October 14, 2018

EDITORIAL: Stand With Harvard on Affirmative Action

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Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, a case that could decide the future of affirmative action in America, goes to trial today in Boston. The issue at hand is ostensibly Harvard’s alleged discrimination against Asian-Americans in their admissions process to the benefit of other minorities and white students, but the plaintiffs have made clear that their true intention in bringing suit is to eradicate all race-based consideration from college admissions nationwide.

Though the case currently sits in front of U.S. District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs, its outcome will likely be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where newly installed Justice Brett Kavanaugh and a 5-4 conservative majority await.

We strongly oppose this latest effort by conservative gadfly Edward Blum to force universities and colleges to ignore race when making decisions, and we stand with Harvard, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the ACLU, and institutions of higher education across the country, including Cornell.

Blum, who has made a career challenging affirmative action rules, most recently sued the University of Texas on behalf of Abigail Fisher, a white student rejected from that school in 2008. He lost the case in 2016, but since 2014 he has been organizing to take on Harvard, which he claims unfairly disadvantages Asian-American applicants through the use (or abuse) of amorphous “personal rating.” He is also suing University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. It’s clear that Blum’s real concern is not the treatment of his clients but the completion of his idealogical crusade.

Affirmative action remains necessary at Cornell and elsewhere, and so race consideration must be upheld. To ignore race while evaluating applicants is to ignore the history of race in America, and all the pernicious effects of that history that still exist. Equality of opportunity does not yet exist in an America where white wealth far outstrips non-white wealth, where white mortality rates pale in comparison to non-white rates, where cities like Flint, Michigan go for years without clean water, where study after study shows that people with “white-sounding” names are far more likely to receive job callbacks, leases and mortgages than people with “non-white sounding” names.

For centuries, America held down all but a select few of its people, and it is foolish to suggest that, in the few decades since we began to unravel de jure racism, all inequities have vanished

We firmly agree with Cornell and 15 other elite colleges and universities that “it is artificial to consider an applicant’s experiences and perspectives while turning a blind eye to race.” Affirmative action plays a crucial role in offering opportunities to capable and deserving people who otherwise would not receive them, in mitigating pervious harm done by our society, and in creating a more diverse, equitable, cohesive nation and world. We hope the court sees similarly.