The Corner

The Costs of Affirmative Action

George Will’s column today references a brief that my U.S. Civil Rights Commission colleagues Gail Heriot, Todd Gaziano, and I have filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. The Fisher case presents the Court with an opportunity to revisit the constitutionality of racial preferences in college admissions.

Our brief makes the point that an increasing number of studies show that racial preferences actually harm their intended beneficiaries. Black and Hispanic students admitted to colleges due to preferences are far more likely to flunk out or rank at the bottom of their respective classes than their white and Asian comparatives. This is particularly true for students in science, technology, engineering, math, and law.

The phenomenon is due in large part to the “mismatch effect.” A recent Center for Equal Opportunity study showed that at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, black and Hispanic applicants were more than 500 times more likely to be admitted over similarly qualified white or Asian applicants. Thus, black and Hispanic admittees were more likely to be below the college’s median qualification level than white and Asian admittees — leading to profound performance disparities between the former and latter cohorts. 

Racial preferences are not only harmful, they’re costly. Just a  few weeks ago, University of Wisconsin–Madison professor of economics emeritus W. Lee Hansen estimated the cost of maintaining that institution’s diversity apparatus is $40 million per year (the salaries of college “diversity officers” alone can be several times the starting salaries of professors). Not surprisingly, as noted last week by Heather Mac Donald on this page, the staggering cost of the diversity bureaucracy contributes to the rising cost of tuition. Consequently, all students (or their guarantors/creditors) are paying more money/incurring greater debt so that preferred minority students will have a higher probability of flunking out.

More than two months ago in this space, I challenged University of Wisconsin officials to debate their assertion that their admissions policy complies with the “guidelines handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.” I stated that they could send two, three, or however many professors they needed to defend their claim and they could choose any neutral they wished to score the debate. I’d even spot them 20 points on a 100 point scale.

I’ve gotten no response. Therefore, I hereby extend the same challenge to any university in the country currently employing racial and ethnic preferences. My only stipulation is that the neutral be neutral.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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