President Bush’s opposition to the University of Michigan’s racial-preference scheme could not have been better timed. Just five days before America pauses to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the president’s decision recalled Dr. King’s dream that his children would “live one day in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
The Bush administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Michigan’s race-driven practice of giving every black, Hispanic, and American Indian undergraduate-school applicant 20 points, out of a maximum 150-point scale, just for having the correct complexion. Michigan offers a pristine example of what Bush calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The university’s admissions officers do not practice the nasty, snarling bigotry born of hatred, but instead the polite, smiling bigotry born of pity. Yet it is bigotry nonetheless.
An X in the box signifying that an applicant is black, brown, or red affords a 13.3-percent boost over someone with white or yellow flesh equally eager to learn in Ann Arbor. How dare Michigan’s administrators automatically assume that minority applicants are disadvantaged and downtrodden?
This is academic racial profiling. If — as civil-rights activists scream until they swoon — it is wrong for cops to see a black man and assume he is a criminal, why is it right for Michigan to see someone and assume he needs special help simply for applying while black?
Those 20 extra points that Michigan gives minority contenders resemble wheelchair ramps. In some cases, they may be a sort of bonus for an applicant who has performed well in school through years of diligent work against difficult odds. But white and yellow students overcome personal hardship, too. Why no bonus for them? And does a minority applicant who is an honor student, varsity athlete and student body president really deserve those 20 points when her existing credentials would earn her admission anyway?
Admissions officers should evaluate applicants as individuals rather than as ethnic inputs. Today, they treat some minorities as members of benighted communities of color. Meanwhile, they regard whites as, ipso facto, privileged. Some of them, indeed, may have spent their formative years bobbing in America’s yacht basins. But other Caucasians have excelled within her chicken farms, trailer parks, and coal-mining regions.
Michigan’s system should go the way of the recently rejected entrance exam at San Francisco’s Lowell Academy. This selective government high school’s admissions test had a perfect score of 69 points. Students of Chinese descent needed at least 62 points to pass. Whites and “other Asians” required 58 points for admission while blacks and Hispanics could gain entrance with just 53 points.
Talk about degrading. Who were San Francisco’s educrats to deem blacks and Hispanics intellectually inferior to other students? And were all these Chinese kids brilliant? Surely a few of them were dim bulbs.
This unconstitutional abomination was abandoned in the 2000-2001 academic year after Chinese students sued and won their claim that their 14th Amendment equal protection rights had been violated.
President Bush should replace the soft bigotry of low expectations with the tough love of high expectations. He can do this most effectively by relentlessly pursuing school choice and ever-rising academic standards.
Yes, it will be hard to change the attitude within and around too many minority communities where merit and achievement have yielded to grievance and slipping standards even as self-esteem climbs meaninglessly into the heavens. As Chicago’s Marva Collins Preparatory School demonstrates, kids who study Dostoevsky, Milton, and Shakespeare can go from the ghetto to university to further greatness. As Manhattan philanthropist Dan Rose’s Harlem Educational Activities Fund proves, often-fatherless seventh graders on free lunches can be tutored and mentored all the way to national chess championships, then graduate from Syracuse, Columbia, and Yale.
As he did with Michigan, the president should keep lifting the bar for minority students. Rather than patronize pupils of color, George W. Bush and other leaders should inspire them to dream, strive, and succeed. To demand less of minority children than of their white counterparts simply is racism, no matter how elegantly it may be decorated.
— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.