Affirmative Action In North Dakota: NDSU Uses Racial Point System That's Totally Not Discriminatory

Eight US states have laws on the books banning affirmative action in higher education.
Eight US states have laws on the books banning affirmative action in higher education.

Yesterday a Supreme Court decision upheld a Michigan law banning affirmative action. Seven other states have similar laws on the books.

North Dakota is not one of them.

While thinking about the issue, I was reminded of a post I wrote back in 2011 about a SAB reader of Icelandic and Norwegian descent (read: white) who had one of his children apply for a Cultural Diversity Tuition Discount at North Dakota State University.

The reader and his daughter, who wished to remain anonymous, got the letter above in reply to the application. Ironically enough, the form NDSU uses for applications for these diversity discounts includes non-discrimination language at the bottom.

“North Dakota State University does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, gender identity, marital status, national origin, public assistance status, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, status as a U.S. veteran,” it reads.

Except, NDSU does discriminate. When it comes to these tuition discounts, they absolutely discriminate along racial lines. What’s more, they actually use a racial points system to do it.

The SAB reader who sent me the above rejection letter called called the NDSU admissions office after receiving it to ask for an explanation about the rejection.

What he was told was that his kids didn’t qualify under the point system the university uses to award the diversity waiver.

The reader asked if the university had discriminated against his kids because they were white. The university said that they use a point system and that they don’t discriminate based on race.

The reader asked to see the calculations they came up with on his children, and he was told he wasn’t allowed to see them (no doubt because the conclusion was the kids were too white).

The reader was, however, sent the document below by Director of Admissions Jobey Lichtblau which illustrates the racial point system NDSU uses.

It seems pretty hard to argue that your institution doesn’t discriminate when it comes to race when they’re deploying a racial point system for tuition discounts that awards some races more points than others.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, in a concurring opinion, that a racial preference program “promotes the noxious fiction that, knowing only a person’s color or ethnicity, we can be sure that he has a predetermined set of policy ‘interests,’ thus reinforcing the perception that members of the same racial group—regardless of their age, education, economic status, or the community in which they live—think alike, and share the same political interests.”

I think that speaks to the heart of this issue. These sort of policies assume, based on nothing more than racial heritage, that a given student is advantage. A black student from a successful and affluent family is judged to be underprivileged, while a white student from a low-income family is judged to be advantaged and thus disqualified from a discount.

But those judgements are wrong and shallow and exactly the sort of reason why we shouldn’t be judging people based on their skin color.

CDTD Point Chart