The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Preferential treatment no more

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court voted 6-2 in Schuette v. BAMN to allow states to place bans on public universities taking race into account when considering admission of prospective students. Perhaps the most striking note about this decision was its margin. On what has been a controversial issue, the ruling was decisively in favor of allowing states to decide whether to keep or drop affirmative action policies. Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor predictably dissented in the ruling, but the surprise came when ideological lines broke and reliably liberal Associate Justice Stephen Breyer sided with the majority, hopefully representative of a shift in public opinion to one questioning affirmative action’s merits. After all, this was not by any means a ruling on whether or not affirmative action should be in place, but whether or not states have the constitutional right to determine for themselves if they want to allow affirmative action in their public universities. Nevertheless, Schuette v. BAMN revives the debate on affirmative action, a debate that is guaranteed to be lively in every state over the next couple years as they decide whether to enforce the policy or abandon it. Affirmative action is, for those who may be unaware, the policy that enforces race-based preferential treatment when considering admission to universities.

It is time that the nation escapes the antiquated and false idea upon which affirmative action was adopted: That different groups need a leg up on the competition to get ahead. Dropping preferential treatment not only makes the admission process fair, but also promotes a greater devotion to viewing all races as equal. The groups that benefited from it seldom opposed the message behind affirmative action, and the underlying patronization and belittlement was ignored by nearly everyone. The fact of the matter is that by giving preference to racial groups, the government was stating that those respective groups needed the extra help. The government was stating that those groups couldn’t get into universities on their own merits. Now, as more and more states opt to consider merit alone in the admissions process, that message will be no more. It will finally be believed that every student in universities got there on his or her own, as a result of his or her own academic excellence and volunteerism.

The Supreme Court’s decision has made it clear that states have the right to determine their tax-funded universities’ admissions process. Eight states have already adopted policies that only allow merit-based applications, with Missouri, Ohio and Utah soon to follow suit. Even the politically left-leaning state of California has considered adopting such a policy. This will promote a truer equality and a process where everyone has equal chances of getting admitted and no one gets an unfair advantage because of the circumstances into which they were born.

Perhaps surprisingly, this bears no weight in my views on scholarship and financial aid awards. I do hold a belief that circumstances should be taken into account when divvying out financial assistance. Doing so will allow those who literally cannot afford to attend college to do so, and enable upward economic mobility for all those in such circumstances. Even then, though, I believe that such assistance should be based strictly upon socioeconomic status, not race.

Regarding Schuette v. BAMN, it is my hope that the ruling allows for greater equality of opportunity throughout the nation, without trying to patronize certain groups and guarantee equal results.


Kyle Palmer


Alumni Hall

April 23

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


About Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

Contact Letter
  • Alfred

    Well… At least it’s better than Mark Gianfalla…

    • nah

      Still pretty horrifyingly sheltered and ignorant though.

  • jcu1989

    Glad to see the country heading back to embracing state’s rights as well as transitioning away from affirmative action. Affirmative Action is something that was needed to kick-start the process: not a permanent way of life. This moves our country towards the ideals expressed by MLK where people are judged by the content of their character.

    • nah

      In theory this obviously sounds great. But it requires acceptance of some premises that I think are false. First, that “merit” is measured only by things like standardized test scores and grades and certain kinds of extra curricular activities. I think that is obviously false. Second, that equality of opportunity exists in this country. I think that is also obviously false. It also assumes that the best student body a university can hope for is one with students who have good test scores and grades in high school. It very seriously devalues the importance of diversity of culture/background/experience on a college campus. I think ND is actually a pretty good example of how a lack of diversity can really inhibit growth during one’s undergraduate education.

      We are not yet at a place where true “color blindness” is always the most beneficial track.

      • Affirmative action, if it must exist, should be based on factors such as income, geographic location, prestige of high school, etc — all of the factors that are the implied reasons for affirmative action — rather than simply race, which suggests that minorities are inherently disadvantaged intellectually. A poor white male growing up in the rural south is certainly not more “privileged” than an African American child born into a middle class suburban family, and could add a different kind of diversity to a college campus, so why is the African American child given a leg up in the admissions department?

        • nah

          It does not suggest that they are intellectually disadvantaged. It suggests that our education system and how it purports to measure “intellect” is skewed to the benefit of white people, which it is. I am for considering all the things you mentioned, in addition to race. It’s all important in trying to form the best possible student body.

          • Alfred

            I’ve always been confused how tests and measures of intellect that are supposed to be objective are somehow skewed to the benefit of white people, maybe you could help me understand?

          • Palin

            You should google it and report back here. Plus, what makes you think that tests said to be objective really are objective? Why trust the system so much?

          • Alfred

            That’s why I’m asking you. You and “nah” are making the claim, so it’s on you to back it up. If you can’t back up your own side then your argument falls.

  • anymajordude

    “[Affirmative action] is an antiquated and false idea upon which affirmative action was adopted:
    That different groups need a leg up on the competition to get ahead.”

    What world do you live in where everyone in America starts out on equal footing and no marginalized groups require assistance to keep afloat, let alone “get ahead?”

    Let me guess, the writer is a student of color who overcame tremendous odds and pulled him/herself up by the bootstraps, growing up with a poor single mother in a drug and violence-addled inner city to attend Notre Dame on a full merit scholarship.

    No? I’m shocked.

    • p

      There is no need to poison the well; one does have to be a person of color nor do they have to come from similar circumstances in order to have an opinion on something. This opinion piece addresses the role of race in admissions, not the economic or personal background of an individual when it comes to admission. Just because someone is not white or of Asian descent does not mean that they grew up in a marginalized environment.

      • anymajordude

        What I don’t have a problem with is people having differing opinions about affirmative action. What I do have a problem with, however, is this particular Notre Dame student’s assertion that affirmative action is some sort of odious and “antiquated” phenomenon that has no particular social justice value in modern society.

        Economics and educational backgrounds DO matter in this discussion. Poor children in underfunded school districts (many of whom happen to be persons of color) do not start out on the same playing field as upper or middle-class children who attend wealthier, better-staffed schools with greater access to academic and extracurricular resources. If nobody steps in to help — i.e., programs like (but certainly not restricted to) affirmative action, which can at least afford some of these children the educational opportunities that might otherwise be completely out of reach — we will forever live in a socioeconomically, and yes, racially segregated society. That is not what I want, though unfortunately I think some Americans would be content to see the status quo continue.

        For the author to say, in all earnestness, that the United States has already overcome the gaping socioeconomic (and resulting educational) racial divide caused by slavery that prompted the affirmative action movement in the first place seems just plain absurd. Unless, y’know, he is one of the very lucky, very few who did overcome tremendous odds to get to where he is despite being born into a tremendously marginalized segment of society.

        • Matt

          Again, minorities are not the only ones that might suffer from poor economic backgrounds. To say that a bright, young, black kid from a poverty-stricken community is more deserving of a spot at a university than an equally bright, young, white kid from a poverty-stricken community is a massive oversight in logic. The problem here is colleges let race trump economic conditions; minority kids from rich background definitely get the benefit of their race on their application, and they shouldn’t need it. The only way to close the socioeconomic gap is to focus on the economic part of it–admit students on the basis of economic background, not the color of their skin. Such a policy helps the kids that had the tough backgrounds, not the kids that had the background to succeed in the first place.

          • anymajordude

            You are right! I wouldn’t discount the race factor entirely, but I think you are absolutely correct that underprivileged children, regardless of race, deserve a leg up somehow.

  • Matt

    I don’t think anyone is trying to say this fixed every problem with college admissions, but it’s a step in the right direction.

  • Anonymous

    “This will promote a truer equality and a process where everyone has equal chances of getting admitted and no one gets an unfair advantage because of the circumstances into which they were born.” To me this argument is ridiculous. If any students havve an “unfair advantage because of the circumstances into which they were born” it is not the students of color. Even someone who didn’t grow up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood they have most likely still faced discrimination and racism in this country. Legacy students should be the first kind of students we take away “preferential treatment” for because, having parents who are college graduates (especially of an institution like Notre Dame) they were born with every advantage to succeed.

  • Logic

    “This will promote a truer equality and a process where everyone has
    equal chances of getting admitted and no one gets an unfair advantage
    because of the circumstances into which they were born.”

    So does the author suggest some socialist plan to spread the wealth so that everyone has access to top teachers, tutors, SAT prep, private schools?

  • Rick

    The real shocker isn’t affirmative action but rather legacy admissions. More students at ND get in through their legacy status than through anything related to affirmative action. Let’s just call legacy admission affirmative action for less qualified white kids whose parents still contribute a lot of money to this country club we call ND. Oh, but they also play a sport and are spirited. Go ND!

  • David

    Anyone who cares about this issue should read the article

    “Welcome, Freshmen. You Don’t Deserve to Be Here” by Kevin Carey.

    • Student


  • Walter

    “Dropping preferential treatment not only makes the admission process fair, but also promotes a greater devotion to viewing all races as equal.”

    So, the admission process is fair with donations, legacy, gender, geographic location, and so on still receive preferential treatment? Let’s implement a blind admissions program, where each applicant receives nothing more than an identifying number for the board. No name, gender, etc.. THAT is what I would call fair.

  • McLovin

    1) So it’s a problem that the people who fund not only their own education but the education of others…. Do you think the brunt of financial aid scholarship here and schools like Michigan comes from Pell Grants?

    2) So it’s a problem to admit people who SUCCEED in other things besides grades and test scores, let’s stop admitting that kid who started a non-profit and helped distribute food to the homeless in his town because his test scores are “well below the average of the entering class.”

    3) Men fall on both ends of the score spectrum, whereas women’s scores tend to be more normally distributed, so that means more men are getting into top schools and failing out of high school, more so than women. Women comprise a greater percentage of the college educated population.

    4) These have to do with federal and state funding, as well as “geographic diversity.” Obviously another problem, but that doesn’t mean this was a step in the right direction.

    5) As a financial aid student that applied to many need-aware schools, I assure you that these schools gave me comparable financial aid to Notre Dame because they take into account your need and their capability to finance my education (see point 1)

    Anyway if the issue is wealth and connections triumphing… then shouldn’t we take into account an applicant’s economic status according to your line of thinking? Why should wealthy upper-class minorities get the same perks that do little benefit to the actual oppressed minorities these laws were intended for if we are simple evening the playing field due to wealth?