Monday, July 21, 2003

Cursing their good luck 

Remember the old line, "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it"? That appears to be the case at the University of Michigan, says fellow Alliance member PowerLine.
Over the weekend, I saw an old friend who is now a prominent and well-placed faculty member at the University of Michigan. Regarding the recent Supreme Court rulings, he told me that (1) the university's undergraduate officials are still trying to figure out how, under any sensible legal analysis, they could have lost their case while the law school prevailed and (2) meanwhile, they are quicky switching from their objective point-based admissions standards to a system like the law school's that will produce race-based decisions through a process that satisfies Justice O'Connor.

No surprises there. But my friend also told me that the undergraduate officials are quite unhappy with the ruling, and not just because it is requiring them to hire more admissions staff. Michigan actually liked its point system, and with good reason. Its virtue was that, unlike the vast majority of admissions systems used these days, it produced very few surprises.

That sounds about right: If you are going to use an objective system of questionable legality, you most certainly want to try to make it fly under the radar. Fewer lawsuits that way. But now that this is illegal, they have to use a system that generates more surprises. Deacon notes that
High quality white students will be getting rejection letters that they would not have received if either the Court had banned race-based preferences or had simply rendered an honest decision upholding such preferences.
It may be, however, that the universities don't really care. John Rosenberg, who covers this area of the law as well as any blogger, links several pieces that collectively show that while the lawyers agree that admissions offices have a harder job to do now, the higher administrations can't seem to take 'no' for an answer.
Last Wednesday, according to an article in today's Chronicle, leaders of 48 colleges met at Harvard to discuss how to protect preferences in perpetuity. According to the understated, laconic lead, "[r]ace-neutral alternatives to affirmative action attracted little interest...." (Link requires subscription)
Several of those present said they planned to focus on finding ways to shield race-conscious admissions policies against future legal challenges, rather than experimenting with the alternatives to affirmative action being promoted by the Bush administration and some conservative activists.
Not to mention the Supreme Court. And, of course, that's precisely what happened: Justice O'Connor's requirement of serious consideration of race-neutral means of achieving diversity, etc., was not discussed.
The event's leaders said that much of the participants' attention focused on how colleges can best justify racial and ethnic diversity as central to their missions. Those on hand also discussed several areas in which they saw a need for additional research, such as the appropriate use of testing, the question of how to define academic "merit," and how colleges can make the best use of diversity on campuses....

Justice O'Connor's admonition regarding race-neutral alternatives to affirmative action barely came up, meeting participants said.

Plus ca change...