There was a recent opinion piece in “The New York Times” on Affirmative Action — on its merits and its drawbacks — that we figured we’d share with our readers. The piece, penned by Gary Gutting, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, is entitled “Affirmative Action and College Admissions: ‘The Problem With Meritocracy Is That It Isn’t Meritocratic’” and, unsurprisingly, it shines a philosophical lens on the practice of considering race in the college admissions process. It’s a piece worth reading but we figured we’d focus our post today on what we believe to be his most powerful point in favor of Affirmative Action.
Too Many Admissions Slots Earmarked for White Applicants
So many folks over the years have written in to us or posted on our blog lamenting how Affirmative Action disadvantages white applicants. They’re not wrong. But they’re not right either. As Gutting writes in his piece, “There’s relatively little objection to discrimination in favor of athletes, children of donors and children of alums. These factors should make it easier for whites to see their rejection as an act of social justice. They should also understand that though they themselves had no role in establishing our society’s systematic discrimination against blacks, they have nonetheless benefited from this discrimination.”
An Imperfect But Necessary Way of Creating Balance
We couldn’t agree more, Dr. Gutting. Legacy applicants — who can comprise at some highly selective universities up to 25% of Early admits in certain years (hi, Penn) — remain overwhelmingly white, though that should change in the years to come. The children of major donors are overwhelmingly white. Recruited athletes are overwhelmingly white (think about all those sports that have admissions slots — like squash, tennis, swimming, water polo, field hockey, lacrosse, etc.). Olympic champions Cullen Jones and Simone Manuel are the exceptions in the overwhelmingly white sport of swimming, not the rule. In fact, this remarkable duo have made great efforts over the years to help diversify the sport of swimming, to encourage underrepresented minorities to try the sport out.
So many slots in highly selective college admissions are essentially earmarked for white applicants because while it may be controversial to say, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true: a poor African American young person in Baltimore is unlikely to be Princeton’s next great squash recruit. When is this young person playing squash? Where’s the court? The fact is, there must be balance and the practice of considering race in college admissions is one small, imperfect way of righting wrongs.