The Supreme Court, in its next term, will render a decision in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, which will determine the legality of Harvard’s race-based affirmative-action program. The plaintiff’s claim that, by creating a floor for certain racial and ethnic groups in its admissions, Harvard created a ceiling for Asian-Americans. The result is that Asian-Americans who are academically qualified become victims of discrimination.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, as many experts believe it will, Harvard and many universities around the country will have to continue their quests for increased racial diversity without violating the specific terms of the decision.
The time has come, however, for universities to abandon their efforts to achieve superficial, artificial diversity based on race. The coming decision would provide American schools with an opportunity to develop admission criteria based on academic achievement and potential—while abolishing such non-merit-based criteria as legacy status, athletics, geography and other nonacademic preferences. There would be resistance to getting rid of these advantages, but it could be done.
I believe the result of a merit-based policy would be more meaningful diversity. The result of such a policy would likely give way to more political, ideological, geographic, religious and other types of diversity that are at least as relevant to the educational mission of the university as race and ethnicity. I certainly am not asking for a return to “the good old days” of WASP dominance—those days were anything but good—but I am asking for an approach rarely attempted by American universities: pure meritocracy.
Meritocracy doesn’t require an exclusive focus on test scores and grades, as there are other ways of measuring merit and potential, such as recommendations and achievements outside of school. Nor should it discourage aggressive recruitment from underrepresented groups that might be unaware of opportunities at elite universities. The adoption of merit as the guiding principle for college admission may not result in the kind of racial and ethnic representation that universities now desire, but its result would be more authentic diversity.
Use of merit-based standards would also end the need for bloated bureaucracies that enforce diversity, inclusion and equity mandates throughout universities—mandates that sacrifice academic goals to social, ideological and political agendas. Real equality does not require massive bureaucracies.
It is doubtful that any university with its current leadership and students would move toward a purely meritocratic system, even if its leaders believed that was the best approach. But it is the right thing to do—for universities and for America.
Meritocracy encourages hard work, diligence and achievement. The current system of university admissions doesn’t cultivate these virtues. Instead it rewards identity politics.
Martin Luther King Jr. admitted that his goal—“that one day my four children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”—was a dream. It is a dream worth striving for, however, and it will never be achieved as long as we favor nonmeritocratic factors in college admissions.
Read the full piece at the Wall Street Journal here.