What astonished me in my early contact with American business is how definitely it ran on merit in comparison to European business. It was “what you know” whereas European business more often was “who you know”. Many doors in the USA were open to a new company based on its skills and how competitive its pricing is, while Europeans would neither answer calls nor consider offers without a personal connection.
Steadily reducing merit in admissions criteria in favour of quotas removes an essential element of what built America and a core competitive advantage. Based on reports of the current climate of corruption, graft and backhands, the train may have already left the station. Reverse discriminataion in college admissions is just another nail in the coffin of American competitiveness.
Today I read an essay in The Atlantic arguing in favour of affirmative action. Affirmative action mandates racial quotas in schools and professions. It’s effectively apartheid turned on its head and the opposite of meritocracy. If the US Supreme Court rules that race-based discrimination is illegal, colleges will find a way to skirt the rules. Black applicants will be further encouraged to write trauma essays:
if schools are forbidden from formally asking for students’ racial identities, the college essay could become even more important as a way for students to signal their race.
Aya M. Waller-Bey is effectively arguing that whatever the laws of the land are that colleges can and should ignore them. It astonishes me that we are still having a conversation about the lack of opportunity for black applicants to university. Here are the numbers:
8%, the percentage of black students at Ivy League and other highly selective colleges and universities. “The numbers really are startlingly consistent,” Tough writes. “About 15 percent of American high school graduates are black,…but Princeton’s student body is 8 percent black. Cornell’s is 8 percent black.”
Other Ivy League schools and “Ivy-Plus” elite universities are pretty close. Back in 1984, Harvard’s freshman class was—wait for it—8% black.
According to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s entering classes hovered at around 10%-11% black or African-American for years, but the university reports that more than 14% of the Classes of 2023 and 2024 identified as black or African-American. African-Americans comprised only 6.7% of Cornell’s Class of 2023, while another 5.6% described themselves as bi- or multiracial.
If blacks make up 15% of high school graduates but are achieving 10% average admissions to Ivy League universities, this already suggests a significant admission bias in their favour. It’s unlikely that black high school graduates make up 15% of university admissions or graduates across the United States. If blacks skip university by choice and inclination, why should they be guaranteed disproportionate representation at elite colleges?1
When the conversation is narrowed to the Ivy League colleges, these are supposed to be the best of the best, admitted strictly on merit and achievement. Why should high achieving Asian, Jewish or – heavens forbid – WASP children be locked out of the Ivy League to meet racial quotas?2
When the NFL and NBA change their roster requirements to insist on 65% white, 10% Asian, 15% Hispanic and 15% black players, we can revisit this question.
Reverse discrimination is not the only bugbear in college admissions. Signe Wilkinson’s cartoon which illustrates this article cleverly shows that there are other dangers than reverse discrimination. The admission on a preferential basis of unqualified and well-connected children of alumni and/or student athletes wreaks havoc on meritocracy. The playing field must be even. No groups should either be discriminated against or for.
The greater the danger to the United States is that instead of working as a meritocracy, it will become an idiocracy where success is leverage via racial and/or sexual identity or based on connections. A country run on such principles would rapidly lost its competitiveness as the ability of its physicians, surgeons, scientists and pilots would quickly become uneven. Quality of life would detiorate in short order.
Image credit: Signe Wilkinson
Pursuing a university education supposes an inclination to academic work. This is not to say that white collar work has higher value to society than blue collar work. I defy anyone to live in a city without sanitary workers, policemen or construction work. ↩