Barring a major surprise, the U.S. Supreme Court will put the kibosh on affirmative action in college admissions in the coming weeks. The 74 % of Americans who think that race and ethnicity should not be factored into admissions decisions will celebrate. However, they won’t encounter much sympathy from legacy media or ivory tower activists determined to see the world through a racialized lens.
Advocacy for affirmative action is largely grounded in misrepresentation of how it is implemented, why it is supposedly necessary, and the benefits that society accrues from it. The frequency of these arguments will intensify in the coming weeks, but they remain at best misleading and at worst fictional.
When it comes to implementation, champions of affirmative action spin the degree to which it prioritizes race in admissions practices. It’s commonly claimed that affirmative action doesn’t grant minorities preferential treatment, lead to quotas, or discriminate against other races. Data clearly show otherwise.
Take medical schools, for instance. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports that among medical school matriculants in 2022-2023 , African Americans had an average GPA of 3.55 and MCAT scores in the 64th percentile, meaning that they were higher than 64% of test-takers. Asians, who incur the greatest penalty from affirmative action, had an average GPA of 3.80 and MCAT scores around the 89th percentile.
So lopsided are the racial bonuses and penalties assigned in the medical school admission process that a recent public records request filed by Do No Harm to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine revealed that just 11% of Asians were granted interviews compared to 43% of African Americans. This, despite the fact that Asian applicants had higher GPAs (3.72 vs. 3.58) and MCAT scores (78th percentile vs. 61st percentile). Similarly, a lawsuit filed in Texas relays that at the UT-Austin School of Medicine, “ the 75% percentile MCAT score for an admitted black student was well below the 25% percentile MCAT score for an admitted white or Asian student .”
What does all this mean? Quite simply, that affirmative action does everything its advocates deny. It is demonstrably true that affirmative action grants massive admissions preferences to particular minority groups while penalizing others. Whether this all amounts to quotas comes down to semantics, but in practice and in spirit it clearly amounts to a system of racial sorting and prioritization.
The idea that affirmative action is needed to mitigate the impacts of systemic racism is equally dubious. This claim is animated by logic that disparate outcomes are evidence of racism , when in fact they can occur for any number of complex reasons.
Once again, let’s look at medical education. Differences in family wealth or MCAT scores are no more proof of anti-black racism than the demographics of the NBA are proof of anti-white racism. Indeed, the closest things resembling “systemic” racism in the United States are the widely used policies that eschew merit in favor of race as a determinant for hiring, promotion, and college admission. This is, in fact, a system that prioritizes some and punishes others based solely on skin color.
When confronted with the facts about affirmative action’s discriminatory nature, its advocates have one final argument. They claim it confers societal benefits, thereby justifying any racial favoritism and punishment.
In medical education, the latest hobbyhorse is called “race concordance,” which aims to pair physicians and patients of the same color on the grounds that it leads to better outcomes. This view has been endorsed across the healthcare establishment, and it’s used to justify affirmative action because the physician workforce supposedly doesn’t reflect America’s racial makeup.
Like affirmative action itself, the entire enterprise is fatally flawed. A comprehensive review of the literature concludes that race concordance provides “ little evidence of clinical benefit .” Rather than acknowledge this reality, activist scholars dwell on individual studies that track with their preferred narrative while ignoring those that do not.
We can expect to hear all the falsehoods about, and justifications for, affirmative action as soon as the Supreme Court issues its decision. They should be dismissed out of hand, the same way the court ought to dismiss affirmative action itself.
Meanwhile, the majority of Americans who believe in meritocracy should celebrate the victory of common sense and equal treatment.
Ian Kingsbury is the director of research for Do No Harm.