- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Do racial or ethnic preferences in educational admissions strengthen the intellectual environment for all students beyond what would occur with a colorblind enrollment policy?
Affirmative action true believers answer in the affirmative, an article of faith recently endorsed by U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan in Gratz vs. Bollinger (Dec. 13, 2000). Much more is at stake here than academic speculation. A negative answer would sink the legality of race-based educational preferences under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Judge Duggan's opinion in Gratz finding that racial diversity is a reliable proxy for educational enrichment is thoroughly unconvincing, like evidence that the Earth is flat. The case challenged the racially and ethically skewed admissions standards of the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science and the Arts. At present, Michigan evaluates applicants by a 150-point system, but racial or ethnic minorities receive an automatic 20-point head start over Caucasians.
Judge Duggan's analysis pivoted on the solo opinion of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in Regents of University of California vs. Bakke (1978). Without a scintilla of empirical evidence, Justice Powell pontificated that racial quotas in admissions were unconstitutional, but that racial plus points in student selection would be permissible because of the educational advantages that flow from a racially or ethnically diverse student body. It speaks volumes, however, that Justice Powell assembled no evidence to substantiate his diversity proposition. As the time-honored adage goes, however, when the facts are against you, conventional wisdom or orthodoxies can be summoned to carry the day.
Justice Powell thus noted: "The atmosphere of 'speculation, experiment and creation' so essential to the quality of higher education is widely believed to be promoted by a diverse student body."
Yes, but it was once also widely believed witches existed and should be executed; that blacks sported smaller brains than whites and lusted after white women; that immigrants to the United States were genetically inferior to the predominant Anglo-American stock; that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals; that the body fluids consisted of black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood; and that Jim Crow laws did not stamp the black race with a badge of inferiority.
As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes warned in Lochner vs. New York (1905), time has upset many fighting faiths. And the president of Princeton University whom Justice Powell invoked for his diversity theorem conceded: "In the nature of things, it is hard to know how, when, and even if this informal 'learning through diversity' actually occurs."
Justice Powell's diversity homily in Bakke also warred with itself. If racial or ethnic preferences serve a constitutionally compelling interest in student heterogeneity, the same is even more so for quotas that can guarantee more than a nominal number of minority enrollees. Yet the latter were declared constitutionally uncanonical.
Judge Duggan was unable to improve upon Justice Powell's intellectual flabbiness. He characterized as "solid evidence" the opaque testimony of Patricia Y. Gurin, psychology professor at the University of Michigan and interim dean of the college: "Students learn better in a diverse educational environment, and they are better prepared to become active participants in our pluralistic, democratic society once they leave such a setting. "Stripped of bombast and jargon, Dr. Gurin's assertion is simply a personal conviction, not a scientific or even semi-scientific finding. Ditto for her glib testimony that "multi-institutional national data, the results of an extensive survey of students at the University of Michigan, and data drawn from a specific classroom program at the University of Michigan" show that "[s]tudents who experienced the most racial and ethnic diversity in classroom settings and in informal interactions with peers showed the greatest engagement in active thinking processes, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills." The results of such educational luster celebrated by Miss Gurin, however, did not find expression in higher grades, achievement scores, or postgraduate professional glitter. All the professor could say was that students baptized in diversity waters were "better able to understand and consider multiple perspectives, deal with the conflicts that different perspectives sometimes create, and appreciate the common values and integrative forces that harness differences in pursuit of common ground." Similar gibberish was echoed by the American Association of Law Schools and the United States as amici curiae.
Diversity as a sharpener of mental acuity also seems disbelieved by minorities themselves. They covet racial or ethnic enclaves, like the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and monochromatic black student associations. Has any member of such racial or ethnic monoliths even mumbled that their intellectual barometer would climb with the admission of Caucasians?
Furthermore, if classroom diversity boosts education and interpersonal skills, wouldn't diversity be even more urgent in legislative bodies entrusted with the fine art of lawmaking? Wouldn't that diversity dogma justify awarding minority candidates for legislative office a specific number of phantom votes before the polls open? Isn't racial and ethnic diversity parading as educational enrichment pernicious nonsense on stilts?


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