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Marcus ’88 Moves on Racial Issues, 3

Ken Marcus ’88 is the (recently confirmed) Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, a position which places him at the center of the debate about racial diversity in higher education. Marcus, and his colleagues in the Justice Department, have started the process of getting rid of racial preferences. Let’s spend a week discussing their efforts. Day 3.

Under Mr. Marcus’s leadership, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a human rights organization that champions Jewish causes, filed an amicus brief in 2012, the first time the Supreme Court heard Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. In the brief, the organization argued that “race conscious admission standards are unfair to individuals, and unhealthy for society at large.”

Is that brief enough to label Marcus as a “vocal opponent” of affirmative action? If so, every (almost) Republican is one. Again, I suspect that a large majority of Americans — including many EphBlog readers? — would agree that “race conscious admission standards are unfair to individuals.” Although perhaps “unfair” is unduly loaded? Williams treats smart applicants differently then dumb applicants, which is either “unfair” or “necessary to achieve our educational goals,” depending on your point of view.

The organization argued that Asian-American students were particularly victimized by race “quotas” that were once used to exclude Jewish people.

This is beyond dispute, at least at places like HYPS. (Again, it is not clear if Williams (meaningfully) discriminates against Asian-Americans in admissions. As in the case of Jews 75 years ago, Williams may not get as many applications (or as high a yield) as HYP do/did.)

As the implications for affirmative action for college admissions play out in court, it is unclear what the decision holds for elementary and secondary schools. New York City is embroiled in a debate about whether to change its entrance standard — currently a single test — for its most prestigious high schools to allow for more black and Latino students.

If NYC wants to cancel its admissions tests for places like Stuyvesant, Ken Marcus won’t care (much). If NYC (or Williams) wants to change its admissions policies, Ken won’t care (much). What he does care about (a lot!) is whether or not, say, African-American and Asian-American applicants are treated the same, either by NYC or by Williams. If they are not, he is now in a position to bring the full weight and power of the Federal Government against NYC/Williams.

Do you have a problem with that? Tough! You (and I am sure that this applies to 90% (99%?) of EphBlog readers) had no problem when the Federal Government was bossing around private institutions (like Bob Jones University) or local/state governments (like the city of Little Rock, Arkansas). And maybe you were right! But, having created the monster to do “good,” don’t be surprised when the monster turns its pitiless gaze toward you . . .

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#1 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On July 11, 2018 @ 9:59 am

Do you believe that the Federal Government had no appropriate role in seeking to end overt racial discrimination in education in Little Rock (black children cannot go to school with white children)? I don’t think that’s what you believe, but that’s how it sounds in your post.

#2 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On July 11, 2018 @ 10:25 am

I want the Federal Government to have 90% less power than it currently has.

The childish approach is to give the Feds power X but to expect them to only use it on cause Y which I agree with. Alas, that is not how the world works. When you give the Feds power X, then, when you side is in power, X will only be used to on cause Y, but, when your side is out of power, it will be used on cause not-Y.

You can either want a federal government that has the power to meddle in the decisions made by places like Bob Jones and Williams or a federal government that does not. I prefer the latter.

The issue of the Feds meddling in places like Little Rock and NYC is trickier, for all sorts of constitutional reasons, as you know.

#3 Comment By Ted McPherson ’67, P’96, P’99 On July 11, 2018 @ 10:51 am

Ken Marcus worked for me when I was the Under Secretary of Education for President George W. Bush (Bush 43). Ken did an outstanding job then, and he will now. Smart, experienced, a practitioner with lots of common sense and courage, excellent communicator, passionate about doing what is right, etc.

Fortunate to have him as a leader in public service at the Federal level ….

#4 Comment By frank uible On July 11, 2018 @ 11:30 am

It’s a “who’s ox is gored” world.

#5 Comment By The Good Son On July 11, 2018 @ 1:28 pm


You did not answer Whitney’s question.

#6 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On July 11, 2018 @ 1:46 pm

I find Whitney’s question somewhat ill-posed.

In particular, what does “no appropriate role” mean, exactly?

For example, I have no problem with the President, then or now, using the Bully Pulpit of his office for all sorts of purposes, including the shaming of racist local officials.

But, at the same time, I would much prefer a Federal Government with much less power — meaning, ultimately, men with guns — to interfere, even on behalf of causes, like school desegregation, I agree with.

#7 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On July 11, 2018 @ 2:20 pm

I think such a limited role for the Federal Government is not a good idea in an era where communication and travel has made the country so much smaller than it used to be.

#8 Comment By dcat On July 11, 2018 @ 6:42 pm

Yeay! Let’s abandon all of civil rights because a rich white guy thinks the government should have less power! Let’s forget that the civil rights movement was predicated on looking to the government for succor. And let’s forget that the alternative to the federal government is the government of Missi-fucking-ssippi. Because they don’t have any men with guns to enforce their laws. (Or individuals with guns to enforce their own version of what they think should be the laws. Let’s have that conversation, Dave.)

When the small government conservatives roll around and gain power the result is the rights of the poor, the weak, and of course of minorities going straight down the drain. But that’s a feature and not a glitch in American conservatism. Always has been, always will be.

Yes, Dave, despite your years of clear exposition that Williams should have fewer black and Hispanic students, I am sure you believe in school desegregation deeply and profoundly just as much as so many of the rest of us.

Is this just your “race realism” again?

#9 Comment By PTC On July 11, 2018 @ 7:33 pm

Ducat- I think it is interesting that more and more in this current environment we see liberals looking for state protection as well. The odd thing about David’s position on scores is that it does not favor white men. The college has an affirmative action system for men in general, and in particular donors legacies, which are mostly white people.

David seems to want some kind of monolithic forum for selection that is particular, or ignores the basic fact that the system is not really an advantage for any group in particular- as it makes sovereign exceptions for all groups.

#10 Comment By PTC On July 11, 2018 @ 7:34 pm

And I equal protection is not going anywhere, nor should it.

#11 Comment By Fendertweed On July 12, 2018 @ 2:51 pm

One might think it childish to try to precisely quantify the optimal % reduction re Federal roles at the same time one refuses to answer a specific question re application of Constitutional law one deems “ill posed” – and thus evaded.