Affirmative action hanging by a thread

Posted: Apr 03, 2001 12:00 AM
Everyone knows that authorities ought not make decisions about individuals based solely on race. This judgment forms the foundation of our resistance to racial profiling by police. So even if it is rational for police to be more suspicious of young black males than, say, elderly black females, we expect them nonetheless to wait until they have probable cause before making an arrest. Everyone agrees that "driving while black" should not be considered a crime. But while we are asked to avoid negative racial stereotypes when it comes to policing, we are asked to embrace them when it comes to college and graduate-school admissions. Most affirmative action programs, after all, are now justified on the grounds of "diversity." Who can be against diversity? That depends upon its definition. As Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice has noted, when the University of Michigan Law School was asked to justify its diversity goal, it explained that minorities "are particularly likely to have experiences and perspectives of special importance to our mission." Can the law school guess what sort of experiences a person has had based purely upon his skin color? Can the law-school admissions officers get diversity of "perspectives" by admitting X number of black or Hispanic applicants? Anyone who follows debates on race, sex or other p.c. topics on campuses these days knows that the latter goal is laughable. If anything, colleges seem intent on instilling complete intellectual conformity. The ideal college undergraduate composition at most leading universities would seem to be a "rainbow coalition" of races all spouting the same robotic mantra of political correctness: "America is a racist, sexist, and homophobic patriarchy." If they were truly interested in "diversity of views," they would perhaps hire a conservative professor or two. (Judge Robert Bork used to joke that he was one of two conservative professors at Yale Law School. This, he recalls, was the school's idea of balance.) Judge Bernard Friedman rejected the diversity argument in his March decision striking down the use of racial preferences at the University of Michigan Law School. In doing so, he observed that achieving a diverse student body does not require separate admissions standards for blacks and Hispanics. "The focus," he wrote "must be upon the merits of individual applicants, not upon assumed characteristics of racial groups." One of the characteristics blacks as a group are presumed to share is poverty. To offer lower admissions standards for poor black kids from the 'hood seems fair and right to most colleges and universities. But it isn't true. Only about a quarter of the black population in America is poor In "Losing the Race: Black Self-Sabotage in America," James McWhorter records that of the 257 black students who were admitted to Berkeley before affirmative action was disallowed, "only 83 had parents whose total yearly income was $30,000 a year or less. ... No (fewer) than 174 of the 257 -- 65.2 percent of the class -- came from homes where the parents' income was at least $40,000 and usually much more." McWhorter himself grew up in a pleasant, leafy suburb near Philadelphia and attended an elite private school. His parents were both professionals. (He is now a professor at Berkeley.) By what logic should colleges lower the bar for the likes of him? And they do lower it significantly, if often secretively. The University of Michigan Law School, because it had been sued, was forced to acknowledge that a black applicant enjoys a 258 times better chance of admission than a white student. And this, even though the black students who apply to law school are by that point college graduates, not products of presumably inferior "inner city" schools. Applying different standards to different groups saddles the "beneficiaries" with an often undeserved badge of inferiority that is impossible to shake. The first thing advocates of affirmative action throw at black critics is, "You benefited from affirmative action and now you want to turn around and deny it to others." How can any black American prove that he would have been accepted at Harvard or Berkeley or even State U. on his own merits? He can't. And that is part of the reason racial preferences must go.