Recently the Crumbia University student newspaper sat down with President Lee Wormer to discuss the “diversity” rationale for racial and ethnic preferences in the school’s admissions. Unfortunately, the interview was not run, initially because of final exams and then because the entire staff of the newspaper was expelled for cheating on the test for “Journalistic Ethics.” Fortunately, a National Review Online intern obtained a copy of the interview after a series of meetings with Dean Wormer’s wife.
Q. President Wormer, would you explain, please, how the “diversity” justification for racial discrimination works?
Wormer: Happy to do that, though let me say that while we make distinctions on the basis of race, this is in no way racial discrimination, properly understood. I see you yourself are of the diverse persuasion, and I don’t mean to suggest that the way you phrased your question is inferior or that you don’t belong here at Crumbia just because you didn’t score as well as some of our less nondiverse students here or because your parents didn’t make a large contribution to our school. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it actually didn’t even occur to me that you might be less academically qualified just because you are a diverse person. So let me just say that up front.
Q. Actually, my parents did make a large donation to Crumbia.
Wormer: Well, then, there you have it! You do belong here after all. Not that you wouldn’t belong here anyway, or that it would occur to me that you don’t. So, did you have any other questions?
Q. Uh, well, my question is, What is the diversity justification for racial distinctions in admissions?
Wormer: Thank you for that articulate question. And the answer is simple: Students learn something — there are educational benefits — when they are exposed to people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
Q. And the university feels that it can predict someone’s background and perspectives by their skin color?
Wormer: Certainly not! That would be stereotyping.
Q. [Silence, followed by shuffling of papers.] Well, let me come back to that. My next question is, What sort of things do students learn from this exposure?
Wormer: By far the most important thing, aside from where the best ethnic restaurants are, is that you shouldn’t judge people based on their skin color.
Q. But the university itself is doing that, isn’t it?
Wormer: Well, the university is, but students shouldn’t.
Q. Ah! I see. But isn’t there a problem with getting this message across when your admissions policies will result in a student body where, in fact, students of some racial backgrounds just won’t be as smart, in the aggregate, as students of other racial backgrounds?
Wormer: Students should simply ignore that. I know that sounds hard to do, but when you think about it, much of a university education these days, especially in the social sciences, involves learning how to ignore things you know to be true. You can do it! I mean, your classmates can do it!
Q. Okay, right. Uh, now, back to my earlier question, let me see if I have this straight. You said that you can’t tell someone’s background and experiences by their skin color.
Wormer: That’s correct.
Q. But you also said that there are educational benefits to using skin color in admissions.
Wormer: Exactly right. You see, we can’t really say that considering race helps us to ensure diversity of background and experiences, especially since most of the diverse students we admit come from middle- and upper-class backgrounds. But considering race does help us to ensure that we admit students of different skin colors, by golly! So we say that we use race in admissions so that we can teach students the lesson that not all diverse students — like you, for instance — have the same backgrounds and perspectives. Brilliant, isn’t it?
Q. Yes, sir! Is there a problem with the fact that you are encouraging students to focus on the races of other students and to draw conclusions that try to correlate what is said with skin color?
Wormer: Correlation is not causation! [Quietly.] I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I always say that whenever anyone says “correlate.”
Q. I see. [Silence.] Well, let me try this: So — again, whether the lesson you want to teach is that all black students don’t think alike or even that black students might think to say something that white students wouldn’t — it’s very important what the diverse students say in class?
Wormer: And not only in class — but also outside of class. It’s a low bar, of course, but often students learn as much outside of class as they do in class these days.
Q. So how do you know what students will say?
Wormer: Well, we don’t. We never know what students will say in class. It’s a real problem! And as for outside of class — well, forget it. In fact, sometimes the diverse students — like you for instance — won’t have much to say to the nondiverse students at all. And our theme dorms and self-assigned seating in the cafeteria don’t help matters.
Q. It’s a pretty straightforward message, though. What if, for example, the professors just told the students, “Not all black people think the same way”?
Wormer: Our experience is that students often don’t believe what their professors tell them. And who can blame them? As president, I myself generally don’t believe what the professors tell me!
Q. What if the professors assigned students to read different perspectives from different black people — say, the opinions of Clarence Thomas and then the opinions of Thurgood Marshall?
Wormer: I’m afraid that most of our faculty would consider most of Justice Thomas’s opinions to be hate speech. You can overdo this viewpoint-diversity stuff, you know, and the truth is that we’re really not all that interested in it, if it means exposing students to ideas that we really don’t like. But even if the professors did make this assignment, students typically do not read what they are assigned to read. I’m not sure whether in this day and age it’s really realistic to expect students to learn something by reading it.
Q. Is it really likely that students would believe that all black people think alike?
Wormer: Sure. It’s a racist country!
Q. You think the popular culture sends the message that all black people think alike?
Wormer: Absolutely. Bill Cosby and Snoop Dogg — two peas in a pod! Or look at Whoopi Goldberg and Condoleezza Rice — can’t tell ’em apart! And it was very embarrassing when we were all laughing at one of the Republican debates last fall and I kept confusing Herman Cain with Al Sharpton, who I think may not even be running this time. So you can just imagine what less enlightened people think!
Q. Do you think that your students would learn in the workplace about different black perspectives?
Wormer: Well, in theory, I suppose, but that assumes that our students will actually get jobs.
Q. I know you say that Crumbia doesn’t assume that black students would be more likely to have a particular set of experiences or perspectives, but —
Q. Uh, right. But plus, if you did, couldn’t you just tell the nondiverse students about the perspective rather than hoping that the diverse student might happen to share it with them?
Wormer: You are indeed a most articulate diverse person.
Q. Thanks! And thanks for the interview, Dean Wormer.
Wormer: No problemo. I love speaking truth to power and providing leadership in this area. Noblesse oblige and all that, you know! Good luck on your exams.
— Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.