NEW YORK—Okay, the easiest solution to this whole college admissions controversy is to send all the applications to me and I’ll go through them and tell you which students should go to Harvard and which students should go to Texas A&M and which students should go to Agnes Scott College and which students should go to Virginia Military Institute and which students should go to the Empire Beauty School and which students should stay home and go to the University of Phoenix.
I have several special skills that are extremely rare among college officials.
Numero Uno: I can tell the difference between a score of 428 on the math section of the SAT test and a score of 598 on the same test. (Hint: The second one—the mean score of Asians—is higher.)
Numero Two-o: I can go through an 800-word essay and grade it for grammar. I can also parse it for bullshit. Anybody who writes stuff like “It was my grandfather, a medicine man, who first taught me about the stars” is automatically eliminated. Likewise for “I am a daughter, a sister, a student, a friend, but I am more than the sum of my parts.” Should I go on? I don’t care about the Joshua Tree that you walked past every day on your way to gymnastics class. Tell me why you wanna go to this particular college and what you think you’re gonna do there. “I don’t know” can actually be a good answer.
Numero Three-o: I don’t care where you came from or where you grew up or who your daddy was, and I especially don’t care what color your skin is. Did you hit the books in high school? Are you gonna hit the books at some reasonable level next year?
But since America’s university and college systems probably can’t afford me, I propose that we do the next best thing:
Set up the application process so that nobody ever knows what your race is.
It’s actually easy to do. It’s already done with a lot of job applications. Just set up the rules so that there’s no picture, no reference to race, and any live interviews are done through Skype, with no video. We have the technology to do this, we can easily develop apps that make it possible, because the alternative is to go through this yearly ritual:
Stage one: Oh my God, the elite universities don’t have enough minority students!
Stage two: Lengthy debate, lots of meetings, lots of papers written, all showing that it’s because the elite universities discriminate against nontraditional students.
Stage three: Seventeen more “diversity and inclusion” employees are hired. Committees are formed. Speech and behavior codes are enforced.
Stage four: Everyone decides the SAT and ACT admissions tests don’t accurately measure minority achievement.
Stage five: Rewrite the tests.
Stage six: Okay, we rewrote the tests and we got the same result.
Graduate that class, repeat at Stage One.
I understand that it’s not all about SAT scores. It’s also about leadership, service to the community, initiative, and overcoming life challenges.
None of that requires checking a race box.
The whole rationale for changing the rules is that the current system of college admissions has “cultural bias” and so we need to eliminate it from the equation. Unfortunately “cultural bias” is such a slippery term that Ivy League schools get into the contradictory position of saying it penalizes African-Americans but unfairly rewards Asian-Americans. When the Harvard lawsuit was tried last month, a Berkeley economist named David Card produced 200 separate criteria Harvard considers before admitting someone to the freshman class. There were weird ones in there—like the percentage of black people in your zip code (a plus if high), and whether you live in “sparse country” (a plus if you do)—but there were only two that would require revealing your race. One was the alumni interview; although, let’s face it, the alumnus can’t be absolutely sure what your race is without asking you. For that matter, you can’t be absolutely sure of anyone’s race without a DNA test, but my column last year about eliminating racial classifications in the census landed with such a hollow thud that I won’t even go back over it. The second time Harvard comes face-to-face with you is in the late-stage staff interview.
Both interviews could be conducted through audio. What would you be giving up? Perhaps a little information about the person’s poise under stress. Perhaps some information about where the person chooses to meet you and who his or her friends are. But if we’ve been trying for forty years to eliminate racial bias in college admissions, this would be the way to do it once and for all. We find out what race the person is after the process is over.
Among other advantages of this system, it would mollify all those Faculty Senate provocateurs who keep squawking about how universities are lowering standards. You could set the standards as high as you wanted—and, okay, let’s go over those tests one more time and make sure there’s not one single question that has terminology penalizing a particular ethnic group—and then make the formula whatever you wanted it to be. If you want to make academics 90 percent of the criteria, then that’s what your school stands for. If you want to make academics 40 percent and vague stuff like leadership and community involvement more important, then that’s what your school does. The applicant ends up in the culture that fits. The college gets the student that fits that college’s culture.
And racism is impossible because we never see race.
What a utopian I am. What a dreamer. I must be full of old white-guy privilege. Otherwise why would I be saying every student should be treated fairly and equally? That idea is so 1776. Get over it, Joe Bob.