Thomas Sowell

It has been said that, when Ronald Reagan was governor of California, someone told him that admitting students to the University of California on individual performance alone could mean that all the students at Berkeley might be Asian Americans.

"So what?" was the Gipper's response.

Like many other Reagan remarks, it cut through mountains of nonsense and knocked over numerous houses of cards that keep the intelligentsia wringing their hands. A classic example is a recent New York Times story that said: "Asians gain when affirmative action ends. Other minorities don't. What's fair?"

Let's go back to square one. Why do universities exist in the first place? Is it to parcel out benefits to different racial or ethnic groups? If so, why not just give them money? Do universities exist to be fair -- whatever that means? If fair means equal chances or proportional representation, then why not make admissions a lottery?

All too many people in college admissions offices talk and act as if their job is to hand out goodies to those who seem most deserving, in terms of how well they used whatever particular opportunities they happen to have had.

In other words, if student A went to a top-notch high school and scored 1500 on the SATs, while student B went to a mediocre high school and scored 1300, then student B may be admitted and student A denied admission if the little tin gods in the admissions office decide that B made better use of his opportunities.

You couldn't make up anything as silly as this. Educational institutions do not exist to reward people for their past but to prepare them for the future. The taxpayers and donors who are supporting these institutions with their hard-earned money are doing so to benefit the society that these graduates will be serving, not to allow bureaucrats to hand out pork barrel benefits to individuals or groups.

In all the swirl of words around the issue of affirmative action in college and university admissions -- including the endlessly repeated mantra of "diversity" -- there is seldom a single word about serving the public by admitting those who have the academic skills to put the educational resources to the best use.

If a disproportionate number of those who can master the skills that educational institutions provide are Asian Americans, then as the Gipper said, "So what?"

Do you want to fly in planes flown by the best qualified pilots available or in planes flown by quota pilots or by pilots whose life stories were most appealing to those on admissions committees? If you are going to have heart surgery, do you want the best surgeon you can get or do you want a surgeon who had to overcome a lot of handicaps just to make it through medical school?

Thomas Sowell

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

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