Monday, December 19, 2011

An 'end point' for race-based admissions

WHEN THE SUPREME COURT, in the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, narrowly upheld the use of racial preferences at the University of Michigan Law School, it emphasized that such preferences were barely tolerable under the Constitution. They could be used only as a last resort, the court ruled, they must not unduly harm non-minorities, and public universities had to start finding ways to phase them out.

"We are mindful … that '[a] core purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to do away with all governmentally imposed discrimination based on race,'" Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for a 5-4 majority. "Accordingly, race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time…. We see no reason to exempt race-conscious admissions programs from the requirement that all governmental use of race must have a logical end point…. We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."

But eight years later, race-based admissions show no sign of moving toward "a logical end point." If anything they are more entrenched than ever. Far from using skin color as a last resort, many universities make it an explicit condition – as Abigail Fisher, a white high school senior, discovered when she applied to the University of Texas in 2008. Roughly one-fifth of the freshman class is selected according to a formula that takes race into account; when Fisher was rejected she sued the university on the grounds that its racial preferences violate the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Relying on Grutter, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the university's policy. Now Fisher is appealing to the Supreme Court.

Perhaps in 2003 there was some justification for O'Connor's expectation that universities, noting Grutter's many caveats – the majority used the words "narrow" or "narrowly" 20 times -- would be extremely wary of employing racial preferences. There is no such justification today, and it would be a fine thing if the Supreme Court used the Texas case to say so. It ought to reiterate what Chief Justice John Roberts – who was not on the court in 2003 – memorably wrote in a more recent opinion: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

There are many reasons to do so, beginning with the sheer moral repugnance of judging people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. More than 140 years ago, New York attorney John Jay – grandson of the nation's first chief justice – urged the Supreme Court to proclaim that the post-Civil War amendments had "destroyed the only exception recognized by the Constitution to the great principle of the Declaration of Independence, and that … all state legislation establishing or recognizing distinctions of race or color are void." Had the high court laid down that principle then, decades of segregation, repression, and racial cruelty might have been avoided.

Nowadays, of course, racial preferences in higher education are justified as both a means of benefiting minorities and of adding diversity to the universities that admit them. But as the Pacific Legal Foundation, the National Association of Scholars, and several other public-policy organizations argue in a friend-of-the court brief, those ends can be achieved without resorting to racial preferences. As proof they point to California, which has banned the use of racial preferences in public higher education since enacting Proposition 209 in 1996.

California's colorblind policy hasn't deprived underrepresented minorities of access to higher education. Quite the contrary. Between 1997 and 2010, the number of black, Latino, and American Indian students offered admission to the University of California system soared -- from 7,385, or 19.6 percent of all students accepted, to 16,635, or 42.6 percent of the total.

"Since Proposition 209 became effective in 1997, minorities continue to seek and be offered admission to the University of California in greater numbers without resorting to racial preferences," the amicus brief argues. "Accordingly, the University of Texas's argument that a race-conscious admissions policy is necessary to ensure a diverse student body rings hollow." Nor is California alone in rejecting racial preferences: Similar measures have recently been adopted in Michigan, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, and Florida.

"Racial classifications, however compelling their goals, are potentially … dangerous," O'Connor wrote in Grutter. In a nation as multiracial and multiethnic as ours, it is not only unjust but unsafe to allow public institutions to indulge in racial preferences. Fortunately, it is also unnecessary.


The death of History: Experts fears after shocking figures show subject is all but extinct in some areas of Britain

Experts have warned of the ‘death of History’ after shocking figures revealed the subject is becoming virtually extinct in some areas of the country.

MPs have been appalled to read new research stating that in one local authority – Knowsley, on Merseyside – just four pupils managed to pass the exam in the entire region.

The report concludes that a child growing up in the Home Counties is 46 times more likely to pass A-level History than a pupil living in deprived parts of the North.

The findings, contained in a report being published tomorrow, come amid growing alarm in Government over the lack of historical knowledge being demonstrated by school leavers.

Education Secretary Michael Gove was horrified by a recent survey that found that half of English 18 to 24-year-olds were unaware that Nelson led the British to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, while a similar proportion did not know that the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall.

Mr Gove has ordered schools to widen their teaching away from narrow syllabuses which have been mockingly summarised as ‘Cowboys and Nazis’.

The report, produced by Tory MP Chris Skidmore for the Commons All-Party Group on History, shows how the subject is being concentrated in private schools and selective grammars – and increasingly neglected in comprehensives.

Last year, less than 30 per cent of 16-year-olds in comprehensive schools were entered for GCSE History, compared with 55 per cent of pupils in grammar schools and 48 per cent in private schools.

Alarmingly, there were 159 comprehensives where not a single pupil was entered for GCSE History; and in a majority of state secondaries, less than a quarter of pupils now take the exam.

Mr Skidmore says the fact that the subject is increasingly being confined to the most academic schools – which tend to be concentrated in the south of the UK – has produced a growing North-South gulf.

Teachers in comprehensives appear more likely to put their pupils forward for ‘soft’ subjects such as Media Studies, which are less valued by employers.

He will argue this week that pupils should no longer be able to drop History at 14, with the subject instead being made compulsory until the age of 16.

In Knowsley, one of the most deprived areas in the country, out of nearly 2,000 18-year-olds who had been eligible to take A-levels, just 11 pupils took the History exam and only four passed. In the whole of Leicester, out of 1,638 A-level candidates, just 68 passed History.

This contrasts with affluent southern areas such as Cambridgeshire, where 665 pupils (out of 6,038 candidates of A-level age) took the exam and 557 passed.

Even if Knowsley were as populous as Cambridgeshire, according to the analysis, only 33 pupils would have taken the exam and just 12 obtained passes – making it 46 times less likely that they would leave school with the qualification.

Mr Skidmore, MP for Kingswood, said: ‘There are now areas of the country where History has become a dead subject, forgotten by schools and pupils once they are able to drop it at 14.

‘The future study of the past is being eradicated in entire regions. A subject that should unite us as one nation has now become the subject of two nations. In entire communities and schools, often in some of the most deprived areas of the country, the study of history has been shunned; elsewhere, it has become the preserve of more affluent areas and schools.

‘This cannot be healthy for the future of the nation. This needs to end. There has never been a stronger case for making the subject compulsory to 16.’

Last night, Mr Gove said reforms he had introduced, including the introduction of an English Baccalaureate, had already started to reverse the decline in the number of history students.

‘Every child deserves a chance to study history,’ Mr Gove said. ‘It helps us appreciate the heroism and sacrifices of those who fought to make this country a home of liberty and it enables all students to analyse evidence so they can sort out good arguments from bad. ‘Under the last Government, history was neglected and the poorest students in the most deprived areas suffered most.’


Don't give ground to Labour's free school critics or they will go 'in for the kill', says Lord Adonis

A former Labour Education Minister warned against giving ground to Labour critics of the Coalition’s ‘free schools’ because they would seize on any concession and ‘move in for the kill’, writes Simon Walters.

Lord Adonis said opponents of the schools, such as the journalist Fiona Millar, partner of Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, ‘would stick pins in their eyes’ sooner than agree with any aspect of the flagship policy, which switches power from town halls to parents.

The comments by Lord Adonis – who helped Tony Blair launch academy schools, which paved the way for free schools – are revealed in a new book by writer and free schools advocate Toby Young.

During a cab journey after both appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions, Mr Young, founder of the West London Free School, asked Lord Adonis if, rather than dealing with his opponents ‘aggressively’, he should enter talks with people such as Ms Millar who, like her partner, is a strong supporter of comprehensives.

Young says Lord Adonis gave him ‘a look of withering contempt’, and said: ‘They’re not interested in constructive dialogue.

‘Don’t you get it? If you extend any sort of olive branch they’ll see it as a sign of weakness and move in for the kill. I dealt with the same people – the Socialist Workers Party, the Anti Academies Alliance, the NUT – for most of my ministerial career and they would rather stick pins in their eyes than admit they have common ground with someone like you. ‘Their attitude to free schools is the same as to academies: they won’t rest until every last one has been razed to the ground.’

Mr Young says Lord Adonis persuaded him to ‘stick to my guns – and I was right’.


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