The Corner

Education

Diversity Myths

The Washington Post has a “Five Myths about . . . ” weekly series, and over the weekend Valerie Strauss focused on college admissions. Here’s her fifth “myth”: “Schools don’t need affirmative action to make diverse classes.”

Ms. Strauss begins by noting that [1] some schools have rejected racial preferences — a.k.a. affirmative action — and still improved racial diversity, and that some critics have pointed out that racial preferences “are [2] unfairly discriminatory and [3] don’t help minority students” and that [4] if “diversity” were really the goal of racial preferences, “’then preferences would be given on the basis of unusual characteristics, not on the basis of race.’”

So, how does Ms. Strauss refute 1, 2, 3, and 4? Well, as a matter of fact she doesn’t. She doesn’t even try. She just ignores them.

Instead, she simply asserts that racial preferences “do appear” to increase diversity, and she defines diversity to be simply the percentages of black and Hispanic students at some schools and how close they come to their percentages “in the general population.” In other words, she says that if you give an admissions preference to people of a particular race, you will admit more of them. Wow, that’s amazing.

She concludes with a paragraph that bemoans, “Today, affirmative action has lost much judicial support” and that public support is “mixed” (actually public support is much less than judicial support, but never mind). She’s unhappy that schools are stuck under Supreme Court precedent with having to use the “diversity” justification for racial preferences; she’d apparently prefer a compensatory rationale — a dubious one under any circumstances (since, for example, the overwhelming majority of blacks admitted to more selective schools are not from poor backgrounds), and especially now that Latinos outnumber African Americans among groups getting preferential treatment and that those losing out now are more and more likely to be Asian Americans.

And here’s Ms. Strauss’s last sentence: “Meanwhile, most minority groups remain underrepresented on college and university campuses, even though most students enrolled at the country’s K-12 public schools are minorities.” The “most minority groups” phrasing is to acknowledge that Asian Americans and Arab Americans, for example, are not underrepresented, which is why they are now discriminated against. And the reason that some groups are “underrepresented” on college campuses is not because of slavery, but because of the sad state of our public schools (the solutions for which are more likely to be conservative than liberal), the belief that studying hard is “acting white” (or, worse, acting Asian), and especially the fact that some groups have many more children growing up in single-parent families (which is, unsurprisingly, correlated with not doing well in school).

I should stress that Ms. Strauss’s aim of “making diverse classes” is a misguided one in any event. Forget bean-counting and admit the best qualified students, regardless of race or ethnicity. The notion that there are compelling “educational benefits” from racial and ethnic diversity is unpersuasive, as I discuss, here.

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