Here’s the answer to the Elizabeth Warren problem: DNA testing. If you believe you are just 1/32nd or 1/64th minority, a simple test–costing just $195–could garner you that elusive admission to an elite college that you may not be qualified for at all. Several commercial products are on the market including Ancestry by DNA and Family Tree DNA. To be sure, Ancestry by DNA offers the disclaimer that it does not predict or establish one’s race, just estimations. You just take a swab from inside your cheek and mail it off; in a few weeks you know your family ancestry (for an overview of such testing, see the Times essay by Nicholas Wade).
Dishonesty is, of course, possible (just take DNA from others) but this problem is relatively solvable by having testing administered by a third party or the university itself. After presenting a photo-ID, the three-minute test could be also done at Walgreens and they would forward the results together with biogenetic information such as a thumbprint. And the cost would certainly decline as usage increase and low-income students might pay nothing..
Will university bureaucrats accept DNA results? Probably not. Having Walgreens as part of the admissions bureaucracy may be unsettling. The universities are a good bet to refuse vehemently, regardless of the test’s scientific accuracy. Nor does it matter that DNA testing might find thousands unaware of their affirmative action-status and thereby increase the pool of qualified applicants. With DNA testing readily available, let university presidents publicly explain why they reject it in favor of a far iffier, more labor intensive alternative to achieve identical results.
The Dean of Admissions will explain why DNA testing is excluded but it is okay to hire more staff to pore over applications searching for nearly imperceptible traces of American Indian ancestry. Then many rejected applicants with the “correct” DNA will sue, putting university presidents in public opposition to genuine 1/32nd minorities. Somewhere in all this litigation, judges will ask those university presidents how their admissions practices differ from the Nazi laws of racial purity.
Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science, Emeritus at The University of Illinois-Urbana, and occasionally teaches in the NYU Politics Department MA Program.