Riddle: when is discrimination against a historically disadvantaged racial minority perfectly legal? Answer: when they do too well.
The first ruling on the Students for Fair Admissions suit against Harvard University is in. A federal judge in Massachusetts concluded last week that for America’s be-all-and-end-all university to discriminate against Asian applicants in order to serve the all-hallowed goal of ‘diversity’ is constitutional. (Or strictly speaking, if you can follow this logic, the university did not discriminate against Asians by discriminating against them.) The reasoning: ‘Race conscious admissions will always penalise to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process.’ The decision has already been appealed, and the case is likely to land in the Supreme Court.
For American schools, the sole purpose of turning ‘diversity’ into a crowning educational asset has been to disguise the affirmative action that these same universities once openly pursued and now can legally enforce only by calling the practice something else. Fifty years ago, the notion took hold in the US that racial equality would never evolve naturally, but had to be socially engineered by giving historically disadvantaged groups an active leg up, especially in higher education. Bald racial quotas and substantially lower admission standards for minorities became commonplace. Yet using racism to combat racism obviously doesn’t sit easily with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so multiple previous cases of this nature have ended up in the Supreme Court — whose rulings on the matter have been, to use a technical jurisprudential term, a big mess.
What makes the Students for Fair Admissions case different is that it’s not white high school students with excellent records objecting to being shafted. Asian applicants to Harvard with dazzling grades and perfect test scores, who play the violin, speak four languages, volunteer for the Big Brothers programme, captain the volleyball team, adopt rescue dogs and memorise the value of pi to 31.4