Despite many efforts to promote a rational, evidence-based dialogue on issues of access and diversity (particularly where race, ethnicity and gender preferences may be at issue), campus discussions often devolve into polarizing, rhetorical exchanges that are not grounded in reality — and that generate more heat than light. These Mythbusters are intended to address some of the central myths that tend to erroneously drive higher education policy discussions, and to provide a number of on-point resources that may promote a more meaningful policy discourse.
|Myth||Mythbuster||Points of Reference|
|“Diversity” is code for policies that focus only on race and ethnicity preferences in higher education.||FALSE. Properly understood, “diversity” is a concept that reflects institutional interests in an array of student backgrounds, characteristics and interests — of which race and ethnicity may be two factors among many.||
|The consideration of race and ethnicity in admission and financial aid leads to unqualified or underqualified students receiving benefits to which others are entitled.||FALSE. Properly considered in the admission and financial aid process:  race and ethnicity operate along with a mix of other legitimate factors in shaping complex and inherently academic judgments about who to admit; and  as “tipping point” factors in some individual decisions, race and ethnicity preferences do not lead to the admission of unqualified or underqualified students.||
|Standardized test scores and grade point averages are the only basis upon which the merit of a student should be judged when making admission decisions.||FALSE. The inherently academic judgments regarding who is qualified for admission and who should be admitted typically involve an assessment of an array of factors &emdahsh; some more objective and some less so. Teacher recommendations, student interests, records of major accomplishments (including, for some, “distance traveled”), particular skills, backgrounds and life experiences shape judgments about a student's likely success at a particular institution and, as importantly, the ways in which he or she is likely to contribute to its learning environment.||
|Federal nondiscrimination rules related to admission practices are identical to those related to financial aid and scholarships.||FALSE. Although the general legal standard applied to such higher education enrollment practices is the same (for race- and ethnicity-conscious practices, “strict scrutiny”; for gender-conscious practices, “intermediate scrutiny”), the nature of the benefit conferred (e.g., admission or aid) and the manner in which it is conferred affect the precise application of relevant legal standards.||
|Federal nondiscrimination rules completely and categorically bar race-, ethnicity- and gender-exclusive financial aid and scholarship practices.||FALSE. No federal rule — based on U.S. Supreme Court rulings or U.S. Department of Education regulations and policy — categorically proscribes race-, ethnicity- or gender-exclusive aid practices.||
- Lee Bollinger, “Seven Myths About Affirmative Action in Universities,” 38 Willamette Law Review 535 (Fall 2002).
- Myths and Tradeoffs: The Role of Tests in Undergraduate Admissions (National Research Council, 1999).