Phi Beta Cons

The Obama Administration’s Fisher Brief

Predictably, the Obama administration has filed an amicus brief (and asked for time at oral argument) in the Fisher case, defending the University of Texas’s use of racial preferences in admissions. To show how strongly the administration feels, no fewer than twelve lawyers signed the brief, six from the Justice Department and six from a variety of other agencies. 

The brief’s basic idea is that students learn so much from other students and that being exposed to a diversity of ideas is essential in education, and so therefore we must have a diversity of student skin colors, since how we think is determined by what our skin color is. Of course, this is not true; what’s more, it is flatly at odds with the University of Texas’s use of race here, since it is arguing that it has to use racial preferences precisely because poor blacks do not provide the same kind of diversity that well-to-do African Americans do (that is, it is trying to justify the use of racial preferences on top of its policy of admitting the top ten percent of all high-school graduates by arguing that this policy doesn’t yield enough high-SES African Americans).

The administration says the case is of particular interest to the federal government because the federal government itself needs diversity:  The military can’t have a lot of white guys bossing around people of color, law-enforcement officials must reflect their communities, and there must also be diverse doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs — well, maybe not Indian chiefs.  But even if all this were true — and it is not — then why do the schools from which the federal government hires have to be diverse?  The federal government, after all, doesn’t hire from only one school. 

Finally, I found especially odd this stirring passage from the brief, trumpeting the need for students to “develop — through exposure to people from a multitude of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences — a capacity to appreciate their fellow citizens as individuals, not as representatives of a particular group, and to forge relationships and pursue shared goals that transcend stereotypes and prejudice.”  Odd, that is, to read how we must use racial essentialism to teach the message that racial essentialism is a bad thing.

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