Jeff Jacoby

Second of two parts (Read Part 1)

IF RACIAL PREFERENCES in higher education were good for racial minorities in higher education, we surely would have seen the definitive evidence of it by now. Instead, a widening shelf of empirical research suggests that the opposite is true -- that affirmative action in academia is not advancing minority achievement but impeding it.

More than 30 years ago, in the case of University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court gave colleges and universities a green light to admit applicants on the basis of race if their reason for doing so was to secure the blessings of a "diverse" student body. Many educators and policymakers concluded that lowering academic standards for black and Hispanic candidates – though awkward and controversial -- was a worthwhile tradeoff, since it would increase the number of minorities with advanced degrees and prestigious careers. Build racial diversity into each freshman class, it was widely believed, and more diversity among graduate students, academics, and professionals would ensue.

But it hasn't worked that way.

In a report published last year, the US Commission on Civil Rights explored why black and Hispanic students who enroll in college intending to major in science, technology, engineering, or math -- the so-called STEM fields -- are far less likely than other students to follow through on those intentions.

The problem isn't lack of interest. Incoming minority freshmen actually start out more attracted than their white counterparts to the goal of a science or engineering degree. Nor is racism to blame. The Commission found that discrimination "was not a substantial factor" in the rate at which black and Hispanic students give up on science and math majors. Yet the bottom line is disheartening: Even after decades of affirmative action, blacks (relative to their share of the overall population) are only 36 percent as likely as whites to earn a bachelor's degree in a STEM discipline -- and only 15 percent as likely to make it all the way to a science-related PhD.

And it's not only in science and math that the supposed beneficiaries of racial preferences fall behind.

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for