Inside Higher Ed recently featured  on the Boston University’s ‘Holistic’ Medical School admissions policies, which utilized intangible factors such as empathy, strength of character and cultural sensitivity to increase the level of minority students by up to 20 percent.

John S. Rosenberg, a contributor at Minding the Campus, shares his concerns about how well this approach serves the future patient of new doctors:

I hope The New England Journal of Medicine will publish additional studies investigating and explaining the remarkable discovery B.U. seems to have stumbled upon. If we assume — as I’m sure B.U. would insist — that its new holistic admissions criteria are racially neutral both in intent and as applied, then it has discovered that at least among its medical school applicants “factors such as empathy, strength of character and cultural sensitivity” are disproportionately possessed by “diversity”-providing racial and ethnic minorities. This association of “underrepresentation” with moral superiority demands further study.

Another possible explanation for B.U.’s dramatic discovery — although one that also calls out for scholarly investigation — is that those admirable “holistic” qualities are for some reason sadly and disproportionately lacking in those applicants with high grades and test scores, so that decreasing the number of academic high achievers increases the number of those with high “holistic” scores.

….Most of the concern with “diversity” in the medical profession seems to come from medical schools, the producers of health care. But what about the consumers, those on whom the practice of medicine is practiced? Are there any surveys, for example, for example, that investigate how patients rank such “holistic” qualities as llempathy and cultural sensitivity compared to more traditional measures of accomplishment and skill (at least as measured by grades and test scores) in their physicians? Do medical schools care?

A prevalent and persuasive argument against preferential admissions — whether the preference is based on race (overtly or “holistically”) or on other issues such as legacy status — is the stigma that attaches to the preferred as well as those who “look like” them. In the case of race that stigma often survives long after graduation, leading some patients to avoid doctors whom they suspect were held to lower standards.

That avoidance suggests an irony: supporters of racial preference justify their support by pointing to the persistence of bias and discrimination, but lower standards for the preferred perpetuates that very bias.