Tag Archives: Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Affirmative Action


This post has been prompted by my thoughts over the past couple of days re the Supreme Court’s ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (June 23, 2016).

But, first, a digression of sorts.



My father graduated from Harvard College in 1950. I have his yearbook.

There were around 1,300 students in the graduating class.

Glancing through the yearbook, one can see that:

Most of the graduates were WASPs. Many (at least a half) were from New England.

Jewish graduates represented a little over ten percent of the graduating class (according to a statistical summary at the back of the book). One of them was Henry Alfred Kissinger, a Government major.

There were three African American graduates, one of whom was premed, the other two of whom were active in varsity athletics.



Re affirmative action-related issues that have arisen since my father’s college days — and which won’t seem to go away — it seems that one can say, viewing them in a historical context, that:

Blacks traditionally have been accorded zero opportunities — including denial of opportunities for higher education (to say nothing of the abysmal education blacks have customarily been accorded at other levels). Of course, this is changing, but I am speaking here from a historical perspective.

There was a “Jewish quota” at elite schools for more than half of the twentieth century; it had eased somewhat by my father’s time.

An “Asian quota” seems to exist today. This is perhaps hard to prove, but no one seems to be talking about the need for steps being taken to overcome or reverse the effects of such an insidious (unacknowledged) policy.



Is there not an answer to discrimination in college admissions? May I make a “modest proposal”? How about admitting students based on academic ability without taking race into account?

Seems simple? Undoubtedly, it’s too simple for the PC types and admissions officers who go to great lengths to devise formulas for ensuring “diversity” on campus.

I can’t help but think of an analogy derived from the literature of another era and country: “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen. The emperor was parading in public, naked. But no one dared to call attention to it. Until a child who didn’t “know better” spoke up.

Admitting students based on academic ability and/or academic promise without taking race into account.

What’s wrong with that?

Aren’t all citizens supposed to be EQUAL?

But then, that’s simple. I’m obviously not sophisticated enough to weigh in with an opinion about such a contentious and complicated issue.

After all, there’s something at stake here. Am I too stupid, you may be asking, to see that? Admission to the best colleges is desired because it is seen — has been, as long as I or anyone else can remember — as a ticket to advancement and privilege and as an engine of social mobility.

“In writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the University of Texas’s diversity goals were not amorphous but ‘concrete and precise,’ satisfying the constitutional requirement that government racial classifications advance a compelling interest” (New York Times, June 24, 2016)

In a blistering dissent, Justice Samuel Alito “described those goals — concerning ‘the destruction of stereotypes,’ promoting ‘cross-racial understanding’ and preparing students ‘for an increasingly diverse work force and society’ — as slippery and impervious to judicial scrutiny” (ibid.).

The destruction of stereotypes … promoting cross-racial understanding … preparing students for an increasingly diverse work force and society.

What about goals such as (to pick a few at random, drawing mainly on my own experience as a college student):

teaching calculus: what pleasure I took from my freshman calculus course – it was so aesthetically satisfying and it wasn’t offered in my high school;

reading Shakespeare: I read half of Shakespeare’s plays in a course with a noted professor that I took in my freshman year;

learning foreign languages: I took French and Russian in college; Russian isn’t offered in most high schools;

stimulating students in terms of thinking for themselves and of strenuous intellectual endeavor.

Too high minded? I don’t think so.

I thought this is what college is supposed to be about.  (Columbia University President Lee Bollinger would disagree.)

My wife made a remark to me last night. She said that when she was in college, a private university with high admission standards where she majored in mathematics, she was focused on the course content. Her parents had not had the opportunity to attend college. She was motivated both in terms of her intended career and because of her interest in the subject matter. As did I, she felt privileged to have good professors.

She said she didn’t care or particularly notice who was sitting next to her.

But, then again, that’s too simple.

Or is it?


 — Roger W. Smith

    June 25, 2016



See also:

Roger W. Smith, “Lee Bollinger on Divesity”

Lee Bollinger on diversity


Roger W. Smith, “The Asian Quota”

the Asian quota