End Racial Preferences Now

Posted: Feb 18, 2011 12:01 AM
End Racial Preferences Now

As new figures from the Census tell us, the United States is becoming an increasingly racially and ethnically diverse nation -- with a population that doesn't fit neatly into the racial boxes constructed for "diversity" purposes. So why is it that some universities and other institutions continue to use the old paradigm of granting preferences to members of groups that are deemed "underrepresented"?

The Center for Equal Opportunity, which I founded in 1995, has been documenting the use of racial and ethnic preferences in college and professional school admissions for more than a dozen years. Sad to say, too little has changed in this period. Except in a handful of states that have banned the use of race or ethnicity in state employment, contracting, and education -- California and Michigan, most prominently -- many public colleges and universities still give preference in admissions to blacks and Hispanics.

This week, we released a comprehensive study of the admissions at two public universities in Ohio -- Ohio State and Miami (available online at ceousa.org). Both schools admitted less-qualified black, and to a lesser extent Hispanic, students over better-qualified whites. In fact, Ohio State University is the largest school in the country that still employs preferential admissions policies, since preferences have been abolished at larger schools in Florida and Arizona.

Our study looked at actual test scores and high school grade data for student applicants. What we found was that between 2005 and 2007, the odds ratio favoring African-American over white students with the same test scores and grades was 10-to-1 if the ACT was used or 8-to-1 if students took the SAT at Miami University. Ohio State had somewhat smaller preferences for black over white students with the same grades and test scores, 8-to-1 for ACT takers and 3-to-1 for those taking the SAT.

The differences between Hispanic and white test scores were generally smaller, but still statistically significant. At both schools, we controlled for gender, residency, and year of admission in conducting our analysis.

The universities claim that they look at other factors in addition to test scores and grades, such as letters of recommendation and essays. But while it is not possible to conduct the same kind of rigorous analysis of these additional factors, it seems highly improbable that students with poorer grades and test scores would write more exemplary essays or receive higher recommendations than students with better academic credentials. On its face, it is clear that university administrators want to boost the number of black and Hispanic students even if it means passing over more highly qualified white and Asian applicants.

What's happening in Ohio's most prestigious public colleges isn't new -- we've now had more than four decades of such preferences. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in a case involving the University of Michigan Law School that preferences were permissible, so long as they did not actually award specific extra points on the basis of race. But not even the author of the majority opinion, then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, seemed comfortable with the practice lasting forever, arguing that she expected it to disappear within 25 years.

The people of Michigan didn't want to wait that long. In 2006, voters in the state adopted by popular initiative an amendment to the state's constitution banning the use of race, ethnicity or gender in awarding state jobs, contracts, or admission to public colleges and universities. Ohio's new governor, John Kasich, should consider following the example of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who outlawed racial preferences in that state's schools in 1999.

If Gov. Kasich and the state legislature are not willing to do so, the people of Ohio might follow the example of voters in California, Michigan, Washington, Arizona, and Nebraska by putting an initiative on the ballot and letting the people decide. Applying different standards to individuals based on color or ancestry is fundamentally wrong. The sooner we get rid of categorizing people by race, the closer we'll be to ending discrimination once and for all.