The Education Deep State Consensus: Diversity Above Equality

August 11, 2022 Updated: August 18, 2022

Commentary

In late July, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) submitted their response briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in two lawsuits against the institutions’ admissions processes. The cases, filed by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), are to be heard on Oct. 31.

Following the responses, a slew of U.S. colleges and universities, progressive think tanks, and government agencies weighed in with support for race-based affirmative action in their friends-of-the-court amicus briefs.

Both Harvard and UNC vehemently deny SFFA’s allegations of racial discrimination in undergraduate admissions. They also use the legal filings as an opportunity to pledge their unrelenting allegiance to “student-body diversity.”

Their friends regurgitate this “diversity” talking point unapologetically. Georgetown University, Boston College, The Catholic University of America, College of the Holy Cross, DePaul University, Fordham University, Marquette University, University of Notre Dame, Villanova University, and 48 more Catholic universities joined in an amicus brief (pdf). The schools stated that racial diversity is a necessary component of their academic and religious missions, while asserting the consideration of race to be a free speech right.

In its brief, the federal government endorses (pdf) race-conscious admissions partly because “the United States military depends on a well-qualified and diverse officer corps that is prepared to lead a diverse fighting force.” Diversity is elevated as a national security issue.

The amicus brief (pdf) filed by California Changelawyers, Equal Justice Society, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati law firm asks the court not to repeat California’s mistake to inflict “immediate, palpable harm on many talented Black, Latinx, and other prospective and admitted students.” Upending the racial diversity paradigm perpetuates “systems of white supremacy” in higher education, according to the brief.

That’s certainly a blatant lie, considering California’s progressive outlook and the undeniable fact that 9.65 million California voters, not white supremacists, decided to keep the state’s constitutional ban on racial preferences in 2020.

Sadly, neither UNC nor Harvard have submitted any novel claims or arguments in the new round of legal sparring. Instead, they echo lower court rulings and defendants’ friends-of-the-court briefs that insist on the continued use of race in admissions in the name of diversity.

Their arguments are eerily identical: (1) Diversity is a core mission of U.S. higher education; (2) race is only a plus factor among many; (3) every applicant is treated equally without regard to race; and (4) race-neutral alternatives have been exhausted and found to be insufficient in achieving diversity.

The diversity bandwagon also warns that an unfavorable ruling would destabilize the law, rattle “decades of settled precedent [for using race],” and distort the original meaning of the 14th Amendment, as well as the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education.

In other words, diversity, long interpreted as racial representation and proportionality, is to be accepted by the nation’s court and the general public beyond doubt. Legal precedents, which by no means gave anybody a license to discriminate, aren’t to be revisited so that universities and colleges can be saved from the trouble of future litigation.

While all the players for race-based affirmative action attempt to construct a consensus on diversity, there simply isn’t one. In its latest legal filing, UNC touts itself as a champion of “diversity initiatives … from campus discussion forums and student debates to course offerings.” The school also emphasizes the diversity of intellectual thought “against group think,” and its status as “the top colleges overall for free speech.”

In the same breath, ironically, UNC refers to lower admissions of “underrepresented minorities” as a chief challenge in its diversity work. This setback is highlighted in a historical context of “a Southern flagship university that for most of its history excluded racial minorities from admissions altogether.”

Harvard, the forerunner of the “holistic review” model, doesn’t even conceal its emphasis on racial diversity. It stated that “for students of color, adequate representation mitigates feelings of alienation and isolation that inhibit learning.” A virtue-signaling statement addressing an imaginary group of victims says nothing about the real educational benefits of diversity, but an ideological obsession.

Based on findings from the “2021 College Free Speech Rankings” by Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), UNC ranked No. 23 among 150 top colleges for free speech with an overall score of 64.5 out of 100. Harvard ranked No. 130 with a “Red” speech code signaling policy restrictions of protected speech.

Overall, the survey, the largest for campus free expression, found that “66% of students report some level of acceptance for speaker shout-downs—up 4 percentage points from [2020]; 23% consider it acceptable for people to use violence to stop certain speech—up 5 percentage points from [2020].”

Such an uptick in suppressing free speech for political conformity makes the case for viewpoint diversity meaningless.

Diversity of political affiliation is a practical joke on today’s college campuses. A recent poll of 12,372 U.S. university professors by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) found a staggering 8.5-to-1 ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans, a ratio that’s almost eight times larger than that of the general population.

In fact, diversity has become an ideological battle cry for the far left. Loyalty to diversity is often mandated as a political litmus test for school admissions, job applications, and career advancement. Harvard and UNC have also provided an exhaustive list of how they’ve attempted race-neutral alternatives, such as need-based student recruitment, targeted outreach to underrepresented groups, and pipelines for high-achieving community college students. They all swear that their efforts are conducted in good faith and narrowly tailored manners, but couldn’t yield “exceptional student-body diversity” alone without race-based measures.

If these schools truly believe in diversity as a fundamental value, meaning that “no person is one-dimensional and no two people are the same,” how would they be able to pinpoint a desirable level of diversity without using race as a proxy?

The whole point of SFFA’s legal challenges is the extent to which UNC or Harvard has illegally employed race as a factor in admissions, outside the scope of narrow tailoring and beyond the purpose of satisfying a compelling government interest. Not only have SFFA’s own expert analyses shown that race played a significant role, but other independent scholarly inquiries also corroborate this.

SFFA’s analysis of Harvard’s admissions data shows that race isn’t only used to achieve a critical mass of underrepresented minority students, but to discriminate against Asian applicants. An Asian American applicant with a 25 percent chance of admission would have his or her chances increased to 35 percent as a white applicant, 75 percent as a Hispanic applicant, and 95 percent as a black applicant.

A 2016 Inside Higher Education survey found that 42 percent of admission officers from private colleges and 39 percent of admission officers from public colleges said they hold Asian American applicants to higher standards.

Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor analyzed the pervasiveness of racial preferences in selective U.S. universities over a 20-year period of time. They found that “no other racial or ethnic group at these three of the most selective Ivy League schools is as underrepresented relative to its application numbers as are Asian-Americans.”

After all, race consciousness isn’t a benign practice that only rewards but never punishes certain groups. If race were only to be used as a plus factor, as argued by Harvard and UNC, then why have a growing number of intellectuals, policy observers, journalists, and advocacy groups independently documented the systemic trend of discrimination and racial balancing? SFFA isn’t the lone wolf in the battle, as many others have pursued administrative complaints, public exposure, and legal actions against discrimination in education, some of which started long before SFFA.

At the end of the day, the central questions are epistemological. Should diversity overtake equality or equal protection under the law as the fundamental concern of our society? Are some more equal than others in the context of diversity?

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Wenyuan Wu
Wenyuan Wu holds a doctorate in international studies from the University of Miami and is the executive director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. Wu’s recent advocacy has focused on combatting critical race theory in American public life. She has given expert testimony in various state legislature hearings on the topic and helped launched the website RejectCRT.org. She writes for Minding the Campus of the National Association of Scholars and sits on the board of Parents Defending Education Action.