John Leo

The whole system is a house of cards that deserves to come tumbling down. It degrades the curriculums and grading practices at many colleges, leads to more racial tension and separatism on campus, and implicates large numbers of administrators in furtive, dishonest practices. In the words of Stuart Taylor Jr., the moderate and insightful legal analyst at National Journal, preference policies "can only live on lies" because they offend the values of Americans of all races.

When questions are fairly worded, poll after poll shows that huge majorities oppose preferences. In one survey, 92 percent of adults said hiring, promotions and college admissions "should be based strictly on merit and qualifications other than race/ethnicity." Only 5 percent said race and ethnicity should be taken into account "in order to give minorities more opportunity." Black opinion was 7-to-1 against preferences. (Washington Post/Harvard University/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 2001.)

Most talking heads say Bush will pay a heavy price for opposing preferences. Yes, the preference lobby can inflict some damage by demagoguery about racism and insensitivity. But in reality, this is yet another case of the Republicans ever so reluctantly daring to join an immense majority.

With opposition so large, the preference people should face reality and try something else. The American people support the goal of diversity. They will likely support any serious effort to get more minorities into the mainstream that does not involve preferences or the lowering of standards. The bad news is that the lobby for preferences seems implacable. This lobby keeps inventing schemes to evade the law by adopting more and more essentially dishonest but apparently race-neutral policies.

The University of California's "comprehensive review" of an applicant's whole life seems to fit nicely into this category. In their 1998 pro-preferences book, "The Shape of the River," former Ivy League presidents William Bowen and Derek Bok predicted more "ingenious efforts" to get around any obstacles to preferential admissions policies. We can take them at their word. The lobby for preferences now functions like a religion, featuring militant believers who don't much care what the public thinks or what the law says. Even if the Supreme Court strikes down both Michigan plans, there will still be a lot of anti-preference work to do.

John Leo

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

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