Merit: the best and only way to decide who gets into university

We find the trend toward race-based admissions policies in some U.S. schools to be deplorable

Merit: the best and only way to decide who gets into university

Photograph by Colin O'Connor

Maclean’s annual University Rankings issue is our most popular and most discussed magazine of the year. The 2010 edition, released two weeks ago, was no exception. Alongside our comprehensive rankings of Canadian schools, we also tackled the biggest issues facing today’s university students. There were stories dealing with school stress, problem roommates, difficult school choices and sex. And when students told us race is becoming a conversation on Canadian campuses, we took a closer look at that as well.

Our reporters Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Köhler spoke to university students, professors and administrators about campus racial balance and its implications. The resulting story was titled: “‘Too Asian?’: a term used in the U.S. to talk about racial imbalance at Ivy League schools is now being whispered on Canadian campuses—by everyone but the students themselves, who speak out loud and clear.”

The article has generated a great deal of response, a representative sample of which is included in this week’s Letters (page six). Some of the comments we have seen on the Internet and in other media have suggested that by publishing this article, Maclean’s views Canadian universities as “Too Asian,” or that we hold a negative view of Asian students.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As our story relates, the phrase “Too Asian?” is a direct quote from the title of a panel discussion at the 2006 meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling where experts examined the growing tendency among U.S. university admission officers to view Asian applicants as a homogenous group. The evidence suggests some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. have abandoned merit as the basis for admission for more racially significant—and racist—criteria.

We find the trend toward race-based admission policies in some American schools deplorable, as do many of our readers. Our article notes that Canadian universities select students regardless of race or creed. That, in our view, is the best and only acceptable approach: merit should be the sole criteria for entrance to higher education in Canada, and universities should always give preference to our best and brightest regardless of cultural background. This position was stated clearly in the article: “Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so,” reporters Findlay and Köhler wrote.

Through hard work, talent and ambition, Asian students have been highly successful in earning places in Canada’s institutions of higher learning. They, like all of our high achievers, deserve respect and admiration. Every one of them is a source of pride to their fellow Canadians.

One final note about the headline. Although the phrase “Too Asian?” was a question and, again, a quotation from an authoritative source, it upset many people. We expected that it would be provocative, but we did not intend to cause offence.

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