Elon Musk and Mark Cuban get into a new Twitter spat over affirmative action

A pair of billionaires were sparring again on Twitter on Saturday, with Mark Cuban challenging Elon Musk over his views on affirmative action.

It began when Mr Musk responded to a quote-tweet from venture capitalist Marc Andreessen bemoaning that the US higher education is “ditching merit in favor of an affirmative action regime” as evidenced by Columbia University’s decision to stop requiring SAT or ACT scores for its undergraduate applicants.

“Very few Americans seem to realize the severity of the situation,” Mr Musk responded.

The Twitter CEO’s statement prompted pushback from a number of people — including entrepreneur and television personality Mark Cuban.

“When was the last time you asked a job applicant or founder their SAT score? Kids learn differently today,” Mr Cuban wrote. “AI will play a far greater role, analyzing skills/academics contributing to future success. If the SAT is state of the art, why not test potential employees the same way?”

Mr Musk did not respond, but Mr Cuban further elaborated his position in a number of other responses to people engaging with his tweet.

“Diversity isn’t about hiring less qualified candidates to check a box,” Mr Cuban wrote in response to another tweet. “It’s about extending your search to include ALL qualified candidates. Particularly those that may not traditionally have access to your hiring or training pipeline.”

The debate about the role of test scores in college admissions and the meaning of diversity comes as the future of affirmative action is as uncertain as it has been in decades.

The US Supreme Court, currently dominated by conservatives, can ban the use of race in college admissions with its decisions in Students for Fair Admissions v Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v University of North Carolina. The Court is expected to issue its rulings in June.

Affirmative action in the US grew out of the Reconstruction Era and gained a stronger foothold during the Civil Rights Movement as a way to try to ensure that non-white and non-male Americans recieve the same opportunities as their historically privileged fellow citizens.

But affirmative action is broadly unpopular with the American public, even as it acknowledges that racial discrimination remains a major problem, and with Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas who will have an opportunity to rule on the constitutionality of race-based college admissions this coming spring.

Colleges and universities have largely fought for the right to use race as one of a number of factors in their admissions processes, pointing the benefits of building a diverse student population. They are increasingly sceptical, meanwhile, of the benefits of standarized test scores — which critics argue are biased towards affluent students and are not as predictive of how well a student does in college as their high school grades.