Jewish quotas are making comback at college

John Leo

5/20/2002 12:00:00 AM - John Leo
What's new in ethnic finagling on our campuses? Well, we just learned that Jews are being favored at Vanderbilt University (aggressively recruited for the first time) and will keep being disfavored at the University of Michigan Law School (passed over for less qualified blacks and Hispanics), at least until the U.S. Supreme Court steps in.

It's hard to decide which of these two stories is more excruciating. Vanderbilt, a Bible Belt university located in Nashville, is targeting Jewish students in an "elite strategy" to boost itself toward Ivy League status. Chancellor Gordon Gee announced this plan along with a series of relentlessly pro-Semitic compliments guaranteed to set every Jewish tooth on edge: Jews are lively, interesting and hardworking, and come from a rich culture. All well meant, no doubt, but close to conventional stereotypes.

Then there is the problem of leaving the word "Jewish" hovering in the air within 10 paces of the word "elite." Our campuses are addicted to ethnic and racial tinkering, so problems like this are common. Vanderbilt wants to pep up its image (and presumably its ranking in U.S. News & World Report's college guide) by importing some bright Jews. But the university doesn't seem to have a clue about how offensive this is, and not just to Jews. Christian students will now understand that their university views them as unimpressive bumpkins in need of non-Christian help.

The College Board has fueled the new market in religious identity groups by asking college-bound test-takers to list their faith. Jews came in second in the testing sweepstakes (1161 average board scores), exceeded only by Unitarians (1209). According to The Wall Street Journal, some colleges now buy the names of Jewish students from the College Board. This has overtones of the scramble for free agents in all major sports. The unspoken premise is that if the Jewish free agents are attractive enough, they will be granted an edge over equally qualified gentile candidates.

Here we go again. Although Vanderbilt claims that it's just marketing to a new group of students, this looks like yet another identity-group preference scheme by college officials who seem constitutionally unable to hold all candidates for admission to a common standard.

Jewish students are also at the heart of a controversy over the University of Michigan Law School's preference system. Ruled unconstitutional last year by a federal district judge, the system was upheld last week in a 5-to-4 decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case is likely to go to the Supreme Court.

In dissent, Judge Danny Boggs noted that "a significant proportion" of the Michigan law school applicants who lose out because of "diversity" preferences are Jewish. Though the plan is pro-minority, not anti­Semitic, he says it reduces the number of Jews much the same way anti-Semitic Ivy League admissions policies did in the 1930s (not to mention the 1920s, '40s and '50s). In those days, as one writer put it, "If you were a Jew with an A average and 1600 on the boards, you wouldn't get into Yale as fast as a South Dakota farm boy with a gentleman's C."

It's a grave charge that Jewish quotas are making a comeback of sorts as a byproduct of "diversity" preferences. "Diversity" people are committed to the rhetoric of "underrepresentation": Every aggrieved group is entitled to the same proportion of university slots as its percentage of the population. But where will these slots come from? The so-called white ethnics are already "underrepresented." A few years ago, the head of the National Italian-American Foundation said Americans of Italian ancestry account for 8 percent or 9 percent of the American population and only 3 percent of Ivy League students. The slots can come only from the two groups that have dramatically exceeded expectations: Jews and Asian-Americans.

Jews are only 2 percent of the population, but at Ivy League schools they account for 23 percent of students. In diversity-speak, a language with no word for merit, this means that Jews are "overrepresented" and logically headed back toward quotas. Boggs writes: "The law school and the court will certainly deny this, but that is where the figures unavoidably lead us."

Affirmative action started out as a mild and temporary tie-breaking plan applied to equally qualified candidates. It mutated into a huge boost for low-scoring minority candidates. At the University of Michigan Law School, race is worth more than one full grade point of college average. And now it seems headed for "representation" quotas for all racial and ethnic groups. Is this any way to run a university?