Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Nobody Really Believes in “Diversity”


Any number of anti-preference types have noted over the years that the “diversity” rationale for justifying racial and ethnic preferences in university admissions—that is, that somehow students learn more or better depending on whether or not the campus reflects a predetermined, politically correct racial and ethnic mix—is bogus.  Indeed, even those who rely on it don’t really believe it.  Instead, the real reason for the discrimination is the belief that it is somehow needed to make up for past discrimination, but—since the Supreme Court has rejected it, and since it is becomes more and more untenable with every tick of the clock—the diversity rationale is now used instead.  Indeed, it was this rationale that the Court unfortunately bought in its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.

Now comes Peter Schmidt, a deputy editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education and author of a soon-to-be-released new book, Color and Money:  How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War over College Affirmative Action.  As the title suggests, Schmidt is not himself unsympathetic to the liberals on this issue.  But, in a recent speech to a group of college officials, even he concedes that the real rationale for racial and ethnic admission preferences is not “diversity”:

Now, I have had plenty of informal discussions with staunch advocates of affirmative action in higher education. And most cannot get through a glass of wine without betraying the fact that their chief reason for supporting affirmative action is the very same one [Supreme Court Justice Lewis] Powell took off the table way back in 1978.  They believe that affirmative action is needed to remedy injustice.  

Regardless of how far college affirmative action policies have strayed from promoting social justice as a practical matter, they believe that social justice is the reason to keep such policies around.

As you all well know, the only justification for race-conscious admissions accepted by Justice Powell was the desire to promote diversity. Many historians believe his opinion helped spawn an entire industry committed to making the nation more diverse. In scouring the historical record, I found little evidence of colleges saying anything about the educational benefits of diversity before Powell’s opinion came down.   

Here is another thing even some of the staunchest advocates of affirmative action admit. The evidence that race-conscious admissions policies produce clear educational benefits is still not all that compelling.

The justices who espoused such benefits in the [Supreme Court’s 2003] Grutter decision had either been snowed or, more likely, were too invested in the status quo in higher education to look at the research with a skeptical eye.

In January I was at a conference on black achievement at Clemson University. A speaker asked about 200 college administrators from around the country whether they had even tried to determine whether their diversity policies were yielding educational benefits.  

Only a few hands went up.

This conference occurred shortly after a conservative group had put the University of Colorado under pressure to show that its $22 million budget for diversity was yielding any benefits at all. One speaker at Clemson warned those on hand that they were vulnerable to similar attacks. As I sat watching an endless procession of power point presentations about programs that had not been shown to accomplish anything beyond keeping college administrators and staff employed, I could not help thinking how right that speaker was.

Hat tip to John Rosenberg.


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