The current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education has an article defending affirmative action by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. The article is called "Why Diversity Matters" and most of it consists of the usual platitutdes: diversity is good, we need diversity, America has become more diverse, diversity enhances education, blah, blah, blah.
At one time America looked to its Ivy League presidents to provide intellectual leadership on national issues. Now hardly anyone knows who these people are, and even fewer pay attention to what they say. This is generally a good thing. Judged by the elevated standard of the past, most of these guys are pipsqueaks. But in academia, the pipsqueaks do matter. Bollinger has spearheaded the reactionary movement to protect affirmative action on the campus. He has fought have to prevent racial and ethnic preferences from being seen by courts as a straightforward violation of equal rights. In this he has been partly successful: racial preferences stagger on, battered but not yet defeated.
What interested me was this Bollinger statement: "By abolishing all public affirmative action programs, voters in California and Michigan...have not only toppled a ladder of equal opportunity in higher education and so many of us fought to build. They will almost assuredly make their great public universities less diverse--and have in fact done so in California where the impact has become clear."
Consider two scenarios for Berkeley or UCLA. In the first, the campus is 45 percent Asian, 48 percent white, 4 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black. In the second, the campus is 30 percent Asian, 55 percent white, 7 percent hispanic, and 8 percent black. Does the second scenario strike you as markedly more diverse than the first?
Actually it isn't. The fraction of minorities is roughly the same. The difference is that the first scenario is produced by merit. It represents merit-based diversity. It is a pretty good picture of what Berkeley and UCLA look like now. The second scenario is produced by racial preferences. It represents socially-engineered diversity. It is how Berkeley and UCLA used to look in the era of racial preferences.