The Racial Squabble in College Admissions: What Does it Cover Up?

By Steve Huntley

November 30, 2022

No one builds a house from the roof down. It’s constructed from the ground up, starting with a firm foundation to support the structures and roof above.

But a roof-down approach is how the left wing culture and its elites want to overcome the historic disadvantages for African Americans in education and economic well being.

Their approach amounts to this: let’s make sure a number of black students get access to the best in college education and thus entre into the professions and business careers with the best potential for success.

Largely left unsaid was how breaking this ceiling into higher education could invigorate the levels below, the elementary and high schools that millions of black kids depend upon for the bulk if not all of their education and that, if improved, could smooth the way to college without the need for racial considerations.

That’s worth remembering in the legal fight over race-based admissions in colleges and universities, a subject of a recent U.S. Supreme Court hearing on litigation brought against Harvard and the University of North Carolina (my alma mater) over those standards.

The defense argument is fundamentally that some degree of bias against Asian Americans and white students is necessary to advance the higher educational and career opportunities of especially African Americans but also Hispanics. To get around the appearance of illegal racial quotas, the academic elite assert their policy adds important diversity to a campus.

There’s more than a little wrong with that.

First off, the Constitution’s guarantee against discrimination based on race must be winked at for an unspecified number of decades — it’s been 44 years since the first high court ruling allowing for racial preferences.

And every poll and survey shows Americans of all races and ethnicities reject racial bias in college admissions. Voters in the liberal paradise of California have twice rejected racial requirements for college admission.

But perhaps most disturbing, concentrating efforts for what proponents call social justice on higher education ignores the failings of elementary and high school education disproportionately impairing minorities.

There is no justice, social or otherwise, from that approach for the millions of minority kids stuck in crummy schools, who get no benefit from colleges trying to wash away their white guilt.

You can’t build a house of quality education from the roof down.

In defending their racial preferences in admissions, the universities acknowledge that poor schools leave black kids ill prepared for college.

Black students are admitted to America’s prestigious universities such as Harvard and UNC with scores on college eligibility tests like SAT and ACT lower than those of Asian Americans and whites. Those tests have a proven record of reliably predicting success in confronting the challenges of higher education.

Social justice warriors in academia simply lower the test score requirements for blacks. Some bastions of higher learning are eliminating such tests altogether.

This approach puts no pressure on our society to improve the poor-performing schools where so many African American kids languish with no hope of getting a quality education necessary for a brighter economic future, with or without college.

This problem isn’t acknowledged or even whispered about in the hallowed halls of academia.

Of course not. All the progressive bastions of American culture march in lock step in asserting the virtues of affirmative action in college admissions.

And why wouldn’t they?

This explicit use of racial preferences against “white privilege” — remember the left considers Asian Americans to be “white adjacent” — floods the progressive psyche with good feelings and assuages their white guilt.

More critically, this approach protects Democrat politicians from having to challenge a powerful component of the party’s base — the teachers unions.

Student performance in public schools has trended badly in recent years — especially for minority kids — and only got worse during the Covid-19 lockdowns that we now know needlessly shut down schools.

Teacher unions battled reopening schools at virtually every turn.

An analysis by the independent non-profit detailed the wretched results of the Covid school closings in Illinois: an 18 percent drop in student reading proficiency overall — and 36 percent plunge for black kids. Ask the parents of those African American children how affirmative action in colleges — building the house of education from the top down — helps their kids.

Asked about poor student scores, union honchos always respond the same way — give us more money. Most of which ends up in teachers’ pockets or in increased benefits for them.

Never mind that Catholic schools consistently turn out graduates who can read, write and do basic math without the benefit of a calculator on budgets smaller than those of government schools. And pupil performance at Catholic schools did not fall during the pandemic as the vast majority of those classrooms reopened in the fall of 2020 while most public schools remained closed.

Here are a couple of questions: What portion of the members of the teachers unions are themselves parents? And where do they send their kids to school?

More: What portion of the educrats on America’s school boards, often appointed or elected with the backing of unions, are themselves parents and where do their children get educated?

Maybe one beneficial reform for government schools would be to require school board members to be parents of kids sitting in classrooms they rule. If nothing else, this reform might break up the cozy relationship between unions and the boards they negotiate contracts with.

The other necessary reform, in fact the most important one, is more and more school choice.

Put educational decisions in the hands of parents. Let them liberate their kids from under-performing government schools. Let them decide the best approach for schooling their children. Let tax dollars follow kids to the schools capable of teaching them the math skills needed for a job at McDonald’s and the vocabulary and reading skills needed to tackle a Harry Potter novel or a history book.

Turning around elementary and high education — building a successful education home for black kids, for all kids, from the ground up — is a project that will take years, even decades.

But every year reforms are put off only adds years to winning this battle, and it must be won for the benefit of America’s children and the country itself.

Yes, there are societal issues beyond the classroom damaging educational prospects for poor kids. Our culture’s disregard for personal responsibility bleeds chaos into the schoolhouse. While we probably don’t need a return of the principal’s paddle, the old proverb “spare the rod, spoil the child” understands that kids need discipline in their lives.

The breakdown of the American family — cheered on by an entertainment culture contemptuous of middle-class values — has been devastating to low-income kids, especially African Americans. Fatherless homes are particularly damaging to boys.

Racial discrimination in higher education has not produced a solution to all this.

By lowering admission standards for black students, America’s academic elites don’t just take the pressure off of doing something to improve these schools, the university elite become complicit in condemning our most vulnerable children to schools that do them little and too often no good.

You don’t build a house from the roof down.


Steve Huntley, a retired Chicago journalist now living in Austin, Texas, is a frequent contributor to this website.

For almost three decades Huntley his long and distinguished journalism career in Chicago journalism at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was a feature writer, metro reporter, night city editor, metropolitan editor, editorial page editor and a columnist for the opinion pages and editor of the Sun- Times Editorial Page.

He has contributed several fine pieces to, from his examination of Chicago’s secret political jail housing Christopher Columbus and other politically problematic statues, to Americans suffering from Joe Biden Gas Pain, and “The Madness of Lori Lightfoot and Chicago’s Violent Crime 

Previous to his work at the Sun-Times, Huntley was a reporter and editor with United Press International (UPI) and Chicago bureau chief and senior editor in Washington with U.S. News & World Report.

Huntley is also author of an award-winning book, “Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight for Black America, by Truman K. Gibson Jr. with Steve Huntley, a memoir of a Chicagoan who was a member of President Roosevelt’s World War II Black Cabinet working to desegregate the military.

It is an honor and privilege to have Mr. Huntley, who spent decades in the news business in Chicago, writing here.