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A Great Step Backward

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | Jun 26, 2003

Michael Kinsley has a well-reasoned piece on the Supreme Court's affirmative action debacle:

The Supreme Court took these Michigan cases to end a quarter-century of uncertainty about affirmative action. What it has produced is utter logical confusion. The law school dean testified that "the extent to which race is considered in admissions ... varies from one applicant to another." It "may play no role" or it "may be a determinative factor." O'Connor cites this approvingly, but it is nonsense on several levels. First, "no role" and "determinative factor" are in fact the only possible options: A yes-or-no question cannot have an infinite variety of effects. Second, when race is determinative for one applicant, it is determinative for one other applicant, who may or may not be identifiable. Third, the same two possibilities -- no factor and determinative factor -- apply to any admissions system that takes race into account in any way, including by mathematical formula and even including an outright quota system. So it says nothing special about the law school's admissions policy compared with any other.

Transpose the situation to early 19th-century Oxford, say Christ Church College. The Dean assures us that "the extent to which pedigree is considered in admissions varies from one applicant to another," and insists that whether a candidate is the son of a duke or commoner "may play no role" or it "may be a determinative factor." Ask yourself, would it play a role in the case of a nobleman who surpasses the standards of admission on his own academic merits? Of course not. As with caste privilege in aristocratic Britain, so race at the University in Michigan: what chiefly matters is not whether you can read Latin or solve quadratic equations, what matters is who your father was.

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