For what purpose?

Posted: Feb 06, 2003 12:00 AM

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?

Would you be offended to have your life saved by someone who had easily become the best surgeon because he was born in the lap of privilege and always had the finest education available, regardless of how much it cost? Would it bother you if he was Asian American or even -- heaven help us -- a WASP?

Institutions and occupations exist for a purpose -- and that purpose is not to provide a statistical picture that is pleasing for those people who are preoccupied with statistical pictures. Food and shelter, housing and health, life and death, are among the many things that depend on how well institutions function and how well people do their jobs.

These things are too important to sacrifice so that busybodies can feel important directing other people's lives. Indeed, the freedom of those other people is too important to be sacrificed for the sake of third parties' vanity.

Anyone who is serious about wanting to help minority young people must know that the place to start is at precisely the other end of the educational process. That means beginning in the earliest grades teaching reading, math and other mental skills on which their future depends. But that would mean clashing with the teachers' unions and their own busybody agenda of propaganda and psychological manipulation in the classrooms.

The path of least resistance is to give minority youngsters a lousy education and then admit them to college by quotas. With a decent education, they wouldn't need the quotas.

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