A Weak, Edgy Defense of ‘Affirmative Action’

The prospect of an adverse decision in Fisher v. Texas has the proponents of racial preferences up in arms, and yesterday an article by Kevin Wolfman, “The White Case for Affirmative Action” appeared. Roger Clegg responded to it, and that led to a fusillade between the author and Clegg. From the tone of the piece, you can immediately tell that Wolfman is utterly certain that racial preferences are vital. Eventually he calls Clegg’s arguments against racial preferences “boilerplate.”

Crucial to Wolfman’s argument is the notion that white students (and presumably Asians as well) derive great benefits from having a “diverse” student body — that “critical mass” of students whose ancestry puts them into an underrepresented minority group — around. That’s because, he writes, “diverse student bodies actually promote higher-level thinking skills.” So, all the students get smarter and improve in cognitive ability if the admissions office manages to include enough minority students? Sounds great.

The proof for that assertion is a paper by Stanford “education researcher” Anthony Antonio. As Wolfman describes Antonio’s findings, “white students who socialize regularly in multiracial peer groups tend to reason more critically about political and social issues than those who hang out in homogeneous crowds.” Well, that’s not quite the same thing as a boost in “higher-level thinking skills,” but what does this research really demonstrate?

The study cited is an experiment involving group discussions and essay writing. The findings are rather weak and don’t come within light years of justifying the conclusion drawn by the diversity advocate Wolfman that affirmative action makes white students think more deeply. The study’s experiment tells us nothing about real-world effects of campus diversity. But there is an ironic implication if we were to take the study seriously — we are doing “affirmative action” all wrong! Instead of moving the brightest minority students into elite colleges, where all the other students are already pretty sharp thinkers and most of them have had abundant pre-college contacts with people from different races and cultures, we should send them off to all-white colleges where their presence would do far more good. If it’s beneficial to have more minority students at Princeton, think how much more good they’d do for the white students at, say, North Dakota State.

In the University of Michigan cases, the university relied on concocted research of this kind.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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