View all Ask a Priest | January 24, 2020
Is it unjust to follow a racial quota system
Q: I have applied for a student recruiter position for a Catholic university. I think the opportunity could be great if I was to get the job. However, a family member brought something up to me that I don’t know the answer to. It has to do with the fact that colleges have diversity quotas that they need to reach. So a college might want to have at least 30% of their population to be a certain minority, for example. If I had to work with such a quota and I had two applicants — one white person and a much better fit for the university, and one who is a minority and not a good fit for the university — would it be immoral/unjust for me to pick the minority student over the white student simply because I have to reach some arbitrary race quota? If race weren’t a factor, surely it would seem that the white student should be accepted. Thanks for your time. – N.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s interesting that you think the job opportunity “could be great” but then immediately raise a concern about what the job might entail.
Your question touches on a hot-button issue. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed quotas in the Bakke decision of the 1970s, and debates over quotas have continued to flare up since then.
This is not an issue that can be settled here. But perhaps a few observations could help you.
First, it sounds as though the quota policy in this case is in the hands of the university. It’s not a policy you could change on your own. So here you would want to recognize the limits of what you could and couldn’t do in the job.
Second, you mention about a potential student not being “a good fit” for the university. This brings us to the crux of the issue.
The issue could be stated in the following way.
Colleges tend to have various goals in their admissions process. One goal is to attract the most academically qualified students. Another is to keep an eye on the financial well-being of the school (tuitions help pay the bills). Still another goal is to assemble a “balanced” student body.
“Balanced” here means a student body that reflects a healthy diversity. One reason for diversity is to help prepare students for the world in which they will live and work. It’s healthy that students are exposed to people from diverse backgrounds to some extent, since this is what they will face after graduation.
More immediately, a diverse body of students leads to different perspectives that can help fuel a dynamic and enriching learning atmosphere on campus.
Healthy diversity means different things to different schools, of course. A Catholic college probably wouldn’t seek a quota of atheists and Buddhists on campus, for that could undercut the very mission of the school.
Moreover, a quota system might give a break to someone who has faced much tougher challenges to achieve a certain level of academic performance. Such a person could have formed a very deep character along the way — and be a great asset on campus.
Nevertheless, if an admissions director recommended admitting a student clearly unqualified for the college just because of his race, that would be unfair; the diversity quotas should not alter the qualifications of the accepted applicants.
In other words, it would be unfair to hold Hispanic applicants, for example, to one set of minimum acceptance criteria for admission (grade point average, SAT/ACT scores, etc.), and then hold Asian applicants (for example) to a different set of criteria.
Not surprisingly, you could hear a dozen different viewpoints on the wisdom of a quota system from the first dozen people you ask. The debates will continue.
So where does leave you?
You might ask yourself whether working with a quota system would go against your conscience.
Perhaps the school would lose critical funding if it didn’t have some kind of quota system. It might be a prudential decision on the part of the administration. In that case you might ask yourself whether you could live with such a system.
In this day and age you might find quota systems in a lot of places. So you might face the same questions again.
Part of the challenge of life is navigating situations that appear to us to be less than ideal. Still, with prudence and prayer and the grace of God we can work within such situations and contribute to improving them.
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