- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2001

For admissions committees at top universities, diversity rules. Monochromatic student bodies are out; a mosaic of races and colors is in. Diversity can be achieved only through forward-looking “affirmative action” policies, administrators say. Junk such programs, and their schools will be made up almost entirely of students who look the same and think the same.

The University of Michigan law school, for example, says the point of its program is not to assist minorities that have suffered but to enrich the education of every student. In defending the policy in court, it cites the late Lewis Powell's opinion in the Supreme Court's landmark 1978 Bakke case: “Justice Powell understood that a university is essentially a 'marketplace of ideas' that functions only when there is a rich variety of voices available to offer a diversity of perspectives. This variety cultivates 'the robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth out of a multitude of tongues.'”

The argument didn't persuade a federal court, which recently struck down the program. But it's easy to see why it's become the favorite rationale for reverse discrimination. Justice Powell cast the deciding vote in Bakke, and he thought universities had a right to promote diversity by giving preference to racial minorities. So schools that want to persist in such efforts say their only concern is assuring a rich blend of different backgrounds and perspectives on campus.

But their version of diversity is only skin deep. The Michigan program defines this elusive concept quite simply: admitting more blacks and Hispanics than it would if it looked only at grades and test scores. The implication of its argument is that if you put a wealthy WASP from Grosse Pointe next to the daughter of a Scandinavian-American auto mechanic from the Upper Peninsula, they will agree on everything merely because they are both pale of hue.

Maybe whites really do all think alike. But it's hard to believe that they think just the same as, say, Asian-Americans — who are not favored but penalized by the school's admissions criteria. Upper-middle-class blacks from Lansing? Y'all come! Working-class kids whose parents fled Vietnam? Take a number.

In any event, it will come as news to many people to find that elite institutions are determined to get a robust exchange of views in the classroom, no matter what it takes. On most university faculties, the political spectrum runs the gamut from A to B. The same schools that say it would be inexcusable to have a shortage of students who can express a “black” viewpoint, whatever that may be, see no particular value in hiring scholars who can express a conservative viewpoint.

Law schools tend to be liberal places, and Michigan's is no exception. James J. White, a professor there, says the school has some young conservatives on the faculty but estimates that 75 to 80 percent of his colleagues voted for Al Gore. A generation ago, he says, the split between Republicans and Democrats would have been closer to 50-50.

In that respect, Michigan is representative of prestigious law schools in general. In 1996, Northwestern University law professor James Lindgren did a survey of law faculties at the top 100 schools and found that 80 percent of the scholars identified themselves as Democrats, while only 13 percent were Republicans. “The most underrepresented big groups were Hispanics and Republicans, particularly Republican women,” he says.

The University of Chicago has a reputation for producing conservative and libertarian thinkers who challenge conventional assumptions — like Richard Posner, who has proposed to let couples buy babies for adoption, and Richard Epstein, who thinks the New Deal was unconstitutional. But as a group, law professors there are well to the left of America.

“I'd guess at least 60 percent of them voted for Gore,” says Albert Alschuler, a University of Chicago law professor and a liberal himself. At the same time, he says the U of C has one of most conservative faculties in the country. “There are some law schools that have zero Republicans,” he says.

White, the Michigan professor, says that when decisions about hiring are made in Ann Arbor, political ideology is “never overtly raised,” but he thinks in some cases it could affect how the faculty votes. “Some people wouldn't vote to hire Richard Epstein,” he says. “There would be doubt about whether we would hire him.”

Obviously many law schools see no need to actively pursue legal scholars whose views are at odds with the prevailing climate. And why should they?

Officials at the University of Michigan offer some very good reasons: “Discussion and debate of diverse views … is an essential part of the mission of an institution of higher education … Encouraging free speech and creative inquiry improves the educational experience on our nation's campuses.”

Oops! I was reading from Michigan's defense of racial preferences, which is a different issue entirely. When it comes to diversity, you have to know where to draw the line.


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