In a matter of weeks, the Supreme Court will hand down its decision in the most important affirmative action cases in a generation, but it will do so based on incomplete and misleading information. The University of Michigan (UM), in defending its use of race as a factor in admitting students to its undergraduate and law schools, argued that the resulting "diversity" in the student body benefited all students. This has long been the claim of affirmative action advocates who want to minimize the inherent unfairness of subjecting whites and Asians to higher standards than blacks or Hispanics, but the argument doesn't hold water.
The university's assertions were based on a highly dubious piece of social science research, "The Expert Witness Report of Prof. Patricia Y. Gurin," which purported to show that racial diversity improves the educational experiences of whites, Asians, blacks and Hispanics. Prof. Gurin's research has been debunked by a number of scholars for demonstrating only that students who attend elite universities are more likely than others to hold politically liberal attitudes about such things as the environment and to be engaged in social activism. Now, it turns out, not only was the report a shoddy bit of research, but the university and Gurin chose to ignore contradictory findings within their own data.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, freelance journalist Chetly Zarko recently obtained the raw data of several years of unpublished research into racial attitudes among UM students, which was the basis of the Gurin report. The Michigan Student Study involved interviews with all incoming minority freshmen in 1990, as well as a sample of white students, all of whom were re-interviewed three times over the next four years. Dr. Robert Lerner and Dr. Althea Nagai, who have previously criticized the Gurin report, have now analyzed the unpublished data and conclude that, contrary to the university's contention, the school's affirmative action policies actually may have increased racial tensions among students and led to greater polarization among groups. (The study appears online at www.ceousa.org .)
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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