Race and the Election

Linda Chavez
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Posted: Oct 31, 2008 12:01 AM
Race and the Election

All fair-minded Americans understand that race should not be a factor in choosing our next president, so why should race continue to play a role in deciding who gets into college or receives a government contract or is hired or promoted in a government job? It makes no sense to argue that we're supposed to be colorblind in the polling booth but color-conscious in so many other areas.

On Election Day, voters in Colorado and Nebraska will have the opportunity to end this racial double standard by approving amendments to their state constitutions that will outlaw racial preferences in state education, contracting, and employment. Polls suggest that these ballot initiatives will pass easily. It's about time.

For 40 years, we've maintained a kind of cognitive dissonance in our public policies when it comes to race. On the one hand, we have condemned -- and made illegal -- racial discrimination. On the other, we've condoned -- even actively encouraged -- racial preferences for favored minority groups.

If it is wrong for an employer to refuse to hire someone because of his or her skin color or ancestry, why is it right to require that same employer to achieve and maintain a certain racial and ethnic balance in the workforce?

How can race and ethnicity be impermissible bases on which to deny admission to students but be perfectly acceptable factors in deciding which students to admit?

Welcome to the Alice-in-Wonderland world of affirmative action. Proponents used to argue that such programs were necessary to overcome the effects of historical discrimination. Now, they claim affirmative action isn't about remedying past discrimination, it's about promoting diversity. Whatever.

No matter how you try to rationalize it, picking winners and losers based on skin color is ugly. And it's especially pernicious when government itself is the culprit, which is why the ballot initiatives in Nebraska and Colorado specifically restrict government-sponsored racial preferences.

Race is frequently the deciding factor in determining who gets into the University of Nebraska law school, for example. This month, the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), a public policy research organization that I chair, released a study of admission practices at the state's College of Law. Analyzing admissions data from 2006 and 2007, the study shows that a black non-resident applicant is 20 times more likely to be admitted to the law school than a Nebraska resident who happens to be white. Overall, the odds favoring the admission of a black applicant with the same grades and test scores as a white applicant were an astonishing 442-to-1.

In defending the practice, the dean of the law school said that it was necessary "to admit a class with a diversity of experiences and viewpoints to ensure vigorous and enlightening classroom discussions," arguing, "we can better discuss alleged race-based police practices if African Americans are in the room." But what lessons do students learn when they discover that the LSAT scores of the top 25 percent of black students at the law school are actually lower than the scores of the bottom 25 percent of their fellow white students?

And Nebraska isn't alone in admitting less qualified black and Latino over white applicants. CEO has studied racial preferences in admissions at dozens of colleges, law schools, and medical schools across the country, including a study that looked at undergraduate admissions at all state schools in Colorado a decade ago. (Unfortunately, Colorado's higher education commission would not provide admissions data to update the study this year.)

The pattern was the same virtually everywhere: In order to achieve "diversity," colleges and universities routinely admit black and Latino students with lower grades and test scores than their white and Asian peers. In a few cases, the differences were small. But at many more schools the disparities were huge. At Arizona State University law school, CEO found that the odds favoring admission for black applicants over whites were 1,115-to-1, the worst for any school we have studied.

Approval of the Colorado and Nebraska civil rights initiatives on Tuesday would bring to five the number of states that have banned racial preferences in state programs. Discriminating against or granting preference to anyone because of skin color has no place in America -- and the polling booth is the perfect place to demonstrate it.