Dr. Richard H. Sander, a UCLA law professor who describes himself as a lifelong Democrat sympathetic to the goals of affirmative action, is publishing this month in the Stanford Law Review a important article which concludes that affirmative action in law-school admissions has actually been harmful to African Americans. He summarizes: “In the case of blacks, at least, the objective costs of preferential admissions appear to substantially outweigh the benefits. The basic theory driving many of these findings is known as the ‘academic mismatch’ mechanism; attending an advanced school where one’s credentials are far below those of one’s peers has a variety of negative effects on learning, motivation, and goals that harm the beneficiary of the preference. Over the past several years, a wide range of scholars have documented the operation of the mismatch mechanism in a number of fields of higher education.”
Needless to say, the implications of this are breathtaking. If affirmative action hurts its supposed beneficiaries, then it is even more untenable than it already is. And if it is ended for African Americans, it will almost certainly be ended for other races and for women, too.
Of course, Dr. Sander’s findings are neither counterintuitive nor unprecedented. And despite the Supreme Court’s disappointing decision in 2003 regarding the University of Michigan’s use of racial preferences, schools have been quietly paring back their use of preferences, and an overwhelming consensus has developed that once-racially-exclusive scholarships, internships, summer programs, and the like should be opened up to all students regardless of race. The issue of affirmative action during the recent elections was the dog that didn’t bark, because Democrats have concluded that if they give it more than a one-sentence bow in a stump speech, they alienate many times the number of voters they please.
All of these are welcome signs that perhaps we won’t have to wait the 25 years to get rid of affirmative action that Justice O’Connor prescribed for us.