Chad Williams, a student at NYU, has a powerful piece at Huffington Post about affirmative action at the University of Michigan. Noting that the state passed a ban on affirmative action in 2006 that was eventually upheld by the United States Supreme Court, Williams calls out the hypocrisy inherent in the imperative to win in big-time athletes and the concurrent assault on affirmative action:
The prevailing notion seems to be that the perceived lax admissions standards to which black students were allegedly held were unfair. But there seem to be no such reservations when it comes to the lax academic standards to which athletic recruits are held. Thus, while the people of Michigan have found it intolerable to accommodate the victims of racial discrimination, the effects of which are nearly as profound today as they were in the ’60s, they continue to find no issue with the recruitment of black talent to their sports teams in spite of their academic performance or lack thereof. It is thus, in my estimation, appropriate, if not essential, that black athletes pass over the University of Michigan and take their talents to institutions that are committed to the worthy ideals of accountability and racial diversity and value black students as more than muscle and sinew.
Unfortunately, I am not sure which institutions Williams has in mind. The pattern at Michigan – a very high proportion of the low numbers of black males admitted to campus are athletes – is evident elsewhere. At UCLA – a similarly highly regarded state academic institution with big time sports – a reported two thirds of African American males on campus are recruited athletes. And in 2013, black males accounted for just under two percent of the admitted incoming class. California passed a ban on affirmative action in the 1990s, which has held down college admissions for blacks, but not impeded recruitment of black athletes.
According to the Daily Tar Heel, the picture is much the same at UNC which, like Michigan and UCLA, is regarded as a “public ivy.” In the fall of 2013, among just under 4,000 newly admitted students, 98 were black men, and a large proportion of those were athletes. The story is similar at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Sports at the University of Pennsylvania has compiled systematic data on the over-representation of black males in major college athletic programs – that is, their proportion on sports teams compared to their presence in the overall student population. They found that Between 2007 and 2010, “Black men were 2.8% of full-time, degree-seeking undergraduate students, but 57.1% of football teams and 64.3% of basketball teams.”
It’s a sobering fact that, in 2015, racial integration in higher education is, to a substantial degree an illusion, only made seemingly marginally respectable by the imperative of the big-time collegiate programs to field competitive teams.