I was delighted today to learn that the Supreme Court has upheld the ability of colleges and universities to practice a holistic admissions process that includes attention to race. This will provide opportunities to historically marginalized groups while giving the whole campus culture the benefits of diversity. Grades, or test scores, or any one ranking would not produce an educationally worthy outcome. A key passage in Justice Kennedy’s opinion, quoted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, put it this way:
A system that selected every student through class rank alone would exclude the star athlete or musician whose grades suffered because of daily practices and training. It would exclude a talented young biologist who struggled to maintain above-average grades in humanities classes. And it would exclude a student whose freshman-year grades were poor because of a family crisis but who got herself back on track in her last three years of school, only to find herself just outside of the top decile of her class.
For education to play a role for social mobility and against entrenched inequality, we need affirmative action as part of a holistic admissions process. This allows schools to build classes that give students powerful learning experiences and individuals opportunities to convert their academic experience into empowerment beyond the university.
As pleased as I am with this court ruling, I am dismayed that the deadlocked SCOTUS has stymied President Obama’s efforts to make use of more humane immigration policies for people who have already built lives in communities across the United States. In the coming years, Wesleyan will consider as domestic applicants the undocumented students who have had the great bulk of their schooling in the USA. But I am so sorry their families will continue to live with the threat of deportation because of this ruling.
It’s up to all of us to make what Carol Geary Schneider, outgoing president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, has called “constructive engagement with difference.” I’ll end this post with her good words:
Even as we celebrate this important Supreme Court decision affirming campus diversity as a compelling educational interest, therefore, I urge educators across the country to recommit to the hard work of holding our institutions, our students, our faculty, and ourselves responsible for helping students achieve this essential capacity—constructive engagement with difference—that a quality college education includes. Creating a diverse campus community is the first step to achieving this goal; preparing students to work productively across difference—whatever their major—is the next critical frontier in higher education’s long-term efforts to make excellence inclusive.