Racism over, ‘merit’ to rule college admissions

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Two college hunts. Back to back without pause. Even before our high school senior was parading around in a new T-shirt for his future alma mater, we had already begun to aid our junior’s search. Down to Urbana. Up to Milwaukee.

I suppose some, perhaps many, parents are absentee in this process. Many parents are absentee, period. But we nudged them this far, can’t stop now. So yes, 16 campus visits and counting; 16 speeches of welcome from 16 perky administrators or student hosts. And 16 versions of the following:

“We are looking for a dynamic, diverse student body. Tell us who you really are, your unique skills and excellence. Because some years, we need a trumpet player in the band, so we wave a few trumpet players in.”

Last month at Marquette, a student greeter said something like, “We have students from 49 out of 50 states …” then added, “so if you know somebody from North Dakota, tell ’em to apply.” Everyone laughed. At least I thought it was Marquette; maybe it was U of I; these things blend.

Either way, is that fair? Should anyone who can complete a form in North Dakota trump some hard-working kid from Illinois or Missouri just to fill a hole in Marquette’s promotional graphic? Of course not. But that is how the strange, random, mysterious, unfair, unscientific, skewed, debated and complex college admissions process works.

A system that just got stranger, more random, etc. Tuesday, as the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Michigan constitutional amendment that says public colleges there can’t consider race or sex when admitting students. Trumpet-playing yes, football ability, definitely. Volunteering, yes. Scores on tests designed to reward certain kinds of smarts? Absolutely. Race and gender? No.

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