New Year, Same Old Discrimination?

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 1/1


Welcome to 2023, CounterCurrent readers! The month-long countdown to the quiet abandonment of most New Year’s resolutions has begun—but in this first week of January, the prospect of change is as bright as it will ever be. Although the idea of change for the better seems foreign to American colleges and universities, higher education could be in for its own shakeup in 2023 nonetheless. The Supreme Court’s pending decision on racial preferences could finally outlaw the discrimination that has driven college admissions decisions for decades.

Of course, a verdict against racial preferences in college admissions wouldn’t necessarily bring an end to the practice. Our nation’s top colleges and universities have made it abundantly clear that they believe the ability to discriminate on the basis of race is crucial to achieving their “diversity, equity, and inclusion” goals. As NAS Board Member Gail Heriot has written, “Many university officials consider their support for discriminatory standards to be a sacred duty.” If we believe that a Supreme Court decision alone will be enough to end racial discrimination in higher education admissions, we are fooling ourselves.

For an example of how closely college administrators cling to their discriminatory practices, just take a look at Stanford University. In the 1950s, Stanford quietly implemented a quota system that put a strict cap on the number of Jewish applicants accepted to the university. As the number of Jewish applicants accepted sharply declined, rumors of the suspected discrimination began to spread—but Stanford officials vehemently denied the accusations throughout the ‘50s and the ‘60s. It took nearly seventy years for Stanford to finally admit the extent of its discrimination against Jews, which it did in a report issued this past September titled A Matter Requiring the Utmost Discretion.”

But that’s not the end of the story. While Stanford claims to have discontinued its discrimination against Jewish applicants, university administrators continue to manipulate the racial and ethnic demographics of its student body to this day. And once again, any sign of remorse seems decades away.

In this week’s featured article, John S. Rosenberg compares Stanford’s discrimination against Jews in the 1950s with its ongoing discrimination against Asian and white applicants:

Stanford is on record again and again defending preferential treatment in admissions (its brief in the Harvard/University of North Carolina case now before the Supreme Court is here), and it appears to practice what it preaches by taking race and ethnicity into account. Again, if it is fine to deny admission to some Asian and white applicants who would have been admitted had Stanford “paid no attention” to their race or ethnicity, what exactly was “wrong” with Stanford’s old practice of restricting the number of Jews? What principle did it violate that is not also violated by today’s practice?

The recent Stanford report is impressive, but it is not without blind spots. The most glaring is its failure to acknowledge that its policy of restricting Jews is more than similar to the racially and ethnically discriminatory policies of Stanford and similar institutions today; it is virtually identical. The old descriptions and defenses—creating “balance,” judging each candidate individually, denying quotas—are still very much in use.

The fact that it took Stanford a full seventy years to apologize for its discrimination against Jews is telling. But what’s even more revealing is that its long-overdue apology came at the very same time that the university doubled down on its use of racial preferences in admissions before the Supreme Court.

Stanford is by no means alone in its commitment to maintain racially discriminatory admissions policies. This discrimination is not just in vogue at American universities—it’s the very foundation of the new model of higher education, in which equity outweighs merit, and the DEI office calls the shots. A Supreme Court decision against racial preferences later this year would be a major step forward for academic equality, but it won’t be the end of the fight.

Until next week.

P. S. The Oregon Association of Scholars is determined not to let discrimination in Oregon’s colleges and universities go unchecked. They are ringing in the New Year with a new report on “Racial Segregation at Portland State University and the $20,000 Colored Only Cocktail Party.” Read the report online here.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Jason Leung, Public Domain

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