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 Robert Weissberg Archive
The Racial Preference Zombie Lives On
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The racial preference zombie lives on, at least according to Judge Allison Burroughs of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts in a decision upholding Harvard’s admission’s policy of favoring less academically qualified blacks and Hispanics over Asians. We are told, for the umpteenth time, that despite their lackluster academic records, blacks and Hispanics should be admitted over better qualified whites and Asians to promote all important diversity. In the Judge’s words, “The students who are admitted to Harvard and choose to attend will live and learn surrounded by all sorts of people, with all sorts of experiences, beliefs and talents. They will have the opportunity to know and understand one another beyond race, as whole individuals with unique histories and experiences.”

The case is being appealed and will likely reach the Supreme Court but if past judicial reasoning is any guide to the future, naked racial preferences will somehow survive as a compelling state interest. Their existence may require deceit (“holistic” admission screening being the equivalent of sausage making) but they will survive. After all, what good-thinking person, Supreme Court Justices included, could oppose diversity and all of its wondrous benefits? Certainly not university experts—some 37 higher education groups filed an amicus curie brief endorsing the “Harvard model” of holistic admission.

Left unsaid in this celebration of diversity is an obvious but never raised question—how exactly does adding blacks and Hispanics so dramatically upgrade learning vis-à-vis other students who are equally diverse but have different skin colors? Surely it is plausible that, for example, admitting a few poor but bright Appalachian whites would expose their classmates to distinct values rarely encountered in an Ivy League school. Are blacks and Hispanics akin to some secret sauce to enhance the “flavor” of the college experience? A “spice” to the campus mix far superior to what some trailer court trash might add?

In principle, establishing the value of a diversity “spice” would not be especially difficult. Harvard could begin by admitting some diversity applicants according to non-racial criteria, say a few white kids from exotic religious sects. Hardly difficult given a dozen or more of categories of students whose campus presence would be a great novelty.

Harvard’s admission office would then evaluate the academic successes of these multiple non-racial diversity enrollees, things like their majors, grades and subsequent admission to top graduate programs. The admissions office would then calculate the cost of all non-racial diversity admits–extra tutoring, funding separate housing units or the creation of entirely new academic majors to facilitate their graduation. (This accounting might also include the cost of handling campus disruptions.) An exit survey of seniors might ask about how regular admittees benefited from contacts with these non-racial diversity undergraduates. Who knows, these seniors might have learned more from southern Pentecostal whites named Bubba or Cooter than from the offspring of wealthy African Americans.

Going one step further, faculty could be surveyed regarding the classroom contributions of various diversity students. Is it true, for example, that black students brought fresh non-obvious insights to classroom discussion, perhaps suggesting topics once over-looked by their instructors and white middle class students? Or, on the other side of the ledger, did the mere presence of black students push certain important race-sensitive issues off the agenda? Moreover, was it true, as per Harvard’s claim regarding the drawbacks of “too many” Asians, that classrooms with lots of Asians lacked spirited debate? Based on my own decades of classroom experiences, most professors are fully aware of how presences of even a tiny number of “woke” students can shape what is taught and frank classroom exchanges.

A full accounting of the diversity contribution would also entail comparing the academic experiences of blacks admitted via preferences versus those admitted without them. Did blacks with below average SAT’s compared to their Harvard classmates receive a better education than, say, blacks with similar test scores at an institution where they were in the middle of the pack academically? After all, the diversity benefit is supposed to benefit all students, African Americans included, not just whites. What is the impact of encountering super-smart classmates they would not otherwise meet? How does it feel to nearly always be in the bottom of the class?

What about future donations to the old alma mater? What do African Americans give versus, say, first generation Vietnamese immigrants also admitted due to their diversity? Surely those in alumni relations are also aware of group differences in helping to recruit prized students or organizing local fund raisers.

This far broader assessment of diversity hardly icing on cake in defense of “the obvious.” Each piece of data is fundamental to the diversity defense and far more consequential than offering up the usual vacuous testimonials about mastering the skills necessary to navigate today’s multicultural world. Indeed, Judge Burroughs should have insisted that Harvard conduct this research to justify its “holistic” admission policy. And, and for good measure, dismissed Harvard’s purely rhetorical defense as “mere speculation” absent corroborating hard data. After all, Harvard is requesting an exception to a clear-as-day provision of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and it would be bizarre for Harvard to insist that such an exception should be granted exclusively on the unsupported assurances of university administrators (an “everybody knows” defense).

As for Harvard’s possible rejoinder that this fact-based defense is beyond the school’s resources and capacity, this is nonsense. Hard to believe, for example, that Harvard is unaware of how affirmative action students perform academically, their majors, the costs of retention and their post-graduation contribution. Professors know full well how they have to steer classroom discussions on “hot” racial topics to avoid career-ending incidents. Surely the school’s bloated diversity bureaucracy can assemble these data, particularly if required for a legal defense.

ORDER IT NOW

Needless to say, it is highly unlikely that Harvard or any other diversity-obsessed school will broaden its diversity definition to include whites of any background let alone attempt to measure empirically the net diversity benefits of one group vis-à-vis another. The results could be embarrassing. Imagine if graduating seniors claimed to have benefited the most from encountering Hillbillies? Would the admission office then dispatch recruiters to rural Kentucky to find the next J.D. Vance? The entire idea of scientifically measuring diversity’s benefits is obviously unthinkable in today’s politically correct climate. What are the odds that the data will demonstrate that admitting academically sub-par blacks and Hispanics works as claimed? Stick to safe platitudes.

Now to bell the cat: this disinterest in assessing the benefit of diversity strongly suggests that racial preferences are just a political pay-off to a favored constituency no different than, say, ethanol subsidies to farmers or tax abatements for real estate developers. Alas, only the bravest of the brave will dare admit it in public, but at least in principle, the good news is that this confession is not especially loathsome. Politicians love to take credit for catering to their constituents.

What is immoral about a group wanting prestige diplomas unobtainable via color-blind admission standards? Recall that for decades Harvard awarded degrees to less-than-brilliant offspring of wealthy WASPs. Acquiescence to such demands is also just part of American pluralism whereby all (or nearly all) interests are accommodated via the political process. Just think of it as the moral equivalent of ethanol subsidies helping preserve the romanticized family farm. All and all, just one of countless examples of political corruption whose justification required lying, albeit lying that is particularly embarrassing.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Academia, Affirmative action, Harvard 
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