Jeff Jacoby

According to research by UCLA economist and law professor Richard Sander, more than 51 percent of black students at elite law schools finish their first year in the bottom 10 percent of their class. Black students fail or drop out of law school at more than twice the rate of white students (19.3 percent vs. 8.2 percent). And while 78 percent of white law school graduates pass the bar exam on their first attempt, only 45 percent of black graduates do.

The inability of racial preferences to vault more minority students into high scholastic achievement shouldn't come as a surprise. When an elite institution relaxes its usual standards to admit more blacks and Hispanics, it all but guarantees that those academically weaker students will have trouble keeping up with their better-prepared white and Asian classmates. Minorities who might have flourished in a science or engineering program at a middle-tier state college are apt to find themselves overwhelmed by the pace at which genetics or computer architecture is taught in the Ivy League. Many decide to switch to an easier major. Others drop out altogether.

This is the cruelty of affirmative-action "mismatch" -- the dynamic by which racial preferences steer minorities to schools where they are underqualified and therefore less likely to succeed. Absent such preferences, black and Hispanic students would attend universities for which their credentials better suited them. Many would earn higher grades or degrees in more prestigious and challenging fields; more would go on to graduate school and careers in academia or the professions. If it weren't for race-based admissions policies, in other words, underrepresented minorities wouldn't be so underrepresented.

Racial preferences, says University of San Diego law professor Gail Heriot, have backfired. She is one of three members of the Civil Rights Commission urging the Supreme Court to recognize the damage it unleashed when it allowed racial "diversity" to trump the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Skin color was always an ill-contrived proxy for diversity of experiences and beliefs. What more than 30 years of race-based admissions have made clear, Heriot argues, is that "even with the best motives in the world, race-based admissions do far more harm than good." Especially to the students they are intended to help.

Jeff Jacoby

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