Former Yale Law School dean Anthony Kronman has recently written a gutsy book entitled The Assault on American Excellence. I say “gutsy” because in elite academic circles these days, even the slightest dissent from the idea that the quest for more diversity is always good, always a step toward social justice is apt to land you in hot water with the “progressives.” Kronman does more than slightly dissent. He argues that the diversity mania has been quite harmful.
The Martin Center was fortunate enough to get former Harvard dean Harry Lewis, author of a splendid book himself (Excellence Without a Soul), to review Kronman’s book and today we publish his review.
American colleges and universities have been dominated by a “diversity” agenda since the 1978 Bakke case, where Justice Powell’s lone opinion was the fulcrum for the Court, an opinion in which he suggested off-hand that it might be all right for schools to use race as a small “plus-factor” to achieve some possible educational benefits from having a more diverse student body. That has had very harmful consequences. Lewis writes, “Most of all, Kronman argues, Powell’s pretext for considering race in college admissions has created a generation of academic liars, who are doing pretty much what Powell said they couldn’t with admissions while using his loophole as an excuse for doing it.” That is to say, college officials say that they run their preference programs in order to improve the climate for learning when what they’re actually doing is just seeking racial quotas.
The harmful effects have rippled throughout our campuses. Among them is speech. “Diversity has both sensitized and numbed the ears of everyone on campus” Lewis writes. “Whether or not “the most qualified person should get the job” is offensive speech, ‘I hope a diverse person will get the job’ is abominable.” And it leads to a huge waste of money: “Diversity training is ubiquitous, never mind that that such crash courses, part of a multibillion-dollar diversity industry, seem to have little lasting effect and may even be counterproductive.”
Kronman and Lewis also see the damage that racial preferences for “diversity” do to the students who are given places in elite colleges where they aren’t really academically competitive. As Lewis says, “This preparation bias is unfair but does not excite outrage, even though nothing makes students feel less ‘included and belonging’ than to lack the educational background of their classmates.”
If the U.S. ever breaks free of its diversity mania, the forthright views of a few people like Anthony Kronman and Harry Lewis will no doubt play an important role.