The Supreme Court’s decision to disallow affirmative action in college admissions is unfortunate, but not surprising, said former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
What Happened: It is an irony that the court, which regards itself as conservative, has taken a stance, upsetting “long-standing practices and expanding federal power over private institutions,” said Summers in a Washington Post op-ed published on Saturday.
Much of the strength of the university system is drawn from its pluralism, and it is important to allow the private institutions to set their own course in admissions and other matters essential to their missions, he added.
Citing former President Barack Obama’s comments on the development, Summers noted that admission policies beyond test scores have allowed private schools to make great contributions to social justice.
What Lies Ahead: Calling the development an “earthquake from the court,” Summers said he hoped that elite institutions will broaden their focus from “diversifying the racial composition of their ivory towers” to additional dimensions of diversity and broadening their commitment to opportunity and social justice.
The former Treasury official noted that while he had always supported affirmative action, he has been uncomfortable with admissions policies that substantially favor the “prep-school-attending” minority children of wealthy parents with Ivy League degrees over poor kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Summers recommended that elite universities should eliminate preferences for legacy applicants, those excelling in “aristocrat sports” and those benefiting from high-priced coaching.
Elimination of early decision and early admission options, according to Summers, will make the admission process fairer to applicants from less-advantaged families. “Finding students who have overcome real disadvantage, rather than judging personality, should be central in admissions interviews,” he said.
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