Michigan Joins the Fleet of Race-Blind College Admissions
The world’s biggest melting pot just got a little less so – on the college campuses of Michigan, that is.
Sixty years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education made history, the race-and-education intersection encountered yet another twist in Capitol Hill.
In a 6-2 Supreme Court ruling headed by Anthony Kennedy, the justices ruled that Michigan voters had the right to change their state constitution to bar public colleges and universities from using race as a factor in admissions. In Kennedy’s words, “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.”
In this case, Michigan voters have made it the eighth state to ban affirmative action. Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington also disallow race-based admissions.
This turns decades of race-based politics on its head: In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Executive Order that first uttered the term “affirmative action”. President Johnson upped the bar for diversity quotas, with another Executive Order requiring employers to “hire without regard to race, religion and national origin”.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the two dissenters in the 6-2 ruling, argued in her 58-page dissent that “But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups.”
Though the ruling appears to be one in which merit-based admissions will trump color, the leader of the ACLU pointed out the many other admissions variables
As a former African-American affirmative action enrollee at Howard University described it, some barriers to higher education aren’t merely color-based; they are class-based. The existing affirmative action policies do not account for nuances such as blacks growing up dirt-poor in inner cities, compared to the blacks who grow up in affluent neighborhoods.
Thus a new political catchphrase was born: Economic affirmative action.
As students (in eight states, at least) lay our “race cards” down, this Supreme Court ruling prompts even more questions for the future of higher education:
In an era where competition for college entrance is more intense than ever, this could affect the future of many minorities. Case in point: Stanford University (in the state of California, which also banned affirmative action) recently sent skinny rejection letters to a whopping 95 percent of applicants – and applicants to other prestigious schools barely fared better.
As growing budgetary pressures tax even the Ivy Leagues and even community colleges can’t manage the growing wait list for high-demand programs, the natural path of capitalism will take over. Students and parents will seek more practical, equally-color-blind educational avenues – such as for-profit institutions. With more lenient admissions and a growing emphasis on academic rigor, this new breed of schools may become the new avenue for higher education in an increasingly race-blind nation.