The Supreme Court of the United States seems to be closely divided on the issue of when or if affirmative action formulas can be used in the college admissions process to achieve a racially diverse student body.
It was obvious during oral arguments before the court this week that some justices believe affirmative action of some type is justified, others staunchly oppose it and one or two justices represent the swing votes on an issue that has the potential to define race relations in the United States for generations.
We remain convinced that American society has not yet evolved to the point of being colorblind. We would refer those who believe otherwise to a study conducted not long ago by professors at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
What the study found
Preliminary results of the study released earlier this year showed that 2,500 resumes with white-sounding first names received 50 percent more responses than 2,500 identical resumes filled out with black-sounding names.
We realize that this may not be much of a legal argument to be presented to the Supreme Court. But as long as people with names such as Neil, Brett, Greg, Emily, Anne and Jill find it that much easier to get a job interview than people named Tamika, Ebony, Aisha, Rasheed, Kareem and Tyrone, the argument rings hollow that Barbara Grutter, Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher were sorely mistreated when they didn't get into the college of their first choice, the University of Michigan.
"I was treated unfairly because of my skin color," says Gratz, one of the white students rejected by the university. "Court records show that if I had been black, Hispanic or Native American, I would have had a nearly 100 percent chance of admission with my grades and record."
Nothing is perfectly fair
Yes, she would have had a "nearly 100 percent" chance, but she still wouldn't have been assured of admittance. And, if she had gotten in, there is always another student who could have looked at his or her test numbers, grades and extracurricular activities and made an argument that on paper he or she should have gotten in over Gratz. College admissions are not an exact science.
But if Gratz is learning that life isn't always fair, that's not a bad lesson. It's a lesson girls named Tamika seem to learn a lot sooner than those named Jennifer. And the lessons continue for the Tamikas long after their impressionable teen years.
The military has learned over the last 30 years that an integrated fighting force is a better fighting force. That's why branches of the military and the service academies urged the court not to overturn reasonable affirmative action programs.
Armies, universities, businesses -- nations -- all work better when people of different races, religions and ethnic or economic backgrounds live and learn and work together.
If the Supreme Court denies that, it does so at the nation's peril.