Profile of the One-Man Band Challenging Affirmative Action

Edward Blum, Affirmative Action Fight, Challenge to Affirmative Action

There was recently an excellent profile of Edward Blum, the man leading the charge against Affirmative Action, in “The New York Times.”

As a December 1st deadline looms for Harvard University to respond to the Department of Justice’s demand to turn over requested admissions documents, we thought we’d touch on the one-man-band that is behind the fight to end the practice of Affirmative Action in American college admissions. That one-man band (with a whole lot of supporters, including wealthy financial backers) analyzes municipal bonds for a few families by day and by night leads the charge against the use of race in admissions. He is not a superhero. He is not even a lawyer. His name is Edward Blum, he lives in South Thomaston, Maine, and, as Abigail Fisher, the student who took on the University of Texas at Austin, says, he’s not one to “lie down and play dead.” No, he most certainly is not.

Profile of the Man Behind the Affirmative Action Challenge

If our college admissions blog has recurring characters over the years, Edward Blum is surely one of them. For many years now, he has been the proud thorn in the side of colleges across America who wish to maintain their right to use race as a factor in admissions decisions in the hope of creating a more perfect union. But while we knew about all of the cases he’s put together over the years to challenge not only the practice of Affirmative Action but also the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we only really learned about his backstory through a profile published recently in “The New York Times” by Anemona Hartocollis entitled “He Took On The Voting Rights Act And Won. Now He’s Taking on Harvard.” It’s a fascinating profile of the man leading the charge to challenge Affirmative Action, one certainly deserving of a read.

As Hartocollis writes, “How a financial adviser without a law degree has managed to bring so many cases that make, as he calls it, ‘big law,’ is a testament to his methods. He is a matchmaker bringing together two forces: students and others who believe they are being mistreated in the name of racial justice, and conservative donors who finance his work and that of the high-powered, establishment Republican lawyers who take the cases to court. In the current environment, Mr. Blum has been called many things, including a courageous man of the moment willing to take on entrenched, politically correct policies, and a tool of rich conservatives trying to extinguish efforts to help historically oppressed minorities overcome the long shadow of racism.” But to truly understand what motivates Edward Blum, you’ve just got to read the piece — it’s truly outstanding.

A Word on Racial Quotas in Admissions

One snippet from Blum’s backstory that we found to be interesting was that — at least from our understanding — one of the driving forces behind his motivation to eliminate race as a factor in college admissions is his own heritage. Edward Blum is Jewish and he grew up in the American South in the 1950’s and 60’s, a time and place in which anti-Semitism was not in short supply. Mr. Blum, and others, have made the point in the past that Asian Americans face a similar kind of discrimination in college admissions, particularly at the Ivy League schools, as Jewish applicants did back in the time of Blum’s youth. In fact, they argue that many of these institutions have Asian American quotas, that they’ll only admit a certain percentage, more or less, each year.

As our regular readers know well, we fundamentally agree with Mr. Blum that Asian Americans face discrimination in highly selective college admissions. But Asian Americans do not face quotas. Jewish American applicants certainly faced quotas for many years at our nation’s most elite institutions. Many universities are now quite open about their past practices of limiting the number of Jewish applicants. While Asian American applicants certainly face unjust discrimination in the current admissions climate, the discrimination that they face is more beneath the surface than quotas, more grounded in stereotype than a numerical limit. It would be unfair to the many Jewish applicants who were denied admission to American universities decades ago because of anti-Semitic quotas to equate the two forms of discrimination. And it would be a disservice to the Asian American applicants of today to mischaracterize precisely how they face discrimination in admissions. If the objective is to eliminate this discrimination — as it should be — we first have to accurately pinpoint just how they do face this injustice.

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