“One of my students this year has a vaguely Hispanic name but is literally the whitest girl you’ve ever met. Her mother straight out asked, ‘If we mark she’s Latino on the application, is that something that they would ever challenge?’ I told her honestly my best guess, which was no. And, if early admissions are any indication, it seemed to work.”
—-A guidance counselor (and former Ivy League admission officer) at a private school in the South, quoted by Kathleen Kingsbury in her report for The Daily Beast on dubious college admission tactics.
This, of course, is completely unethical for both the student and the counselor, who is exactly like a tax attorney or accountant who lets a client know that his fraudulent return will almost certainly not be audited by the I.R.S. Both of those professionals violate their ethics codes by aiding and abetting such conduct, and the quoted counselor is just as bad.
What should the counselor have said? Something like this: “If you mark her Latino, you may be taking a slot away from a deserving Hispanic student. The issue isn’t whether she can get away with lying, the issue is whether she should lie, and the answer is no. If I believe she has misrepresented herself on the application, I will call the college admissions office myself and set the record straight.”
The quote reminded me of an incident I was involved in that raised some similar issues.
When I was an administrator at a major law school at the peak of affirmative action policies, a wealthy alumnus whose daughter was half Asian and was applying to the school asked me if she should note her ethnicity on her form, since her last name gave no hint of her Asian heritage. “It seems wrong, somehow,” he said. “She’s as American as a kid can be, and she’s hardly disadvantaged. She doesn’t consider herself Asian in any way. Why should she get the benefit of special consideration because her mother happens to be Japanese?”
“That’s the school’s problem, not yours or hers,” I told him. “The policy gives an advantage to minorities, an unfair advantage in my view, and doesn’t consider whether there is any real disadvantage involved. I think it’s a terrible policy, but your daughter can either be helped by it, or hurt by it. She qualifies to be helped, and she has more than enough credentials for admission anyway; it’s not as if she is going to be using the affirmative action standards to get something she doesn’t deserve. I see nothing wrong with her telling the truth on her application, and getting the full advantage of being considered a minority, even though the policy makes no sense in her case. She legitimately qualifies for affirmative action because of her mother’s race. How your daughter regards herself has nothing to do with the admission policy.”
She did as I recommended, was admitted, and is a successful lawyer today. My advice was ethical. The Southern guidance counselor’s was not.
And I still think the law school admission policy was absurd.