’s. A culturally “nondiverse” Caucasian (i.e., the type of student who does not fill any of the racial and ethnic “diversity” quotas of college-admission officers), Fisher applied for admission to the University of Texas in 2008. Texas, like almost every other university in the country, takes race into account in its admissions process. Because Fisher was not black, Hispanic, or, as Suzy Weiss says, “Navajo, Pacific Islander, anything,” she was not given the same exemptions from standard admissions criteria that UT-Austin provided to other, more “diverse” students with the same or worse qualifications.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the four universities that rejected Suzy Weiss — the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Yale, and Vanderbilt — all joined the same brief in the Fisher case. Sadly, my undergraduate school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which used to be a place that believed that everyone should be judged on his abilities, not his race, is also a party to the brief. It encapsulates the high-sounding academic jargon and rhetoric used to disguise the ugliness of what these universities do.
The amici “seek to provide their students with the most rigorous, stimulating, and enriching education environment, in which ideas are tested and debated from every perspective,” in order to “prepare active citizens and leaders in all fields of human endeavor.” But apparently, the only way they can achieve those goals is to “take account of race and ethnicity” as factors in the “holistic review process” that determines who will be admitted. Even though these schools all “have highly selective admissions criteria designed to ensure that all of their students (including minority leaders) will be prepared for demanding coursework and will graduate successfully,” the only criterion they all agree on that is required to achieve those goals is discriminating on the basis of race.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that Ivy League and other top-notch schools practice such ugly discrimination. After all, they had similar practices in the 1920s to ensure their schools did not have “too many” Jewish students. Today, they just want to make sure they don’t have “too many” Caucasians or Asians on campus. All they have done is change the groups targeted for discrimination.
Suzy Weiss and many other high-school seniors across the United States are being discriminated against because of their skin color or because they have an epicanthic fold in their eyes. Such racial and ethnic discrimination is morally wrong, and neither “diversity” nor anything else can justify it.
Attempts to disguise discrimination with high-sounding talk about “holistic” reviews just won’t wash. And the claim that such discrimination provides different points of view is, itself, racist. Apparently, America’s institutions of “higher” learning believe that your skin color determines how you think.
In 1965, that would have gotten you rightly condemned as a bigot. In 2013, it makes you “progressive.”
— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department. He is a co-author of Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk (Encounter Books, 2012).
First appeared in National Review Online.