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Thoughts on Admissions Preferences (1/5)

First of a five-part series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

At the faculty meeting on October 15, IP Folt mentioned that recent birth-rate demographics tell us that “what-used-to-be-called-minorities” are now the majority of the newborn population. And she asked rhetorically what that fact means for Dartmouth 18 years from now. Folt mentioned, using Jim Wright’s phrase, that she wants a College that “looks like the country.”

When you think about Folt’s remark for a moment, her statement is just another way of saying that the College has a system of racial quotas. For how do you get to such a goal without picking many admits solely on the basis of race?

Folt makes this comment at what might well be the historical high water mark for diversity/affirmative action policies. As a first question, we can ask why skin color alone makes such a difference? A few years back there was controversy at Harvard when it was noted that few of the African-Americans there had any ancestral relation to slavery. And lumping into the Caucasian category people in groups like Jews (who certainly have a claim to discrimination in America), impoverished rural Southerners, Boston Brahmins, working class people in the urban North, and Greenwich hedge fund babies, etc., makes no sense at all. Not to mention that groups with high levels of academic achievement like Asian-Americans find themselves facing elevated barriers to entering a school like Dartmouth compared to other groups.

Why does IP Folt focus exclusively on skin color? What about a College that believes like America? Do the number of born-again students in Hanover reflect the nation? Or a College that votes like America? Should the student body (and the faculty?) be roughly split between Democrats, Republicans and independents?

The definition of race itself is problematic, as moderate Justice John Paul Stevens noted in 1980 in Fullilove v. Klutznick. Who exactly is an African-American, a Hispanic-American or an Asian-American? In the Fullilove case, Stevens wrote bitterly that we might look to Nazi racial identity laws for inspiration in drafting our own rules:

Indeed, the very attempt to define with precision a beneficiary’s qualifying racial characteristics is repugnant to our constitutional ideals. The so-called guidelines developed by the Economic Development Administration… are so general as to be fairly innocuous; as a consequence they are too vague to be useful… If the National Government is to make a serious effort to define racial classes by criteria that can be administered objectively, it must study precedents such as the First Regulation to the Reichs Citizenship Law of November 14, 1935:.. “On the basis of Article 3, Reichs Citizenship Law, of 15 Sept. 1935 (RGB1. I, page 146) the following is ordered: … . . “Article 5 “1. A Jew is anyone who descended from at least three grandparents who were racially full Jews. Article 2…”

How does Dartmouth’s Admissions Department staff define race, say, for African-Americans? Do they use the pernicious standard that used to be the law in certain Southern states: one drop of black blood is enough? The College’s admissions website provides no answer.

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