Selective colleges like the University of Michigan practice a
blatant form of racial preference, yet they attempt to obscure this truth
with all their might. Race, they insist, is only one factor among many they
consider when evaluating each individual applicant.
Sometimes, as in Michigan's case, it takes a Freedom of
Information request to get at the truth (one professor who opposes
affirmative action was forced to take that route). The two cases brought by
the Center for Individual Rights (< ahref="http://www.cir-usa.org">www.cir-usa.org) against the University of
Michigan now pending at the U.S. Supreme Court have further thrust this
uncomfortable subject to the fore.
Though the university altered its admission guidelines after the
initiation of these suits, the basic outlines have not changed. There is one
set of standards for Native Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans, and
another for everyone else. Under the 1995 criteria, anyone in the majority
pool who did not achieve a GPA of at least 3.2 and ACT/SAT scores above 23
and 950 was automatically rejected. But for the named minorities, GPAs of
2.6 and ACT/SAT scores of 18 or 820 were sufficient to gain admission.
One of the questions to ask proponents of affirmative action is:
When will it end? Affirmative action was initially conceived and justified
as a remedy for past discrimination. African-Americans would be offered a
discount ticket into the middle class as partial payback for the damage done
over hundreds of years of slavery and discrimination.
Today, most African-Americans are in the middle class. Only
about one in four black families was poor in 1996. Officials from the
University of Michigan try to obscure this reality by pointing to the
"poorly served" inner-city communities. But children from those
neighborhoods are not the blacks who wind up at Harvard, Berkeley and the
University of Michigan.
As James McWhorter points out in his outstanding book "Losing
the Race," only about 14 percent of the black students at selective colleges
come from poor backgrounds. The other 85 percent are mostly the sons and
daughters of middle and upper-middle class African-Americans who were given
preference over the children of whites and Asians. In practice, this leads
to the thoroughly unjust result that the hard-working daughter of a white
waitress will be rejected from the University of Michigan and many other
colleges in favor of the son of a black doctor or lawyer.
Proponents of preferences urge that primary and secondary
schools with black majorities are starved for funds, while mostly white
suburban schools are awash in luxuries. But as Stephen and Abigail
Thernstrom demonstrated in their comprehensive study "America in Black and
White," this is simply not true. "Average expenditures per pupil in the
central cities of metropolitan areas were identical to average spending in
the suburbs around them." And even in suburban schools with all the
trimmings, blacks continue to lag behind whites in academic performance. In
Shaker Heights, Ohio, a liberal, integrated, highly nurturing environment,
black students constitute half the population but only 10 percent of the top
fifth of the class and 90 percent of the bottom fifth.
Racial preferences perpetuate the very worst stereotype about
African-Americans -- that they are not as smart as whites or Asians.
McWhorter makes a very persuasive case that affirmative action has corrupted
its "beneficiaries," who know full well that they are held to lower
standards and live down to that level. Black students from families with
annual incomes above $70,000 had lower SAT scores in 1995 than white
students with incomes below $10,000.
Affirmative action apologists believe that white racism and
nothing more accounts for the differential. But the academic success of
blacks from Africa and the West Indies sheds doubt on this.
McWhorter, who taught linguistics at Berkeley, noticed
throughout his teaching career that while some black students excelled, far
too many refused to apply themselves. Jay Rosner, director of a foundation
that provides LSAT preparation courses, testified in court papers filed in
connection with the Michigan case that despite discounted fees and outreach
efforts, blacks showed far less interest than other students in the courses
that could boost performance on the LSAT. A cult of anti-intellectualism
pervades black life at every income level, McWhorter argues, and affirmative
action only perpetuates it.