*** DEBUG END ***

Radio review: File on 4 and Open Book

26 May 2023


File on 4 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) examined affirmative action in the university admissions process in the United States

File on 4 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) examined affirmative action in the university admissions process in the United States

IF EVER one needed reminding that the United States is a mysterious, complicated place, then last week’s File on 4 (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) provided the evidence. Nomia Iqbal’s report on affirmative action, and the legal challenges currently facing university admissions policies which operate according to its principles, revealed attitudes on both Left and Right which — however close we might think we are to American culture — would be bewildering to the Left and the Right in the UK.

The story at the heart of this discussion concerns the lobby group Students for Fair Admissions (SFA). This has recently brought cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina for discrimination against Asian-American and White American applicants respectively. These institutions argue that their “holistic-admissions” processes take into account a variety of contextual factors that extend beyond ethnicity, to considerations such as socio-economic background and extra-curricular activities. But, at the heart of this debate, is the suspicion that Asian-Americans, in particular, are being passed over because of certain prejudiced assumptions regarding their educational aspirations.

Although it is rarely spoken out loud, a similar anxiety afflicts admissions directors in British universities; but I doubt that we would produce an activist such as Edward Blum, the director of SFA, whose interview formed the centrepiece of this investigation. Mr Blum is keen to do away with affirmative action for university admissions. In response to the argument that this would reduce diversity on campuses, he points to the success of higher-education institutions in Texas, which have very high proportions of Hispanics, and colleges such as Spelman in Georgia, which (almost) exclusively comprises black women.

In contrast, the admissions counsellor interviewed at the end of the programme was choking back the tears as she described how impoverished university culture would become if she and her colleagues were not able to vet applications by such factors as ethnicity and thus manufacture a diverse cohort.

It is difficult for Brits to navigate this world; and it would have helped to get a crash course in what Lyndon B. Johnson’s affirmative-action legislation actually said. For one thing, it was not clear whether it means the same as “positive discrimination”. The trouble is, one wonders whether the actors in this drama fully understand themselves.

With the passing of Martin Amis, we will no longer have the opportunity to enjoy — or wince at — that unique form of coruscating commentary that he delivered on these cultural debates. In a swift schedule change, Radio 4 replayed an edition of Open Book (Sunday) from 2020, in which Amis’s “late style” was on display: gentler, nostalgic, and, above all, fulsomely appreciative of the friendships that sustained him.

Death was, in this interview, a preoccupation. Fear, not of the moment itself, but of the getting there; a process that was, for his friend Christopher Hitchens, especially traumatic. But, at the age of 70, the world “shifted on its axis”. Amis ceased to engage with the contemporary literary cut-and-thrust: instead, “I collapse into the arms of sentimentality.”

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Church Times/Sarum College:

Traditions of Christian Spirituality

January - May 2024

This is a five-part series on major strands of the Christian spiritual tradition.

Book individual session tickets or sign up for the full programme


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)