Posted on October 19, 2022

A More Diverse America Turns Against Racial Preferences

John Ellis, Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2022

The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments about the use of racial preferences in college admissions. On this score, a curious divergence in opinion has arisen in recent years. While the public has moved sharply in one direction, academia has raced in the exact opposite.

Take California. In 1996 Californians voted by a 9-point margin to approve Proposition 209, a constitutional amendment to ban the use of racial preferences in public employment and college admissions. As the state’s electorate moved to the left in the subsequent years, it was widely assumed that support for the ban had evaporated. The University of California evidently felt bound by the letter but not the spirit of the law, as the system reduced its reliance on objective test scores so that it could use “holistic” judgments, effectively making it easier to hide its use of racial preferences.

Yet in 2020 the assumption was tested. When Proposition 16 was put on the ballot—a provision to repeal the state’s prohibition of racial preferences—Californians voted it down by a 14-point margin. Even a state that voted nearly 2 to 1 for Joe Biden affirmed its opposition to racial preferences. What explained the split?

What nobody realized was that the entire country had become increasingly hostile to the use of race in such decisions. A 2022 Pew Research Center poll found that 74% of Americans oppose the use of race in college admissions. Even more surprising, 68% of Hispanics, 63% of Asians and 59% of blacks also opposed it. The same applied to both political parties, with 87% of Republicans and 62% of Democrats objecting.

But as the public attempted to slam the door shut on racial preferences, the universities were busy trying to open it wide. The stealthy end-runs around the law gave way to support for “equity”: the desire for racial proportionality in all things—never mind that the Supreme Court has held that quotas in college admissions are unlawful. Accordingly, many colleges have begun to abandon the use of test scores in applications.

In line with this hardening of campus attitudes, increasingly powerful diversity, equity and inclusion bureaucracies arose to achieve these aims. {snip}