I didn’t vote for President Trump, but I must give him and Attorney General Jeff Sessions their due. Thanks to reports the White House is encouraging the Department of Justice to investigate whether affirmative action results in racial discrimination against white and Asian American applicants to highly selective colleges and universities, the news has again brought this issue to the fore. Having spent nearly a decade investigating and litigating discrimination and the meaning of tests scores in selective admissions – including claims of reverse discrimination against white applicants – I can say the topic is confusing and often totally removed from college admissions reality. But I can also state unequivocally that these allegations deserve the label often uttered by Trump: fake news.
First, I understand why so many Americans think Black students are subject to a lower standard of admission than other races. My scholarship even uses the term that has become popularized: a “Black bonus” in college admissions. However, when I crunched the actual admissions numbers, I found it a mathematical error to blame the admission of what turns out to be very small numbers of African Americans to elite universities for the rejection of particular white and Asian American college applicants. My research also explores and explains the statistical test for identifying circumstances in which Asian Americans are the victims of discrimination because of universities preferring to admit a higher percentage of the overwhelmingly larger number of white applicants—a “white advantage” over Asian Americans in college admissions.
It is more than fair to ask, “Why would Jeff Sessions make up racial discrimination against whites and Asian Americans by colleges and universities if it were not actually happening? Why would many major news outlets report on discrimination against whites and Asians if it were not happening?” Well, this is where I come back to giving President Trump credit where credit is due: He’s a master at both creating and railing against “fake news.” The truth is that a lot of what Americans think they know about affirmative action in college admissions is fake, by which I mean factually inaccurate. When I analyzed the admission rates at the University of Texas stemming from the admissions cycle reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court twice when a rejected white applicant named Abigail Fisher sued that university, I found the factual reality quite different from what Fisher claimed. While Fisher alleged whites were the victims of discrimination, whites and Asian Americans were actually admitted at over twice the rate of African American and Latino applicants under Texas’s minimally race-conscious admissions process.
Specifically, my finding was that white and Asian American applicants were selected at a rate of 22 percent, whereas African Americans and Latinos were selected at rates of only 9 and 10 percent, respectively. This is not evidence of racial discrimination against whites and Asian Americans at all. In fact, it is actually evidence that should prompt the Department of Justice to investigate the University of Texas for racial discrimination against Blacks and Latinos in violation of federal civil rights laws, as I also point out in my research.
My research on university admissions has shown me time and time again that headlines about affirmative action can be misleading and that allegations of discrimination require methodical, numbers-driven fact finding. When our nation is already so deeply divided, I do hope we find the time to explore fact-based inquiries into claims of discrimination to avoid being manipulated by a small group of Americans who have made it their life’s mission to oppose affirmative action even if it is the very mild “race-can-only-be-a-minor-and-non-determinative-factor-among-many-other-factors” type the U.S. Supreme Court currently deems to be legal. The rest of us want a Justice Department that relies on real facts to investigate real-world pressing instances of discrimination. We don’t need justice, or in this case, the Justice Department, to be race-blind; and, most importantly, we do not need it to be blind to real-world facts.