"White students from middle and upper middle class families can't get a well-rounded education if they only encounter other students who are just like they are," he explained to me. Good point, I thought. But surely black students have legitimate goals of their own, other than providing a richer learning environment for white kids? Is being at SMU, even if they are scoring at the bottom of their class, good for the "beneficiaries" of affirmative action? Turns out that it isn't. And are white kids at SMU even asking for more diversity? Is that a major objective of their college experience? I don't think so.
The pressure for affirmative action comes mainly from the faculty. It seems professors don't like the idea of walking across the campus and seeing no black students. And it turns out that it really doesn't matter who the black students are or where they come from. Although one encounters the inevitable references to the "vestiges of slavery," Henry Louis Gates, Jr. says that less than half of the black students at Harvard are unambiguous descendants of slaves. The rest are foreigners or children of mixed parentage.
While we're at it, the evidence isn't very kind to affirmative action in the workplace either. See the very excellent book on this whole subject by former CBO director June O'Neill and her husband, David O'Neill:
Take the difference in pay for black and white men. The O'Neill's find that the difference narrows to just 4% after adjusting for years of schooling and it reduces to zero when you factor in test scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), which is basically an intelligence test. In other words, after adjusting for just two factors that cause people to be different, the pay gap between black and white men disappears entirely. Among women, the gap actually reverses after adjusting for education and AFQT scores. Black women get paid more than white women. Among Hispanic and white men, the pay gap narrows to 8% after adjusting for years of schooling and disappears altogether with the addition of AFQT scores. Among the women these two variables cause the pay gap to reverse. As in the case of race, Hispanic women are actually paid somewhat more than white women.
In other words, affirmative action at work isn't correcting a problem because there is no problem to be corrected. By the way, we should all welcome these findings. Granting favors based on skin color should be seen as a clear violation of the 14th Amendment. That it doesn't even help the people it is intended to help means that following the substitution is practical as well as being mandatory.