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It is with decidedly mixed emotions that I wade into a discussion of the high-profile case of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, in which a large cohort of Asian American students has joined forces to challenge Harvard’s admissions process on the grounds that it discriminates against them.
The source of my mixed emotions lies in a simple dichotomy. As a matter of first principle, I think that Harvard University (and all the other preeminent universities that have leapt to its defense) should have the absolute right to determine the students whom they admit and the grounds on which they admit them. By the same token, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides explicitly to the contrary: “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Start with the matter of principle. My defense of Harvard does not rest on any necessary affection for diversity. Rather, it starts from the simple premise that Harvard is not a common carrier or a public utility. Like every other private university, it should be entitled to run its own establishment as it sees fit, given that it operates in a competitive market. My purpose is to defend Harvard on this unfashionable ground, while repudiating the grounds on which it chooses to defend itself. Harvard and its supporters at peer universities “speak with one voice to emphasize the profound importance of a diverse student body for their educational institutions.” Sadly, it is quite worrisome that these leading universities entertain no diversity of opinion among themselves on the role of diversity in academic institutions. In practice, they care only about diversity of race and ethnic origin and show little or no interest in intellectual or political diversity.