Even though the "big boys" have already linked to Stuart Taylor's piece on affirmative action in The National Interest, I had to follow suit, if only to show solidarity with Taylor's view on the need to generate better public awareness and debate on the issue of racial preferences and other inequities in college admissions. Here Taylor cuts to the chase:
Dozens of surveys over three decades have consistently shown that more than two-thirds of Americans -- and, in many polls, lopsided majorities of African-Americans -- oppose racial preferences. (Polls show much greater support for "affirmative action," but the reason is that that phrase can be read as including aggressive enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, recruitment, and outreach efforts.) On no other issue have elected officials and establishment leaders succeeded in implementing so pervasively a policy that the public rejects so overwhelmingly.
Taylor goes on to demonstrate how a policy that purports to help the "underprivileged" really does no such thing. There has long been in place a system of financial aid that helps qualified students of all races and backgrounds who are in need of such assistance. Financial need has little if anything to do with the system of racial preferences in place today. As Taylor points out, some 85% of minorities admitted under preferences are from the middle and upper income levels.
The system is perpetuated and justified (in the eyes of its supporters) by two key factors, in my view, and neither of them has to do with the socio-economic level of the college applicant. The first is the educational achievement gap between whites and Asians on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics on the other. The problem facing the elite schools in terms of enrolling blacks and Hispanics in numbers that they consider acceptable is one of supply, not demand. There are simply not enough qualified blacks and Hispanics graduating with the grades, SAT scores and academic credentials to fill all of the allotted spots at the elite schools if they are held to the same standards for admission that are applied to whites and Asians. So they are not held to those standards.
And they are not because there is apparently no higher goal in higher education today that the achievement of Diversity, which is now a Supreme Court-backed excuse to discriminate on the basis of race in college admissions. The "compelling interest" argument is put forth to defend diversity as an educational benefit in and of itself. While the point is debatable, the contention that students, white or black, will get a better education in a racially "diverse" classroom than they would without one, is one not backed by any scientific evidence whatsoever. And to use this unsupported supposition to render legal what would otherwise be illegal, that is, blatant racial discrimination in admissions policy, is a pretty thin pretense for the Court and the schools to stand on to justify what they are doing.
Don't get me wrong. I think that the college experience is enriched by the variety of humanity that one encounters on campus. Clearly in the learning, socializing and maturing process that is college life, there are benefits to a "melting pot" environment comprised of students of different nationalities, races, and ethnic backgrounds. In many cases, a student may be experiencing that involvement with "difference" for the first time in his or her lifetime. Lifelong friendships are formed and lifelong lessons are learned. That has real value, and I do not for a moment discount it.
But I would contend that the friendships, the relationships of all kinds that college kids form during those years are with individuals, and not with races or skin colors, and the relationships and exposure to people that are "different" are enriching because of individual differences, which include but are not limited to racial ones. "Engineered diversity" backers are fond of saying that a certain percentage of blacks improve the educational experience because they can provide the "black perspective" or can speak to the "black experience" in any classroom discussion. (Skeptics wonder why the reverse is not also true and "x" percentage of whites aren't "diversifying" the classrooms at all-black colleges, so as to improve their educational experiences.)
This is the part of the concept of diversity that I think is most insulting and dehumanizing to black students. Apparently to right-thinking college administrators, there is but one "black perspective", one "black experience", and the "perspectives" of individual human beings who happen to have black skin, which are formed through their individual life experiences, the sum totals of 18 years of life choices, and socialization, and family influences, and religious upbringing and socio-economic status are literally interchangeable, and of equal "value" to the educational experiences for both whites and blacks.
The "perspective" of the daughter of a black dentist and a black high school principal from Shaker Heights with a combined annual income of $200,000, who drove her new Chrysler Sebring convertible to campus, is thus interchangeable with the "perspective" of the son of an unmarried office worker from the urban projects, who has lived his entire life in economic hardship and fatherlessness. (I realize I am paraphrasing John McWhorter a bit here.)
The all too obvious point is that these two individuals' life experiences are wildly disparate, and are perhaps much closer to those of one or another of their white peers in the classroom, than they are to each other's.
In their wisdom, college administrators must feel they can determine the optimal percentage of black-skinned students that should be in a classroom or on a campus, in order to supply just the right amount of "black perspective" to maximize the positive diversity effect for all students. How utterly elitist, (and yes, racist) an attitude that is, and how insulting it is to the individuality of the black students. It is also demonstrative of the agenda of the supporters of preferences. It is certainly not an agenda of fairness, and not one of concern for the long term interests of the minority student. It does promote an appearance that is satisfying to administrators though, and that appearance strokes their moral vanity.
To serve a statistical purpose for the moral self-satisfaction of the college administration, the student is stripped of his individuality, reduced to being his skin color. In many cases, the minority student admitted under preferences is put into an academic environment with students who have achieved at levels well above those that he has achieved. He is set up to fail, and he often does, at rates far exceeding students who were admitted under meritocratic criteria. Why would anyone expect a student who got 1050 on the SAT test to compete successfully in an elite school in which 90% of the students got over 1300? Who is really being "helped" by this system? Whose interests are being served?
I strongly favor active outreach programs by universities to identify and attract qualified and high potential minority students, and I favor admitting students using true "affirmative action" policies. That is, to give preference to underrepresented minorities when deciding between equally qualified, or similarly qualified applicants. But sizable majorities of both blacks and whites when surveyed, are opposed to having the "bar" set at two different heights for two different groups, where skin color is the defining characteristic. It stigmatizes both the blacks and Hispanics who are admitted under preferences as well as the blacks and Hispanics who gained admission on an equal footing with their peers.
While speaking in the context of a trend toward conservatism among American blacks, John McWhorter, in an article in the new Commentary, (not available online), cites some polling data:
"A Washington Post exit poll of black voters, for example, showed a whopping 86 percent opposed to racial preferences. In a recent study titled Black Pride and Black Prejudice, the political scientists Paul Sniderman and Thomas Piazza report an even more astounding 90 percent of blacks rejecting the idea of admitting a less qualified black student over a more qualified white one, even if the disparity in test scores is slight"
Racial preferences in college admissions are wrong in principle and destructive in practice. Large majorities of Americans of all races know it, and oppose them on that principle. The practice needs to be examined openly and debated candidly.