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Begging the Bakke Question

In response to:

The Bakke Decision: Did It Decide Anything? from the August 17, 1978 issue

To the Editors:

[Ronald] Dworkin joins the Supreme Court in missing a crucial issue in the Bakke case (NYR, August 17).

Professional schools and colleges have quite different goals and should have quite different ways for determining the admission of students. The task of the one is to produce men and women to whom anyone should be able to turn, confident of receiving the best aid that technical training could provide. The other has the task of producing civilized, matured men and women. The professional schools should admit only those who on objective grounds show maximum promise in the profession. The colleges should admit those who will make some contribution to the education of their fellows. The colleges can reasonably take account of the race, gender, musical ability, athletic prowess and cognate matters in deciding on the desirability of a candidate. But these considerations are not relevant to the training of professionals.

Minorities, like everyone else, need and presumably want first-rate professional help. One may well quarrel with the kinds of tests that are now offered to determine whether someone has the potentialities to become a successful professional. But that is another issue. Accepting the tests that are now used to determine admission, no other factors should be considered.

There are many who are unable to pass the present tests because of factors beyond their control. Instead of allowing a place for these, whether on a quota or a more flexible system, it would be better for them, and for their future clients, to be offered pre-professional training, designed to help them arrive at the position where they could compete with all others for the limited number of places that are available in the professional schools. Defects are to be remedied, not simply sympathized with and allowance made for them.

If Dworkin’s or the Supreme Court’s many different opinions were to prevail, ought they not apply to the teachers as well? Ought there not be some consideration given to the color, gender, musical ability, athletic prowess, and so on of the teachers in our law schools, medical schools, engineering schools, and so on?

Paul Weiss

Department of Philosophy

The Catholic University of America

Washington, DC

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