Roy Cooper defends racial discrimination

By John Hood

Raleigh, NC – Because I am an inveterate optimist who likes to think the best of other folks, I’m going to assume for the sake of the following argument that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and former governors Jim Hunt, Mike Easley, and Bev Perdue sometimes sign documents they’ve not closely read.

I make that assumption because they and several other Democratic governors and former governors of Southern states have just intervened as amici curiae in a matter before the U.S. Supreme Court. Its justices are considering two related cases challenging the use of racial preferences by the admissions departments of Harvard, the nation’s oldest private university, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s oldest public one.

More to the point, the two universities currently engage in rampant and indefensible racial discrimination. To a significant number of high-performing Asian and white applicants, they essentially reply: you are well-prepared to succeed on our campus but you are the wrong color. Therefore, you will not be admitted.

The amicus brief submitted on behalf of the governors shuffles all around this fundamental truth, kicking up a lot of dust to try to cover it up. The attempt fails.

The brief states, for example, that the “appreciation of diversity is a deeply held value” and “diverse student bodies also encourage civic engagement and promote skills that future leaders need, like openness to debate and a willingness to seek out different viewpoints.” Agreed! But in this context, defining diversity in racial or ethnic terms is absurdly narrow and grotesquely offensive.

If the goal were truly to foster debate and discussion of differing views on campus and beyond, for example, universities would use their admissions policies to engineer student bodies that approximated the broader society in religious sentiment, partisan affiliation, and personal philosophy.

I wouldn’t favor that, either, but it would make more sense. We can have reasonable confidence that students identifying as Christian, Jew, Buddhist, and atheist have real differences in opinion about the nature of existence and the meaning of life. Ditto for Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, etc. Can we say the same about students to whom racial and ethnic labels are attached, as if there is such a thing as a “white” or “black” or “Hispanic” opinion?

The amicus brief also presents an extensive argument that some racial and ethnic minorities are statistically underrepresented in higher education when compared to the general population. Agreed! This has little to do with the issue at hand, however.

Students for Fair Admissions has sued Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill. Its case implicates other highly selective universities, to be sure. But if it prevails, ending racial discrimination in admissions, then some students who might otherwise have gone to UNC-Chapel Hill will instead be admitted to, say, UNC-Greensboro (one of my alma maters). Given that some campuses are experiencing declining enrollments, and others are non-selective in the first place, there is simply no possibility that a win by the plaintiffs will have any discernible affect on the college-going rate of minority students.

Again, remember what the current policy does. It essentially tells a significant number of high-performing Asian and white applicants the following: you are well-prepared to succeed on our campus but you are the wrong color. Therefore, you will not be admitted.

Au contraire, insists the brief filed on behalf of the governors. “Racial discrimination has no place in American society,” it states. “But careful consideration of race as one factor in an individualized assessment of a college applicant is not discrimination.”

This is, to paraphrase Jeremy Bentham, nonsense tottering on very high and rickety stilts. These universities don’t use race and ethnicity as plus-factors to break a few ties. The proportions are wildly skewed. Favored students with lower GPAs and test scores are routinely admitted over unfavored students with higher GPAs and test scores.

UNC-Chapel Hill has engaged in pervasive discrimination. I wish North Carolina’s current and former Democratic governors hadn’t signed their names to a defense of it.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member. His latest books, Mountain Folk and Forest Folk, combine epic fantasy with early American history.