Harvard and the Joker

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Last Friday night I saw Joker at the local movie theater.  It purports to show how Batman’s future nemesis evolves from a pathetic nobody trying to make a living as a rent-a-clown into as evil and bizarre a villain as one will ever find in movies, or on television, or in real life.

The movie emphasizes how the Joker exploits growing class resentments to attain his power and wreak destruction in Gotham City, which is made to resemble New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when crime seemed to be rising as civil society crumbled.  One of his followers murders the parents of a young Bruce Wayne.

American society today has been described as disintegrating into tribalism.  It has a long way to fall, if, indeed, it really is collapsing, before it becomes the Joker’s Gotham City.  But the rise of the alt-right and the Antifa, the growth of identity politics, and the increasingly bitter polarization of party politics are weakening our society and making it increasingly difficult for the center to hold.

And contributing to this trend is a recent federal district court decision giving Harvard University the go-ahead to keep discriminating on the basis of race in its admissions policies.  Such a decision can only lead to greater interracial animosities and tensions.

In essence, Harvard was sued by those claiming it was discriminating against applicants of Asian origin—those of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Indian descent.  Harvard denied any deliberate plan to discriminate against applicants simply because of their Asian ancestry, but a review of the evidence showed that Harvard admissions officers tended to give lower “personal scores” to Asian-Americans:  They might have possessed superior academic ability but lacked other personal traits Harvard considered necessary to bring “diversity” to the campus.

And it was this quest for “diversity” which the federal judge said justified its policies.  Admitting that Harvard was using race, after all, Judge Allison Burroughs, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal, said, “Ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race conscious admissions.  Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process, but this is justified by the compelling interest in diversity and all the benefits that flow from a diverse college population.”  And as for the assignment of “personal scores,” “Asian American applicants’ disproportionate strength in academics comes at the expense of other skills and traits that Harvard values.”  In other words:  Tough luck.

One of the paradoxes of bringing more “diversity” to the student body of Harvard or any other school is that despite the hope that it will produce more interracial tolerance and understanding, the fact remains that racial discrimination of any sort may well increase the very interracial animosities diversity is implemented to try to reduce.  After all, it is only natural that those who are rejected because of their race should feel resentment to those who are admitted at least partly for their race. And, of course, race-based diversity programs violate the spirit—and should be seen as violating the letter—of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution as well.

But fairness requires the recognition that race-based diversity programs are by no means the only source of race- and class-based animosities and resentment.  Harvard and other schools frequently discriminate in favor of the wealthy and well-connected in their admissions policies as well.  The applicant who’s the son or daughter of an alumnus or a wealthy benefactor is frequently far more likely to gain admission than someone whose only strength is superior academic ability.  The policies which benefit these “legacy” applicants disproportionately discriminate in favor of white students at the expense of academically superior but less connected applicants, especially those of color.  African Americans or Hispanics who cry foul at receipt of their rejection letters at least have unassailable logic on their side. But of course that’s pretty cold comfort, at best.

Under the circumstances, colleges and universities today can provide a real service to society by jettisoning their quest for “diversity,” at least through the use of race-based admissions.  They should implement practices which are merit-based, color-blind, and gender-neutral, and based on the principles that the most important factor determining whether an applicant should be admitted is the perceived ability, based on grades and test scores, of the applicant to succeed at school, and that nobody should be rewarded or penalized for the circumstances of his or her birth.  To do so will not, by itself, reverse the problems besetting American society today.  But it may reduce the resentments on which the alt-right, the Antifa, and other assorted misfits feed, and thereby reduce the forces of chaos on which a modern Joker may thrive.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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