Hey, GM: Build cars, not quotas

Posted: Jul 26, 2000 12:00 AM
It seems that some top executives at General Motors Corp. prefer social engineering to mechanical engineering. Last week, the automaker's meddlesome legal team filed a brief in federal court that supports the University of Michigan's race-based affirmative-action policies. The university is involved in two class-action lawsuits stemming from its use of a blatantly discriminatory "dual" admission program in undergraduate and law school admissions. University documents obtained by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights show that in some cases, minorities are automatically admitted while white applicants with identical SAT scores and grades are automatically rejected. Race was not just a "plus" factor; it was the deciding factor. Across the country, voters and courts have rejected these unjust and unconstitutional schemes. Polls show that both professors and students of all races are increasingly disenchanted with affirmative action. And more and more multiracial families like mine are defying intrusive government inquiries into our skin color. So, what's GM, a private corporation, doing in the middle of litigation over retrograde racial preferences in public institutions? And why is the car company so loudly cheering the wrong side? GM's amicus brief in the University of Michigan case reads like a clumsy, corporate public relations manifesto. Its jargon and hyperbole would make even Dilbert's boss blush. "The future of American business" depends upon the preservation of race-based affirmative action, GM's lawyers argue. "High-level functioning in today's business world demands cross-cultural competence," they write. "What we are doing is supporting the policy of the university that will encourage a very diverse student body that ultimately is to the advantage of America," says Harry J. Pearce, GM vice chairman. This is nonsensical pandering to the affirmative-action lobby. In his astute new book, "Creating Equal," University of California regent and equal-rights activist Ward Connerly explains Big Business' fixation with the so-called diversity agenda: "It is altruism on the cheap, functioning in the corporate world somewhat like wearing the appropriately colored ribbon on Academy Awards night." The most innovative and successful start-ups in the United States don't spend their capital on feel-good brochures with glossy photos of minority employees. That is Old Economy. The new generation of employers aggressively recruit the most talented people they can find -- black, white or purple, college-educated or not -- and don't waste time crowing about it. Sure, the corporate world "demands cross-cultural competence." But as GM's global managers in 53 countries well know, those skills -- such as fluency in foreign languages -- have nothing to do with skin color. GM states in its brief that getting rid of race-based quotas and goals would "dramatically reduce the diversity at our nation's top institutions." Yes, there's bound to be an initial decline in the number of blacks and Hispanics admitted. Those are the groups that have benefited most from preferences; you would expect their numbers to decline when the preference crutch is removed. In California, the first state to strike down governmental racial preferences by popular vote, admissions of black and Hispanic students at the top two schools -- the UC Berkeley and UCLA -- initially declined. But like most affirmative-action supporters, GM ignores the fact that abolishing racial preferences in California led to a 16 percent increase in admissions for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at Boalt Law School in Berkeley, and a 18 percent increase at UCLA Law School. Moreover, the eight-campus University of California system as a whole admitted more black, Native American and Hispanic freshmen for the upcoming fall semester than in 1997, the last year affirmative action was used in the UC admissions process. Unprecedented numbers of students are declining to identify their race at all in the admissions process. They want to compete on their merits, not their chromosomes. Now that's something a future employer should value. But never mind the facts. And never mind the Constitution, which expressly provides equal protection under the law -- not special treatment for different races in the name of skin-deep diversity. GM is using the University of Michigan case as a vehicle to appease racial quota advocates in academia and politics. When it comes to achieving true racial equality, the world's largest car company drives in reverse.