This week, arguments began in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, a lawsuit that claims Harvard University is illegally discriminating against Asian American students in its admission process. The suit is the brainchild of 66-year-old conservative activist Edward Blum, who’s been behind the scenes of more than two dozen lawsuits that challenge affirmative-action practices and voting-rights laws. Blum’s no lightweight—two of those cases have made it to the Supreme Court and the Trump administration supports his case in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard.
Blum isn’t a college applicant. He’s not even a lawyer. Though he’s considered a “one-man legal factory,” Blum is actually a financial adviser by training. Despite claiming that Students for Fair Admissions has 22,000 members, its website is little more than a form to collect information on potential plaintiffs for other lawsuits. “Were You Denied Admission to College? It may be because you’re the wrong race,” it reads.
Blum is a lawsuit “matchmaker,” pairing people with legal complaints with lawyers eager to tear down protections for the disenfranchised. Remember Abigail Fisher, the white student who sued the University of Texas at Austin when she didn’t get in? Blum was already looking for a white applicant who had been rejected from the university so that he could file a suit to challenge its admission criteria. How handy that Blum is a friend of Fischer’s father!
Blum has never worked in college admissions, but I have. It’s not an easy job. The task before admissions counselors is to assemble a class of students that not only reflects the strengths and talents of the applicant pool, but also creates the best social learning environment for those students and the college as a whole. You can’t create that from a homogenous class lacking in racial diversity. Colleges like Harvard say they use a “holistic” admission process (the college I worked at said the same) so that admission counselors are able to consider every applicant and the value they would add to their class, which includes diversity on campus.
Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard is basically a do-over of Fisher v. University of Texas with the prospect of going before a much more conservative Supreme Court and Blum hopes this will be his chance to end affirmative action in college admission decisions. “Race and ethnicity should not be a factor when a student applies to a university like Harvard or the University of North Carolina or the University of Texas, or any university,” Blum said the day before the trial started. “In a multi-racial, multi-ethnic nation like ours, the admissions’ bar cannot be raised for some races, and lowered for others.”
Blum talks big about levelling playing fields, but the fact is the United States is not and has never been on the level. This isn’t about raising or lowering a bar, but the assertion that exposure and engagement with people from other backgrounds is not only desirable but key to an ideal learning environment.
It’s a waste of time trying to trace the logic of conservative arguments about college campuses, but you’d think that people so “concerned” about student bodies reflecting a diversity of ideas would realize that actual student body diversity is the first step to a campus with valuable intellectual exchange. Blum and others like him can’t accept that a racially diverse environment in itself is conducive to learning—that a diverse student body is and should be the goal of a college admissions office.