Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Diversity vs. Merit


A few weeks ago, Princeton’s Russell Nieli analyzed the three “river” books on academic racial preferences in a paper on the National Association of Scholars site. Since Nieli’s masterful analysis is lengthy (59 pages), you are encouraged to start with George Leef’s precis and commentary, “Diversity versus Merit,” which appears on the Pope Center site today.

These “river” books started in 1998 with The Shape of the River by William G. Bowen and Derek Bok; the latest, The Taming of the River (2009), is by different authors but reflects the same goal of making affirmative action more acceptable to its critics. As George Leef says, “Nieli doesn’t beat around the bush; he thinks that the advocates of diversity are deliberately avoiding the main criticisms of their policy and says so forthrightly.”

The metaphor comes from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, reflecting the river authors’ conceit that they have learned the “shape of the river perfectly” in all its “million trifling variations.”


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