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Racial Preferences on the Bubble



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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. Texas, a challenge to UT-Austin’s use of racial preferences in admissions. The Roberts Court has signaled in previous cases that the use of racial preferences is constitutionally suspect. But even if preferences aren’t constitutionally suspect, they don’t provide the benefits claimed by preference proponents.

As set forth in the amicus brief I filed along with my fellow commissioners Gail Heriot and Todd Gaziano, there’s substantial evidence that racial preferences harm the purported intended beneficiaries. The very premise of such preferences is that students whose academic credentials aren’t strong enough to gain admission to a particular school are nonetheless admitted to such school. Thus, preference beneficiaries will necessarily be weaker students than those who didn’t benefit from preferences — regardless of race.

Students who begin college with weaker entering credentials than their classmates are at an obvious disadvantage. College courses aren’t the place to play catch-up. A student whose high school failed to prepare him as well as did the schools of his classmates will struggle to comprehend material geared toward the better-prepared.

Furthermore, an otherwise bright student who isn’t as academically prepared as his classmates will quickly perceive that he’s unable to compete. Such a student may well conclude that if he’s faced with receiving Cs and Ds in the hard sciences, he’d be better off switching to a less rigorous discipline. Had he attended a school where he and his classmates were similarly qualified, he would’ve been more competitive and more likely to stick with the science major. Placing a less-qualified individual in an environment for which he’s poorly prepared is a prescription for disillusionment and failure.

If admission to schools for which they’re unqualified places students at risk, perhaps race-conscious admissions policies aren’t primarily intended to benefit the alleged beneficiaries after all. Maybe these admissions policies are intended to serve another purpose. Indeed, Texas argues that race-based admissions allow the school to meet the compelling state interest of “diversity,” the 21st century’s euphemism for never-ending racial engineering.

There’s ample evidence, however, that the supposed benefits of diversity simply don’t materialize. As discussed in my colleague Abigail Thernstrom’s amicus brief, data show that the effort to artificially create diversity actually results in more racial self-segregation and inter-racial distrust.

In the end, racial and ethnic preferences primarily help one group: the members of the multi-billion dollar diversity industry. Racial discrimination was wrong in the past and it remains so today, regardless of whether it’s dressed in benign clothing or intent. Preferences do not benefit the minority students who are admitted, they don’t benefit the students who are excluded (many of whom are themselves non-preferred minorities), and they don’t benefit society as a whole.

The Supreme Court can put racial discrimination in admissions to an end this term. It should do so.

— Peter Kirsanow is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Carissa Mulder is a special assistant on the commission. These comments do not necessarily represent the views of the commission.



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