By the time I left Boulder in 1970, I had become a critic of affirmative action, and my later experiences as an instructor in the affirmative action program at UCLA made me a downright opponent of such programs. It became clear to me that universities were applying racial double standards that helped no one, least of all the students who were the intended beneficiaries. The real problem blacks and Hispanics faced was a skills gap that affirmative action programs didn't even attempt to solve.
In the 40 years that affirmative action programs have operated, millions of deserving white and Asian students have been passed over at competitive schools across the country in order to admit black and Hispanic students with significantly lower standardized admission test scores (usually 200-350 points lower on a 1600-point scale) and lower high school grades (typically a half point lower on a 4-point scale). These affirmative action students often struggle to compete in the classroom, and huge numbers of them simply drop out. Instead of helping black and Hispanic students succeed, affirmative action programs mismatch students and institutions.
But an end to racial preferences won't mean a return to the days when blacks and Hispanics were simply missing from college classrooms, as in my youth. In California, which outlawed preferences in 1996, more black and Hispanic students are enrolled in college today than ever before -- and more importantly, a higher percentage of them are graduating. In 1995, only 26 percent of black and Hispanic students actually graduated from the UC system; now 51 percent graduate, roughly equal to the white and Asian rate.
Affirmative action programs were never meant to be permanent, something former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor reiterated in her majority opinion in the Supreme Court's 2003 University of Michigan law school case. Yet these programs are still available to the children -- and even grandchildren -- of the students I taught 40 years ago.
It's about time we ended racial double standards once and for all. In doing so, we will actually improve the chances that more black and Hispanic students will earn college degrees.
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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