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Just Don’t Tell Me You’re Innocent

July 21, 2010

Ross Douthat’s Monday column deals with the study that I wrote about last Friday on admissions standards at elite universities, and he delves more deeply into the question of whether or not it’d be a boon for universities to be more inclined to admit people from all corners of society into the “meritocracy” on his blog.  For that, Tim Fernholz basically called him a wuss for not voicing an opinion on the merits of a “soft affirmative action” for poor, white, Christians, and Adam Serwer charged him with basically complaining about the size of the pie slice that a specific group of “underrepresented people” have received.

Douthat responded in what I suppose would have been the exact same manner that I would have: he explained that he’s not trying to stoke white paranoia and he’s also not trying to stump for more affirmative action in college admissions:

The “competing claims” I aired, so far as I can tell, were what I consider the more unfortunate paranoias of left and right — and yes, I do decline to throw my support to either side. As for my “mealymouthed” conclusion, Fernholz basically gets it right: I support, albeit with some ambivalence, a kind of soft affirmative action on elite campuses for the sort of Americans — Southern and Midwestern, blue-collar and rural — who are much more likely than the current population of the Ivy League to be conservative white Christians.

This doesn’t mean that I want to see some kind of “evangelical quota” at elite schools. It just means that I regard greater religious and ideological diversity as a likely (and happy) consequence of greater socioeconomic and geographic diversity. And not, I should note, because white Christians from Montana or Alabama are hapless victims whose sufferings need to be redressed. It’s just that so long as top-tier colleges claim to be in the business of molding a suitable national elite for a country as vast and varied as the United States (as opposed to just admitting the absolute smartest people possible, regardless of race or class or ideology or geography), they have an obligation to extend their idea of “diversity” to encompass many more factors than just race and ethnicity. (The same goes for elite faculties, too, but that’s another story …)

I, as usual, don’t see the problem with this line of reasoning.  As I said the other day, I find it highly objectionable that elite universities engage in this kind of activity, but I, like Douthat, declined to voice any kind of solution to the problem.  Part of that is because I’m not on the admissions boards of these colleges and it’s not my job to tell them who they can and can’t let in to their schools, and the other part is probably my underlying mistrust of any kind of affirmative action in general.  I don’t necessarily want anybody to “fix” the problem — I’m just tired of said colleges’ trumpeting the “diversity” of their student bodies.  We’re all aware of what elite universities want: rich kids who went to highly-touted private high schools.  But they’re obligated, by whatever legal or cultural norm, to admit a certain amount of students who are not rich private-school kids.  And that group is overwhelmingly selected on the basis of race.  All I want is, for as long as that’s true, to be spared the “diversity” horsecrap.

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