by James A. Bacon
If the United States Supreme Court rules in June that colleges and universities may no longer use race as a factor in admissions, the University of Virginia will continue to “do everything with our legal authority to recruit a student body that is both extraordinarily talented and richly diverse across every imaginable dimension including race,” said President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom in a statement issued to the university community.
Arguments before the Supreme Court are now underway on legal challenges at Harvard and the University of North Carolina to block racial preferences in university admissions. Such policies, the plaintiffs argue, violate the Constitutional prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race.
Ryan and Baucom said they are committed to “serve the Commonwealth and beyond by making a UVA education as accessible as possible for all, including historically underrepresented students.”
While there is broad support across the political spectrum for recruiting Blacks, Hispanics and other racial minorities to UVa, there is considerable disquiet about setting numerical goals for minority representation, which, for all practical purposes represent targets to be achieved. UVa assiduously tracks the racial make-up of its student body, faculty, and staff.
Likewise, critics of race-based admissions raise concerns about minority members who lack the academic preparation to keep pace with UVa-level work. What happens to their confidence and self-esteem? Are they more likely to get discouraged and drop out? Another worry is that if some minority students are admitted with low academic qualifications, do minority students who do qualify get stigmatized by the assumption that they enjoyed preferential treatment? Whose best interests are being served under UVa’s policies — those of the minority students who would not have been admitted without the preferences or those of college leaders seeking to burnish their social-justice credentials?
Here is the full text of the letter as posted on Reddit. (I could not find it on the UVa website.)
To the University community,
Today we are writing to follow up on a message we sent in October, as arguments were getting underway at the Supreme Court on two cases challenging the consideration of race in college admissions.
A decision in those cases is expected by the end of June, and if legal experts are correct, the Supreme Court is likely to limit, if not eliminate, the ability of colleges and universities to consider race or ethnicity as one factor among many in their individualized and comprehensive evaluations of candidates for admission.
We will continue to do everything within our legal authority to recruit a student body that is both extraordinarily talented and richly diverse across every imaginable dimension, including race. Those efforts reflect our commitment to serve the Commonwealth and beyond by making a UVA education as accessible as possible for all, including historically underrepresented students. They also extend from the principle that every student learns more, and is better prepared to succeed, when they can engage and exchange ideas with people who come from perspectives and life experiences that differ from their own. That is why many major corporate employers and the U.S. military filed briefs asking the Supreme Court to uphold the consideration of race as one of many factors in college admissions.
Once the opinion is made public, we will share more information about the University’s response. For now, we want to emphasize what we hope you already know: Every member of this community belongs and deserves to be here, and together you make this University the remarkable and vibrant community it is.
The Jefferson Council’s position: The Jefferson Council has not adopted a formal position on race-based admissions policy. Simply put: We don’t know what that policy is. The criteria listed on the Admissions Department website are extraordinarily vague, the Admissions Department has declined to answer the questions we ask, and the university’s responses to our FOIA requests have been severely deficient. Misters Ryan and Baucom could improve the quality of dialogue by directing Admissions to be more forthcoming about how it makes its admissions decisions.
An argument can be made that special allowances should be made for youngsters who have demonstrated a capacity to overcome hardship and diversity — if they have shown “grit,” to use a favored phrase — even if their academic achievements are less impressive. Strong character and motivation can overcome deficiencies in K-12 education and disadvantaged family or social environments. Insofar as such “adversity” was adopted as a criterion, Hispanic and African-American students stand to disproportionately benefit, though not because of their race. However, there are White and Asian students as well who overcome adversity. There is no compelling justification for singling out hardship cases for “brown” and “black” applicants on the basis of their skin color or racial identity.
To what extent does UVa Admissions put its thumb on the scale in favor of favored minorities on the basis of their race/ethnicity? All we can say based on our findings is that applications from Blacks and Hispanics are accepted at much higher rates than from Asians and Whites. The secrecy of the admissions process does not inspire confidence in its fairness.