Things that are not important are easy to measure. Those that are important are hard to measure.
As long as the Supreme Court is taking up cases based on imaginary plaintiffs and defendants and no longer requires that plaintiffs have standing (i.e., personally suffered some harm), I thought I would jump on the bandwagon. Therefore, I present the case of Quantity v. Quality in hopes the high court might understand the folly of their ways and put common sense ahead of ideology.
Cases between this imaginary plaintiff and his equally imaginery defendant are adjudicated almost daily in a number of venues. One, in which I was actually a participant, involved the United Way, for which I served on the local board in Oxford, Ohio. We constantly sought better criteria for making funding decisions. Applicants had reams of quantitative data about the number of people served (e.g. Meals on Wheels) or membership in their organization (e.g., Boy Scouts). They took pride in demonstrating their financial efficiency by touting cost per person helped. The board, however, wanted answers to a different question, “Did it make a difference?” A non-profit could provide mental health care for thousands of clients. But if they continued to act irrationally or presented a danger to themselves or others, maybe it was time to fund someone else.
There is no better example of quality trumping quantity than “Project Choice,” a program of the Ewing Kauffman Foundation which covered the college expenses (tuition, room and board, and books) of at-risk youth if they graduated high school on time, were drug free and had no record of illegal activities. The cost per participant could be exorbitant. One graduate’s benefits included a full-ride through medical school. Another, who pursued a career as as a preacher included bible studies in Israel. Sadly, new leadership at the foundation determined the per student cost was an inefficient use of foundation resources (an endowment of $2.7 billion at the time of which the total cost for Project Choice covering 1987-96 was $22.4 million).
As a vice-president at the foundation, I often attended the annual banquet for “Project Choice” alumni. Many shared how the program had not only changed their life trajectories, but those of others in their family or community. I specifically remember one successful female “Kauffman Kid” (as they were affectionately known) telling the audience she emulated “Project Choice,” providing financial support for a nephew’s college education. It reminded me of the final scene in Schindler’s List in which descendants of the 1,000 plus Jews Oskar Schindler saved from extermination placed a stone on his grave site. How many times will the investment in one child result in an exponential impact on others for generation after generation?
Which brings me to the actual Supreme Court decision which might as well have been called Quantity v. Quality. In Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard University, a 6-3 Supreme Court majority decided a private university could not use race as a (not the) factor in admissions. The justices sided with “quantity” even though that issue had already been adjudicated in Regents of University of California v. Bakke. “Quotas” were ruled unconstitutional but “affirmative action” for some applicants was not. In other words, as long as preferential treatment was not a numbers game (i.e., established quantity), subjective consideration of the impact that admission of a minority student (i.e. quality), until last Friday, was still allowed. [Note, this is the same majority that minutes earlier said it was okay for a private business to discriminate against protected populations, in this case the LGBTQ community. Maybe the decision issued in response to 303 Creative’s refusal to design wedding websites for same-sex couples should henceforth be known as “Project Choice for Homophobes.”]
Each year, when Ewing Kauffman, would introduce “Project Choice” to the newly enrolled freshmen at Kansas City’s inner-city Westport High School (from which he graduated), he told them, “When others thought you did not have a chance, we want to give you a choice.” American universities had a chance to make a multi-generational difference in the lives of at-risk youth and their descendants. There was no mandate. Universities were free to decide if and how much they wanted to take race into account when it came to admissions. Unfortunately, six members of the Supreme Court looked at the numbers, not the potential impact, and took away that choice.
According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans supported Affirmative Action program for racial minorities including 51 percent of white Americans. A similar June 2023 poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, now shows 33 percent support by all Americans and only 29 percent by whites. I cannot prove causation but I believe some of this shift in sentiment has been the concurrent re-emergence of white nationalism including public pronouncements of racist memes such as “you will not replace us” as well as MAGA-worlds tacit approval by failing to push back against the rise of white extremism. One more example of the power of people’s exposure to fearmongering, regardless whether the specific threat is real or merely perceived.
For what it’s worth.