In 2009, the University of California system changed its admissions policy allegedly to curtail admission to Asian-Americans. Such anti-affirmative action arose not because UC was a racist institution, but because as an applicant group, Asian-Americans were outperforming most other ethnic groups, in numbers disproportionate to the general population.
In other words, in the manner that the Ivy League turned away qualified Jews in the 1920s and '30s, so some university administrators apparently thought that engineering a campus "to look like America" was more important than simply admitting those with the strongest academic achievement.
Affirmative action -- fossilized for a half-century -- also made few allowances for class. Asian-Americans, for example, have higher per-capita incomes than Americans as a whole. Were affluent minority individuals eligible for affirmative action?
Will the children of multimillionaire Tiger Woods -- or of Jay-Z and Beyonce -- qualify for special consideration on the theory that statistical under-representation in some fields or racial pedigrees will make their lives more challenging than the lives of poor white children in rural Pennsylvania or first-generation Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Mich.?
If ossified racial preferences don't work in 21st century multiracial America, then the generalized idea of "diversity" -- just picking and choosing people without any rationale other than ensuring lots of different races and ethnic groups -- offers a better defense of extending preferences in lieu of strictly meritocratic criteria.
Yet diversity no more alleviates the problem of bias than does climate change end controversy over global warming. We really do not mean "diversity" in the widest sense of the word. No Ivy League law school is worried that its faculty profile is disproportionately 90 percent liberal, or lacks fundamentalist Christians commensurate with their numbers in the general population.
The idea of diversity, racial and otherwise, is deeply embedded in politics. President George H.W. Bush was not especially lauded for appointing an African-American Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, apparently because Thomas was considered conservative. Liberal Attorney General Eric Holder was seen by the media as a genuinely diverse appointment in a way that a conservative predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, was not.
Like Prohibition, affirmative action and then diversity were originally noble efforts that were doomed -- largely by their own illiberal contradictions of using present and future racial discrimination to atone for past racial discrimination.
It is well past time to move on and to see people as just people.