John Leo

A year ago, Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California, threatened to scrap the SAT 1 test as a requirement for UC admission. SAT 1, an aptitude test long considered the most useful objective standard in college admissions, has been under heavy assault by the diversity lobby as an unfair obstacle to minorities. If SAT 1 is toppled in California, it may well start to decline across the country.

But opponents of quotas and preferences seem more worried about plans like "comprehensive review," which give almost unlimited latitude to admissions officers chafing under the legal restrictions against preferences.

The most blatant of the racial admissions policies is the University of Michigan's, which gives 20 additional points on a 150-point scale to applicants from "underrepresented" groups, compared with just 3 points for an outstanding essay and only 12 points for a perfect SAT score. That plan, the last of the explicitly racial undergraduate programs, was upheld in federal court but is now under appeal. In the California plan, the diversity people are ducking back behind the curtain, promising that no preferences will be made, but providing conditions and deniability that make preferences likely.

The diversity lobby normally argues for representation at colleges -- every racial and ethnic group should have the same proportion of slots on campus as it does in the general population, regardless of which students did what in high school. "Comprehensive review" introduces a new standard: college admission as compensation or reward for having a troubled life.

Two strains of cultural-left thinking are coming together here: the quota culture and the victim culture. Grit and persistence under duress are qualities colleges can legitimately seek. But there is no doubt that victim status is about to become a valuable coin of the realm at the University of California. Single parenthood, which the cultural left usually insists is just as good as double parenthood, is listed as an asset in the admissions process.

The policy is implicitly condescending as well: It tries to usher in more blacks and Latinos by associating them with various dysfunctions. In looking for sociological indicators of race while explicitly not mentioning race, the diversity lobby hopes to be outwit the voters and the courts without getting caught. This is the work of elites disdainful of the values of the middle and working classes. It is all a shoddy and anti-democratic effort by people who don't think that the law applies to them.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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