The sense of outrage over the recent college admissions scandal has been attributed to perceptions of unfairness. While generally heartfelt, conflation of the nefarious activities under investigation with long-standing sources of societal friction threatens to distract and detract from both.
Elimination of nefarious activities would lend minimal benefits in the pursuit of fairness, because the public conversation of fairness has historically been, and continues to be, founded on group differences and interpreted through diverse prisms. What’s fair in one person’s eyes is unfair in another’s. Whether the decision by Texas Tech removing race as a consideration for admission serves or disserves fairness, depending on your point of view. Replace that decision by any one of many admissions processes and policies and the same truth applies. The college admissions scandal has provided an opportunity for long nurtured axes to be ground, with the emotional wedge of unearned privilege as the accelerant for the present conflagration.
Why has it been so easy to conflate the two? Both are nurtured by the same predilection of program admissions offices to hide what they do. While running admissions as a black box is a natural defense mechanism against inevitable accusations of unfairness delivered by one group or another (for, as demonstrated above, no policy or process will satisfy all perspectives) it also potentiates both the circumstances for nefarious activities to flourish and the belief that they exist, even when they don’t.
Solutions to the present conundrum will not be found in arguments over fairness, but rather a move by admissions offices towards transparency. That change will not come without pain. But better to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous demands for universal fairness than to continue to allow more pernicious accusations of misdeeds to fester.
Dr. Harold Reiter,
former Chair of Admissions at McMaster University Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and co-founder of Altus Assessments