By John Hood
RALEIGH — Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will finally compel the University of North Carolina and the rest of American higher education to halt the pervasive practice of racial and ethnic discrimination in admissions.
Academic leaders should have ended this obnoxious and counterproductive policy on their own, decades ago. It shouldn’t have required lawsuits by Edward Blum and his group Students for Fair Admissions to force universities to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws.
But it did — and even now, the higher-education establishment is plotting to circumvent what it finally understands will be a definitive ruling from the nation’s highest court.
One tactic will be to diminish the significance of academic ability and accomplishment in the admissions process while elevating the role of more-subjective criteria such as essays, interviews, and extracurriculars. In this way, they hope to smuggle illegal preferences in the “back door,” so to speak, much as Harvard University already discriminates against Asian applicants by systematically giving them low ratings in interviews.
This may be one reason UNC officials sought to extend a “temporary” moratorium on the requirement of minimum SAT or ACT scores for admissions. Originally introduced in 2020 as a pandemic-era measure, the moratorium will now last until 2025. High test scores shouldn’t be the sole or even primary criterion for university admissions, of course, but the best available evidence suggests that a combination of grade-point average and test score is a better predictor of college success than GPA alone.
Another probable response to the end of racial preferences in admissions will be, if anything, more pernicious: universities will shift their emphasis from admissions to employment.
It is already illegal, but nonetheless widespread, for institutions to take race or ethnicity into account when making decisions about hiring, pay, and promotion. Infuriated by the end of admissions preferences, however, progressive faculty and activists will press university leaders to advance “social justice” (properly used, the noun needs no such modifier) by establishing explicit hiring goals and preferences based on both racial and ideological identification.
One device for tracking the latter will be the use of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” statements. At many campuses and departments, including some here in North Carolina, individuals are already required to submit DEI statements when applying for jobs or even for admission to graduate programs. Here’s what the UNC-Chapel Hill medical school offered as a sample of the kind of DEI statement it wants from prospective faculty:
“As I move forward in my career, I intend to continue to include issues of equity and inclusion in my bedside teaching. I commit to annually attending a seminar offered by the University Office of Diversity and Inclusion to learn more about the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexual orientation in clinical care and medical education, and to confront my own biases and the biases of our medical culture to improve inclusivity in my environment.”
What if you are an experienced, accomplished, and caring physician who sincerely believes you already treat everyone with respect and dignity and prefers to devote your professional-development time to other topics, such as the economics of health care or the latest innovations in your medical specialty?
Better not say that if you want to get a job, or get ahead, at the medical school.
Contrary to the strident claims of self-styled “anti-racism” advocates, the most-effective way to combat prejudice and expand opportunity in a free and open society is to make less use of crude racial and ethnic categories, not more use of them. It is to treat individuals as individuals, not as pawns in some political game or cogs in some social-justice machine. It is to respond to specific markers of personal disadvantage — offering scholarships to poor students, for example, or well-tailored accommodations to disabled ones — rather than to membership in some politically concocted class of preferred beneficiaries.
Explicit admissions preferences will end. Then a broader debate, likely a very contentious one, will begin. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history (FolkloreCycle.com).