Referendum 88: Giving Washington's public universities the freedom to discriminate on the basis of race

Inez Stepman

Tomorrow, the citizens of Washington will vote on Referendum 88. If it passes, the state and its public universities will be free to discriminate on the basis of race while making hiring and admissions decisions.

While the state banned the use of racial preferences back in the 1990s, the question of affirmative action will now be reexamined and decided by voters.

Affirmative action is often defended on the basis that it is necessary to undo some of the malicious racial preferences of past racism. Indeed, that’s the only basis upon which factoring race into hiring and admissions decisions is reluctantly permitted by the Supreme Court. But over decade and a half since the court green-lit the policy, additional evidence has emerged that it can often have negative consequences even for those it ostensibly “helps.”

Because affirmative action does not increase the overall pool of college-ready candidates of color, its effect has been largely to “mismatch” minority students with the rest of their university class, as elite schools fill out their classes with less academically-prepared students.

Mismatch has predictable results like lower average GPAs and graduation rates, but also can create pernicious psychological impacts, discouraging students of color from pursuing careers in academia or in the STEM fields because they perceive that others in the class are academically “ahead” of them.

And of course, affirmative action has its most immediate negative effect on applicants who miss out on a college acceptance or job because of a racially-based preference given to another candidate.

Read more about how Referendum 88 could negatively impact Washington state at The Hill.

 



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