Guy W. Farmer: It’s time to end college policies based on race
December 1, 2013
At long last, the U.S. Supreme Court will finally have an opportunity to put an end to racial preferences in public university admissions decisions. The court will issue its highly anticipated decision on a controversial Michigan case before its current session ends next summer.
I don't understand why racial preferences are still needed more than 50 years after the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. I was proud to be part of that revolution when Gov. Grant Sawyer desegregated Nevada casinos in the mid-1960s. But racial preferences have long since outlived their usefulness.
Arguing in favor of racial preferences in university admissions, left-leaning USA Today recently said preferences are necessary to create "diverse student bodies." But our society is much more diverse than it was 50 years ago, and so are university student bodies. For example, Hispanics now account for about 25 percent of Nevada residents and an increasing percentage of our university students.
George Leef of the Center for Higher Education argued in USA Today that "preferences for certain groups don't enhance 'diversity' because everyone is a unique individual in many dimensions."
The case that will be decided during the Supreme Court's current term involves a 2003 decision reaffirming that quotas may not be used to admit minorities to public universities; however, the court declined to rule on whether the Constitution forbids any mention of race in college admissions, which allowed the University of Michigan Law School to grant broad racial preferences to minorities.
In 2006, however, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that amended the state constitution "to prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment based on race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin in public education." Last year, a federal appeals court last year struck down the ballot measure on an 8-7 vote on grounds that it violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
That appeals court decision sets the stage for the ruling the Supreme Court will make by next summer. I don't know how you cure racial imbalances in university admissions by giving preferences to some groups. Based on the current makeup of university student bodies, perhaps admissions officers should give preferences to Hispanics at the expense of Asians, who are clearly overrepresented at many colleges, including at my alma mater, the University of Washington.
"Judging people by the color of their skin is never benign," wrote Linda Chavez, a conservative activist who heads the Center for Equal Opportunity. "It's never a good thing to say that race defines the person, for better or worse. When government allots benefits to some based on race, it necessarily means that government discriminates against others who don't share those racial characteristics," and that's just plain unfair any way you look at it.
"Unless the Court decides the Michigan case broadly and decisively … this case will continue to divide America," Ms. Chavez continued. "The time to end racial discrimination is long overdue. The Court must act now."
As Dr. Martin Luther King said in his historic "I Have a Dream" speech, Americans should be judged on the content of their character, and not on the color of their skin. That's truer today than when Dr. King spoke those resonant words in 1968, so let's end racial preferences at U.S. universities.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.