Academia, Campus, News

Affirmative action positive at universities, report suggests

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to rule once again on affirmative action, some Boston University officials and other university presidents have said the legislation is vital to higher education.

Inside Higher Education published a survey Friday finding while presidents of most universities agree that cutting affirmative action programs would be detrimental to their schools, a significant minority of opinion exists.

“The universities responded [to the call for affirmative action] because they recognized this was a serious problem,” said Julian Go, a BU professor of sociology. “The statistics showed that minority groups were underrepresented in education and I think those numbers spoke volumes.”

Go said reports suggest affirmative action is successful in enriching educational experience.

“Most studies show that having a diverse student body enriches everyone’s educational experience in the sense that people become more open to diverse perspectives and their views of the world are widened,” Go said.

Seventy percent of the 841 campus leaders surveyed agreed the consideration of race in admission has had a mostly positive effect on higher education, according to the survey. Furthermore, 58 percent of college presidents said the use of race in admissions has had a mostly positive effect at their specific institutions.

Inside Higher Ed interpreted this data as revealing a disparity of opinion among college presidents, according to the report on the survey.

“As unified as they have been in their public stances, college leaders do not hold uniformly positive views on affirmative action, especially when it comes to the question at the core of the Fisher v. Texas — the case before the high court,” the report stated.

Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed editor and co-founder, said the study was motivated by a need to show what college presidents are thinking as the court case is debated.

“We think it’s important to find out where college leaders stand,” he said in an email. “And with many experts predicting that the court could limit the use of affirmative action, we wanted our readers to know the ideas currently being considered by colleges for such a scenario.”

BU spokesman Colin Riley said BU’s admissions councilors take a holistic view of students. Every factor of their transcripts, recommendations, essays and level of achievement is taken into consideration.

“We look at the student in their entirety,” Riley said. “It helps us bring in students we know will have a high likelihood of success and are deserving of acceptance to Boston University.”

Arjun Banerjee, a first-year Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student, said he does not agree with affirmative action and that merit should be the most important factor in admissions.

“I believe very strongly in a merit-dependent system,” he said. “Affirmative action goes right in the face of that. I would be in favor of something that puts more weight on income, for example — I think affirmative action actually promotes more racial disparity than it fixes.”

Sarah Norris, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said BU is a diverse school with a large number of minority students and students from different backgrounds.

“It is important to have people from all different backgrounds but, especially with college, merit should be the first priority,” she said.

Chelsea Hermond, a School of Management sophomore, said while she does not believe affirmative action is fair, it helps maintain diversity, especially in the workplace.

“Retail shops I’ve worked at really emphasize having a diverse group of people where they are working so customers will feel more welcome into their stores,” Hermond said. “It’s a lot more evident in the workplace.”

She said she believes the affirmative action policies should stay as they are because they are doing no harm.

CAS sophomore Natalie Rock said she felt hard work and dedication should decide acceptance over race.

“I don’t think that it’s a good thing if it discredits somebody else’s work ethic or their merit based solely on ethnicity or the color of their skin,” Rock said. “If you are a qualified person or a good student, you should get the position or get into the school based on your hard work and dedication, not on other things.”

CORRECTION: The article initially interpreted Inside Higher Ed’s survey as reporting a majority of presidents support affirmative action. However, Inside Higher Ed interpreted the data as indicative that university leaders do not hold consistently positive views of affirmative action. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.

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  1. This is not the way that Inside Higher Ed itself interpreted the data. It said that the survey of college presidents found that “only 70 percent of campus leaders agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that consideration of race in admissions has had a ‘mostly positive effect on higher education generally,’ and only 58 percent said the use of race in admissions has had ‘a mostly positive effect on education’ at their institutions.” The article notes that the sizeable minority out of “lockstep” with the diversity mantra is in contrast with the public statements and briefs of schools.

    But other surveys have also found surprisingly strong support for nondiscrimination even among academics (to say nothing of the general population). And, as I said in my quote in the article, the relatively low positive response in the survey is probably too high, since presidents are more likely to dissemble about supporting racial preferences than about not supporting them. What’s more, the question was phrased in a way to reinforce the social correctness of a positive response, and more presidents were “generally” positive than positive vis-à-vis “at my institution” — that is, the more they knew about the effect of racial preferences, the less likely they were to support them.

    One broader point: To justify racial discrimination in higher education as a legal matter, there have to be “compelling” reasons for it. How compelling can those reasons be if a sizable minority of college presidents don’t view the discrimination as having positive effects at all? Not to mention the fact that most schools don’t use preferences at all — since they are nonselective or are in states that have banned them.

    • Roger , I am awaiting my comments and responses to the Chingos article to be published ……… sounds like it is being censored by Harvard. Ms Hamacek has indeed misqouted the survey published in Inside Higher Education.

  2. R U at this again Roger? Anyway, I read the article myself and U are right. Ms.Hamacek got it wrong about the Inside Ed article. Read my response to the James Chingos article.

  3. SORRY I meant Matthew Chingos