The entrenched regime of racial preferences in American academia is a fit subject for study by the nation’s top psychiatrists.
It’s never OK to discriminate on the basis of race in American life, except when it is. Schools lionize the 1964 Civil Rights Act in their classrooms, and then violate it in their admissions offices. They will obfuscate, sneak around, and lie, all to preserve their treasured preferences so they can make the admissions numbers look right — regardless of the consequences.
This system is bad for the moral fiber of academic institutions, bad for the ideal of race blindness in America, and bad, the latest research suggests, for the minorities supposedly benefiting. It is good only for salving the guilty, race-obsessed consciences of university administrators and appeasing the PC gods and the usual interest groups.
The Supreme Court decided to let the dinosaur keep roaming the Earth, although it tightened up the standards in its 7–1 ruling. The court said that racial discrimination is permissible in fostering educational diversity, but schools have to prove that such discrimination is narrowly tailored.
In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Strict scrutiny does not permit a court to accept a school’s assertion that its admissions process uses race in a permissible way without closely examining how the process works in practice.” No, it will require “a careful judicial inquiry.”
In other words, the Supreme Court has spoken: If you are wondering if a given school meets the Supreme Court–approved standard, there’s an easy way to find out — sue and spend years trying to find out. The answer, by the way, will probably change the next time the Supreme Court deigns to hear the issue and come up with its latest exquisitely nuanced test.
In the real world, there is little doubt that racial preferences are a failure. In their judicious book Mismatch, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. catalog the twisted effect of preferences on schools beholden to them: “The pervasive secrecy that veils the operation and effects of racial preferences even from most academics has led to deception, ostracism of truth-tellers, lack of accountability, and an unwillingness to face awkward facts and undertake needed reforms.”
All this dishonesty might be understandable if it served some larger good. It doesn’t. Race preferences ensure that students are accepted into schools where they will have trouble competing. This is the “mismatch” of Sander and Taylor’s title, and does no one any favors.
“Large racial preferences backfire,” Sander and Taylor write, “against many and, perhaps, most recipients, to the point that they learn less and are likely to be less self-confident than had they gone to less competitive but still quite good schools.” They note that “even though blacks are more likely to enter college than are whites with similar backgrounds, they will usually get much lower grades, rank toward the bottom of the class, and far more often drop out.”
When racial preferences were ended in California by referendum in 1996, disaster was supposed to ensue. The New York Times reports that enrollment of blacks and Hispanics in the University of California system dipped slightly from 4 percent and 15 percent; now the numbers are 4 percent and 25 percent. The state university has begun to reach down into middle schools to find promising students — minority and nonminority alike — and work to ensure that they are better prepared. This is affirmative action worthy of the name, based on improving students rather than checking a box.
It has begun to dawn on liberals that preferences are a clumsy and ineffectual social tool. In a New York Times column titled “The Liberals Against Affirmative Action,” David Leonhardt notes research showing that preferences don’t really help the poor. “In effect,” he writes, “poor and middle-income students are rejected, while others with the same scores and grades — legacies, athletes and minorities, often from privileged backgrounds — are admitted.”
Still, racial preferences rumble on, immune to logic or law.