The problem with trying to have it both ways is that you often can't. The Supreme Court tried to have it both ways in its 5-4 decision Monday (June 23), ruling that minority students who apply for university admission may be given an edge, but it limited how large a role race can play in a university's selection of students.
The case involved the University of Michigan and a point system it has used to give minorities an advantage over those who meet the standards for admission. The court approved a separate program, used at the university's law school, which gives race less prominence in the admissions decision-making process.
Whether race is less or more prominent, its use as a beneficial (affirmative action) or detrimental (discrimination) standard, no matter the intended purpose, violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States . nor (shall any state) deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Unless the Supreme Court is prepared to state that the 14th Amendment does not mean what it says, then it is in clear violation of the Constitution to grant any preference that discriminates against citizens who have no access to such a preference.
In the part of the case that gave race less prominence in law school admissions at the University of Michigan, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor claimed the Constitution "does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body" (emphasis mine). This is not a constitutional argument. It is an invented one. The obligation of a university is to teach and the privilege of its students is to learn. There is not a single word in the Constitution about educating citizens of the United States, nor is there a word about diversity as a "compelling interest" of the government.
If universities want to boost minority enrollment, for whatever reason, the place to begin is in the primary and secondary schools. Improved lower schools would ensure that minority (and majority) kids learn their subjects and qualify for admission based on merit instead of relying on a system designed to excuse underachievement. How does it benefit anyone - especially minorities - if they know that regardless of their performance a way into a university will be made for them, based not on the content of their character and achievement, but on the color of their skin?
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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