Even though schools and universities are still allowed to consider a number of factors in their admissions process, the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan law banning the use of race as a factor in admissions. According to David Leonhardt of the New York Times, even officials in the Obama administration have concluded that affirmative action is “doomed.”
As Leonhardt notes, five of the Supreme Court justices are not in favor of race based programs at all. In addition, the court already put the burden on affirmative action programs to prove that “race neutral” programs don’t work. Eight states have already banned affirmative action based on race and the issue is under consideration in other states as well.
Given the predicament of affirmative action programs, some are wondering if it’s not time to replace race based affirmative with a class based version:
Black and Latino students are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than white and Asian students with similar incomes. Black and Latino families are also less wealthy than white and Asian families. And black children in particular are much more likely to be growing up without two parents in their home.
Proponents of a new kind of affirmative action prefer an approach that focuses on wealth, neighborhood and family structure, as well as parents’ income, education and other factors. Doing so steers clear of the legal restrictions on racial classifications — and, in the minds of most Americans, is fair. Is an affluent teenager with a 1,300 SAT score really more accomplished than the valedictorian of a troubled high school with a 1,250? No.
But there is a negative side to class based affirmative action as well:
The biggest downside to these class-based approaches is that they don’t acknowledge the role that race plays in American society. If you somehow found otherwise identical white and black students — living in the same neighborhood, with the same income, wealth and structure — the black student would still probably have to do more just to keep up. Racism is not dead, as social-science research makes clear.
BreakingBrown also recently reported that black judges had been unfairly rated by white lawyers in Massachusetts during routine surveys, calling attention to how pervasive race is in American society. But since the Supreme Court has set the stage for the gutting of affirmative action, universities in conservative states may have no choice but to transition to a class based system.