Attention to the incorrect report that Harvard admitted its first undergraduate class without a white majority

Reporters picked up report that university for first time admitted a class that was majority nonwhite. It wasn't the first time, and elite universities in the West have been more diverse than Harvard for years.

A roundup of news on admissions issues in the last week

Anger over Justice Department investigation of affirmative action; Irvine admits those whose acceptances it revoked; Rhode Island adopts free community college.

Essay on lessons from the controversy over University of California, Irvine, revoking acceptances

Jim Jump says there are legitimate reasons to withdraw an acceptance, but he's not sure the university had them for most of those briefly told they couldn't enroll.

Why campuses should support affirmative action more strongly than ever (essay)

Even after weeks of macho vulgarity, preening and unruly incompetence, this week the Trump administration still managed to send shock waves through the higher education and civil rights communities. The New York Times reported that the White House wants the U.S. Department of Justice to “redirect resources” of its civil rights division “toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.” Subsequently, the DOJ announced that it was really just seeking “volunteers” interested in a lawsuit alleging discrimination against Asian-Americans.

Perhaps this is a move by the White House in concert with Jeff Sessions, playing to the shared political base. Under the guise of protecting the rights of Asian-Americans, this could save the beleaguered attorney general by making him the defender of white people who feel threatened by opportunities given to minorities. But apart from the cynical political opportunism of this move, we can also see the threats against affirmative action as another effort to use higher education to protect those who already have key social advantages.

Ever since the founding of this country, we have recognized that education is indispensable to our vision of a democratic society. All men may be created equal in the abstract, but education provides people concrete opportunities to overcome real circumstances of poverty or oppression. Thomas Jefferson argued that the talented poor should be educated at public expense so that inherited wealth would not doom us to rule by an “unnatural aristocracy” of wealth. A few years after Jefferson’s death, African-American shopkeeper David Walker penned a blistering manifesto pointing out that “the bare name of educating the coloured people, scares our cruel oppressors almost to death.” Some years later, the young slave Frederick Douglass received a “new and special revelation,” namely, that learning “unfits” a person for being a slave.

Promoting access to a high-quality education has been key to turning American rhetoric of equality into genuine opportunity. And throughout our history, elites threatened by equality, or just by social mobility, have joined together to block access for groups striving to improve their prospects in life. In the 20th century, policies were enacted to keep immigrants out of colleges and universities and to limit the number of Jews who enrolled. In more recent decades, referenda and legislators in states red and blue have attempted to block consideration of race at public universities, undermining opportunity for minorities, especially African-Americans.

Residential colleges and universities have for many years emphasized creating a diverse student body because we believe this results in a deeper educational experience. In the late 1960s, many institutions steered away from cultivated homogeneity and toward creating a campus community in which people can learn from their differences while forming new modes of commonality. This had nothing to do with what would later be called political correctness or even identity politics. It had to do with preparing students to become lifelong learners who could navigate in and contribute to a heterogeneous world after graduation.

Creating a diverse campus is in the interest of all students, and it offers those from racial minorities opportunities that have historically been denied them. That’s why governing boards and admissions deans have crafted policies to find students from underrepresented groups for whom a strong education will have a transformative, even liberating effect. Education, as Douglass said, makes you unfit for slavery.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has written that the equal protection clause of the Constitution “guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently, forcing the minority alone to surmount unique obstacles in pursuit of its goals -- here, educational diversity that cannot reasonably be accomplished through race-neutral measures.”

Many citizens, but particularly citizens from racial and ethnic minorities, have often had to depend on the federal government to ensure that states provide access to political and economic opportunity. That’s why it’s particularly appalling to see the Trump administration commandeering the civil rights division of the DOJ to shore up privilege. This latest threat to higher education -- like recent decisions undermining voting rights and plans for a “merit-based” immigration system -- is at its core another attempt by elites, scared “almost to death,” to hold on to their privileges by limiting access to political participation, social mobility and economic opportunity.

President Trump has become the leader of what Jefferson called an “unnatural aristocracy,” and perhaps we should not be surprised that it should attempt to increase its privileges. We who work in educational institutions must push back against this attempt, recognizing our responsibility to provide real opportunity to those groups who historically have been most marginalized.

College and university admissions programs are not the place to promote partisan visions of social justice, but they are the place to produce the most dynamic and profound learning environments. Higher education institutions need more (not less) diversity broadly conceived -- including intellectual diversity -- and we should enhance our efforts to make them inclusive, dynamic places of learning through difference. A retreat from affirmative action will just return us to the orchestrated parochialism of the past. We must resist it

Michael S. Roth is president of Wesleyan University and author, most recently, of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017
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Affirmative Action: Now More Than Ever

UC Irvine Admits Those Whose Offers Were Revoked

The University of California, Irvine, announced Wednesday that most of those whose admissions offers were revoked last month will in fact be admitted. The announcement follows anger at the news that about 500 acceptances were revoked last month, leaving students scrambling to find college options. The university said that the unusually high number of revoked acceptances had no relationship to the news that about 800 more freshmen were planning to enroll in the fall than Irvine had expected. But many have openly doubted that and said the university was punishing students for its own mistakes. Many of those who had acceptances revoked reported that they were told they had failed to submit one form or another on time -- a situation that in past years did not lead to this many revoked applications.

"The stories of our students whose college dreams were crushed by our decision to withdraw admissions to hundreds of students are heartbreaking. And unacceptable," said a statement from Howard Gillman, chancellor of the university. "This process is not working. We are a university recognized for advancing the American dream, not impeding it. This situation is rocking us to our core because it is fundamentally misaligned with our values. I must step in and change our direction.

"Effective immediately, all students who received provisional acceptances into UCI will be fully admitted, except those whose transcripts clearly indicate that they did not meet our academic standards. Those standards are: no D’s or F’s their senior year; a senior-year grade point average of at least 3.0; completion of all A-G requirements outlined by the University of California; and required test scores as indicated on the students’ admission portals. Even for students whose transcripts show that these requirements were not met, we will establish an expedited process to allow students to make the case for extenuating circumstances, and otherwise will work with students to identify other possible pathways into the university."

Gillman added an apology to students who had acceptances revoked and pledged to work to figure out how to prevent this type of situation in the future.

"We’re trying to understand how we underestimated the number of students who planned to enroll this fall," he said. "We’re also trying to understand why we chose to notify students in an insensitive way or couldn’t answer their telephone calls adequately. I intend to find out so this will never happen again. I directed our internal auditor to review the admissions process and suggest areas for improvement. I plan to have a preliminary report within 60 days."

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Study suggests that many -- especially those with Asian backgrounds -- may not realize that best fit may not be most prestigious institution. Can counselors challenge preconceptions?

UC Irvine faces criticism after revoking hundreds of admissions offers

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A roundup of this week's news on admissions

"Demonstrated interest" as another advantage for the wealthy; education for "good jobs," parental help on applications; more.


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