John C. Goodman

The Supreme Court punted on the University of Texas affirmative action case the other day. But the issue won't seem to go away - except in California. California? Yes, California. Although seen as a bastion of liberalism in the public mind, the state passed proposition 209, banning affirmative action, 17 years ago. So what happened? Are California university campuses today completely lily white? Or all Asian?

Hardly. As explained in a study for the Cato Institute, with the exception of one or two "elite" institutions, California university campuses are more diverse today than before the ban, and the graduation rates of minority students are much higher. But how is this possible if the ban says affirmative action was neither achieving more diversity nor helping black and Hispanic students acquire a college diploma?

That is exactly the thesis of a new book by UCLA law professor and civil rights activist Richard Sander and journalist Stuart Taylor, "Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts the Students It's Intended to Help and Why the Universities Won't Admit It."

Mismatch works like this. Minority students who should have attended an Ivy League school such as Harvard or Yale are instead admitted to MIT and Cal Tech, where SAT scores are near perfect. Then to fill the void in the Ivy League those schools accept students who should have attended Southern Methodist University (SMU) or Emory. Those schools then admit students who should have attended lower ranking state colleges and junior colleges. In the end, just about every minority student ends up at the wrong school. They are admitted to institutions where other students are better prepared than they are. As a result, they find themselves at the bottom of the class. Even if they don't get discouraged and drop out, the entire set up reinforces racial stereotypes.

A Wall Street Journal book review recounts Professor Sander's earlier analysis:

[O]f the troubling performance of many black law-school students at UCLA in the late 1990s. About half of them, he found, ended up in the bottom 10th of the class and achieved only a 50% pass rate in bar exams, compared with 90% for whites. The reason? Many had been admitted with large racial preferences. Though a mismatched undergraduate might switch to an easier major without punishing anything more than his dreams, failing the bar exam could ruin a career.

So if the evidence is clear and overwhelming, why are liberals so committed to affirmative action? For white liberals, I think it's all about guilt. Some years ago Ken Pye, who was president of SMU at the time, explained why getting minority kids to the campus was his number one goal.


John C. Goodman

John C. Goodman is Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute and author of the widely acclaimed book, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the "Father of Health Savings Accounts."