Thomas Sowell

Some thought that racial preferences and quotas -- "affirmative action" -- in university admissions decisions were on their way out after they were banned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas and by Proposition 209 in California. However, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is all right for the University of Michigan to use racial factors in determining whom to admit to their law school.

The next stop is obviously the Supreme Court of the United States. How that case will turn out is anybody's guess. The Supreme Court has gone back and forth on racial quota cases over the years. Often there have been changing 5 to 4 decisions from one case to the next and shifting majorities for different portions of a given decision. The trumpet has been making a very uncertain sound for a very long time.

There may be more of the same this time, with the High Court trying to square the circle or split the difference, and ending up with five votes for a ruling based on nothing more than a need to get five votes. In other words, the whole issue is unlikely to be resolved on Constitutional principles and more likely to be left a festering sore, for the sake of expediency.

When racial preferences were ended in California, there was much hysteria in the media, with dire predictions that blacks would be kept out of higher education. Just recently, with much less publicity, the fact has come out that there are now more black students in the University of California system than there were when racial preferences and quotas were in effect. The same is true in the University of Texas system.

What has happened is that black students have redistributed themselves within both these state university systems. There are no longer as many blacks attending the respective flagship universities in these systems, but they are attending other institutions whose normal standards they meet, instead of being overmatched and flunking out of more prestigious institutions.

A book by former university presidents William Bowen (Princeton) and Derek Bok (Harvard) had made a misleading case for affirmative action that the media have hailed as definitive. Bowen and Bok claim that the mismatching of black students under affirmative action has not produced the dire results predicted by critics. Their evidence? Black students graduate at higher rates at a particular set of elite institutions that Bowen and Bok have chosen to study than at lower ranked institutions in their study.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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