Affirmative Absurdity

First we had the 1/32 of a drop of Cherokee blood that may have advanced Elizabeth Warren to a professorship at Harvard. Now we hear that the City University of New York, seeking more so-called diversity in its faculty, has created a new category, “White/Jewish.” The other categories are African-American/black, Asian, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender, Hispanic/Latino, individuals with disabilities, and Italian-Americans. As some Jewish professors told the New York Post, the creation of the “White/Jewish” category could lead to the claim that Jews are “overrepresented” on the CUNY faculty, as they no doubt are. Which could in turn lead to, um, quotas for Jewish faculty? Or at least an effort to avoid hiring more of them in order to bring in more of the other categories? For that matter, as one Jewish professor asserted, “‘white’ in itself is in every way a detriment to be categorized because of the push to hire minorities.” And imagine what happens to standards and qualifications if your goal is to fill each of those slots proportionally, or as near proportionally as possible. 

Jewish groups have been divided on affirmative action. In 2002, leading up to the Grutter case, Abraham H. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League “said his organization is sticking to its ‘principled position’ that people should not be judged by skin color, and any use of race in admissions is unconstitutional,” according to the Washington Post.

But the same article reported that the American Jewish Committee had reversed its longstanding opposition to affirmative action and had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the University of Michigan in the Grutter case. This action, writes author Charles Lane, “demonstrates the degree to which many American Jews have gradually decided that admissions policies designed to boost minority enrollment do not threaten their own hard-won foothold in elite colleges and graduate schools.” Jews were worried about the possibility of a new “Jewish quota” after Bakke, according to Alan Dershowitz, who was interviewed for the article. “We feared that our hard-earned right to be admitted on the merits would be taken away. The WASP quotient would be held constant, and the Jews and African Americans would be left to fight over the crumbs. What happened is that Jews have become the WASPs. They are among the dominant groups on campus, in terms of numbers.” 

This was a shockingly and shamefully unprincipled position, and the creation of the CUNY “White/Jewish” category illustrates where such lack of principle can lead.     

Perhaps we are witnessing some implosion of affirmative action, the ugliness and absurdity to which it leads, and the confusions as well. ”It’s an insult and idiotic,” Hershey Friedman, a Brooklyn college faculty member, correctly declared of the “White/Jewish” category in the New York Post article, but then added, strangely, “Most Jews are brown-skinned.” Perhaps Professor Friedman is so rattled by affirmative action that he’s losing track of reality, or at least the point — to stand for individual merit, not group identity.

By the way, years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan lamented that the federal government had created numerous categories in which to place Americans, among them “Hebrew.”

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