It's time to admit that "diversity" is code for racism. If it makes you feel better, we can call it "nice" racism or "well-intentioned" racism or "racism that's good for you." Except that's the rub: It's racism that may be good for you if "you" are a diversity guru, a rich white liberal, a college administrator or one of sundry other types. But the question of whether diversity is good for "them" is a different question altogether, and much more difficult to answer.
If by "them" you mean minorities such as Jews, Chinese-Americans, Indian-Americans and other people of Asian descent, then the ongoing national obsession with diversity probably isn't good. Indeed, that's why Jian Li, a freshman at Yale, filed a civil rights complaint against Princeton University for rejecting him. Li had nigh-upon perfect test scores and grades, yet Princeton turned him down. He'll probably get nowhere with his complaint - he did get into Yale after all - but it shines a light on an uncomfortable reality.
"Theoretically, affirmative action is supposed to take spots away from white applicants and redistribute them to underrepresented minorities," Li told the Daily Princetonian. "What's happening is one segment of the minority population is losing places to another segment of minorities, namely Asians to underrepresented minorities."
Li points to a study conducted by two Princeton academics last year which concluded that if you got rid of racial preferences in higher education, the number of whites admitted to schools would remain fairly constant. However, without racial preferences, Asians would take roughly 80 percent of the positions now allotted to Hispanic and black students.
In other words, there is a quota - though none dare call it that - keeping Asians out of elite schools in numbers disproportionate to their merit. This is the same sort of quota once used to keep Jews out of the Ivy League - not because of their lack of qualifications, but because having too many Jews would change the "feel" of, say, Harvard or Yale. Today, it's the same thing, only we've given that feeling a name: diversity.
The greater irony is that it is far from clear that diversity is good for black students either. Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, notes that there is now ample empirical data showing that the supposed benefits of diversity in education are fleeting when real and often are simply nonexistent. Black students admitted to universities above their skill level often do poorly and fail to graduate in high numbers. UCLA law professor Richard Sander found that nearly half of black law students reside in the bottom 10 percent of their law-school classes. If they went to schools one notch down, they might do far better.
Kirsanow asks: "Would college administrators continue to mouth platitudes about affirmative action if their students knew that preferential admissions cause black law students to flunk out at two-and-a-half times the rate of whites? Or that black law students are six times less likely to pass the bar? Or that half of black law students never become lawyers?"
But all this misses the point. Today's diversity doctrine was contrived as a means of making racial preferences permanent. After all, affirmative action was intended as a temporary remedy for the tragic mistreatment of African-Americans. But as affirmative action drifted into racial preferences, it became constitutionally suspect because racial preferences are by definition discriminatory. If I give extra credit to Joe because he's black, I'm making things just that much harder for Tom because he's white.
The brilliance of the diversity doctrine is that it does an end-run around all of this by saying that diversity isn't so much about helping the underprivileged, it's about providing a rich educational experience for everyone.
When the University of Michigan's admissions policies were being reviewed by the Supreme Court, former school president Lee Bollinger explained that diversity was as "as essential as the study of the Middle Ages, of international politics and of Shakespeare" because exposure to people of different hues lies at the core of the educational experience. That's another way of saying that racial preferences are forever, just like the timeless works of the immortal bard. That business about redressing past discrimination against blacks is no longer the name of the game.
It's difficult to put into words how condescending this is in that it renders black students into props, show-and-tell objects for the other kids' educational benefit.
There was a time when condescension, discrimination, arrogant social engineering along racial lines and the like were dubbed racism. And, to paraphrase Shakespeare, racism by any other name still stinks.