The Threat of "All White" Elite Colleges


A progressive friend recently wrote me and said, "If affirmative action is ended, America's elite colleges will again be all white."

First of all, let me note that I am fine with "limited" affirmative action: if there is basically a tie between two students seeking admission to a college, I think it is OK to use minority status to break the tie.

But what I really want to remark upon is the amazing claim that only affirmative action prevents America's elite universities from being "all white." UC Berkeley is a pretty elite place, and affirmative action is illegal in the California. Here are its most recent enrollment statistics.

Say what?! Whites make up only 24.3% of the admitted students! Chinese students are at 19.5%, nearly the same level as whites, and this despite the fact the whites outnumber Chinese in California by about 22 to 1. South Asians are another 9% of the admissions: over a third of the number of white admittees, despite whites outnumbering South Asians in the state by roughly 40 to 1. The numbers are similarly disproportianate for other Asian groups, for instance, Koreans are around 5% of admittees, despite being only about 1/80 of California's population.

As a "person of paleness," my reaction to these figures is, "Bully for you, Chinese and Indian and Korean students! And white students: you don't have any 'right' to be admitted as 40% (the white portion of the population of California) of UC Berkeley's students: You want to get in? Study harder!"

All that being said, blacks in the U.S. have, of course, had a unique history of being discriminated against. And I think it is fine to try to address this fact. But let's do it by devoting resources to getting more black students ready for elite universities, not by admitting those who aren't ready.

6 comments:

  1. Gene, there seems to be something implicitly racist about all of this. Why should we worry about elite colleges being all 'anything' if the people getting the jobs are qualified and the very best? 'Inclusive eliteness' or 'egalitarian eliteness' is an oxymoron.

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    1. "Gene, there seems to be something implicitly racist about all of this."

      No: it just acknowledges the reality of race as a social concern.

      "Why should we worry about elite colleges being all 'anything' if the people getting the jobs are qualified and the very best?"

      Because race is a real social concern. You are treating the situation as an abstraction.

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  2. Gene, I don't see the validity of your points. I'm not treating a situation as an abstraction - I'm following the entailment of definitions! In any place where merit is (and should be!) regarded as the most important criteria for joining, why should race, gender, etc factor into this...? Of course it is a 'social concern' - anything that happens in our culture is a 'social concern'.

    If you are selecting for just the most elite candidates, then it falls out of the definition that you shouldn't care for selecting for things that do not matter with regards to academic success. If you change 'most elite' to satisfy politically correct concerns, then you will still exclude members of a given social group! This will happen with any criteria that you choose to define 'most elite'.

    This type of thinking is exactly what I find in contemporary philosophy journals that trip over themselves to find good female philosophers in a certain area - they fuss and fuss over not being able to find good articles, and apologize profusely at the sexist, bigoted, patriarchal world that does not allow these poor females into their social circles. But why should I care about whether or not someone who wrote a good piece of philosophy is male or female? Or why the best scientist is male or female? Or black or white? Saying that we should do so because it is a 'social concern' sounds like Social Justice Warrior tomfoolery.

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    1. " it falls out of the definition that you shouldn't care for selecting for things that do not matter with regards to academic success."

      Abstraction.

      So, if our elite universities really dd become all white, and our ruling class all white, and then all society descended into chaos in a race war... Well, at least we followed Alex's definition!

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    2. If you are going to have a multi-ethnic society, you had better make damned sure that all of the major ethnicities have some representation in most of the elite institutions. If your "definition" excludes some of them, you had damned well better change your definition! Yale is not a "definition", it is a living, flesh-and-blood group.

      Too do anything else based on a "defintion" is abstract tomfoolery.

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    3. If your schools are mostly white, then that would suggest a problem.

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