Unintended Consequences

A lot of conservatives object to race-based admissions to colleges and universities on the grounds that Black students are getting slots they think should go to White students. They are presumably celebrating the Supreme Court decision limiting the use of race in admissions decisions, figuring that this decision will help White students get more slots.

Depends where. At top institutions, it will do exactly the opposite. They’re thinking about Black Americans. Who they aren’t thinking about is Asian Americans.

A century or so ago, American colleges and universities started getting a whole lot of very qualified Jewish applicants. They didn’t want their institutions becoming too Jewish, including my very liberal alma mater, Oberlin College, and so they started developing admissions criteria to help them limit Jews. Suddenly they were looking at “well-rounded” students. They were looking at extracurricular activities. They were making their decisions a whole lot more subjective.

As the Asian-American population grew and as Asians who, like Jews, have an unusual statistical tendency to take academics very seriously, these same criteria that limited Jewish admissions limited Asian admissions. In fact, one of the Supreme Court cases was about exactly that.

What happens to White students when race is taken out of the equation at premium institutions?

The Asian-American population is, as of 2020 according to Wikipedia, 7.3% of the US population. The White American population is, as of the same time, about 75% of the US population. In other words, the White population is roughly an order of magnitude bigger than the Asian population.

What happens when we look at institutions that really are more worried about merit than about anything else? Let’s take MIT and CalTech.

MIT:  28.7% White, 19.7% Asian
CalTech:  29.9% White, 22.9% Asian

The spread isn’t exactly an order of magnitude.

So what’s going on?

What’s going on is that no one is acknowledging that White students get a whole lot of affirmative action. They don’t object to it working in their favor; they only object to it working against them.

Geographic distribution: boosted representation from very White states

Sports: Inner city schools don’t necessarily have tennis teams, fencing teams, crew teams, and so students from places that don’t have these sports are underrepresented.

Legacies.: This one certainly works in White favor, but the main reason it’s still in place is actually not as racially motivated as you might think. There’s a different dynamic at work here, and it has to do with the US News & World Report national college rankings. What do they base their rankings on? One factor they base their rankings on is yield, which is to say the percentage of accepted students who choose to attend. Legacies have an astronomical yield rate.

Some of these may stay in place, though there’s a big outcry about legacies these days. However, we may see more legal action as people catch on to what’s in place, why it was introduced, and why it’s still in place.

What’s going to happen to White valedictorians from all over the country who can’t get into ivies any more? What’s going to happen to rich students and their parents when the schools they’re used to considering are suddenly way harder to get into because of Asian competition that is suddenly allowed a much more equal footing? What’s going to happen to White admissions at Chicago, Stanford, Berkeley, Northwestern, Duke, Rice, Swarthmore, Williams?

They’re already figuring out how to adjust, which is to say how to circumvent the ruling without technically circumventing the ruling. I’m not in on those conversations.

What we’re looking at here is classic racism, and we’re looking at a very particular conservative strain of racism. What I’ve noticed drives conservatives more nuts than anything else, as least as nuts than playing fields that aren’t level drives us, is poor people, particularly poor Black people, getting more than conservative White people think they deserve. This phenomenon is beyond rationality and has been forever. Conservatives would rather watch a thousand poor kids starve than watch one Welfare Cadillac, someone gaming the system successfully at what they view as their expense. In their book, the worst sin is to be taken. This phenomenon is only aimed at the poor except for at Rich Black people. When the wealthy take advantage of them, for some reason that doesn’t bother them. I can’t explain this; it’s too irrational for me.

So now fewer slots will go to the people they consider undeserving, keeping in mind that lack of opportunity doesn’t generally enter into their equation about deserving. What I will damned near guarantee you they are missing is that, compared to a whole lot of Asian students, they’re undeserving.

This decision will reduce White admissions at premium institutions, some of which are state schools that give a lot of need-based financial aid. As you sow, so shall you reap. Survival of the fittest is great while you assume that you’re the fittest, but when you abruptly discover that you’re not, it doesn’t look so great any more. I’m very curious as to how this will unfold. My fear is that a form it will take is resentment of Asians. Among some White populations, they’ll suddenly be viewed as foreigners even if they were born here.

We’ll see. But it’s worth watching.

[Note: I’m getting wild variation on the internet as to the White percentage of America’s population. The figure here may include the Hispanic population. Brookings says it’s 60.1%. These are about the outside boundaries of what I”m seeing.]