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Right, Wrong and the Supreme Court

Wednesday, 25 June 2003 12:00 AM

That is, being for current preferential quota programs, whether they be racial “set-asides” in hiring or awarding business, adding unearned “points” to minority admissions scores, and all the other racial schemes to include minorities that have evolved since the Supreme Court straddled the fence on the affirmative action issue in the 1978 Bakke decision.

There is probably no other public issue that is as divisive as whether to give preferential treatment to various ethnic and gender groups in those competitive arenas in which discriminations should be made on merit alone.

And it is also true that there has been more cant, obfuscation and falsehoods uttered on one or the other side of this issue than any other in recent memory. As affirmative action good intentions morphed into preferential treatment, language itself became debased: the word “quotas” was avoided, and “goals and timetables” was euphemistically substituted, amounting to the same thing.

“Diversity” has become the current hobbyhorse word of the preference mongers, becoming a fashionable fallback term precisely because of its seeming innocuousness and its slipperiness in meaning. Diversity of thought? Diversity of regional or national origin? Diversity of experience? Surely these are desirable.

In college admissions and corporate or government hiring practices, however, “diversity” applies only to skin color. The University of Michigan’s long-winded brief arguing that any reversal of Bakke would cause irreparable harm to its ability to form a diverse student body clearly indicates that, as far as the university is concerned, it only construes diversity in terms of ethnicity.

Once the legal showdown was imminent, dire warnings and scare tactics were increasingly made supporting preferential treatment: “Why, it will make it impossible to recruit people of color; it will hurt our bottom line,” corporations say. “It will open a gap between the enlisted ranks and the officer corps,” the military says. “Fewer doctors will be available to work in underserved communities,” medical schools say. “There will be fewer minority lawyers to balance what is perceived as a racist justice system,” law deans argue. “We want equality in society,” they all cry, “not first- and second-class.”

This is cant in its most distilled form and it is baseless nonsense. It’s disingenuous to argue how much one wants equality, yet suspend the rules of equality – where everyone gets treated the same – in situations where merit is supposed to carry the day. One can’t have it both ways.

Why can’t the University of Michigan find enough minorities to fill the admission slots? Because there isn’t a pool of minority applicants large enough in the country that is academically qualified to warrant admission, in numbers proportional to non-minority applicants, based on test performance and other measurements.

So, rather than turn away the lesser performers, the university cheats by artificially raising their scores – a dishonest practice carried on for years until an insider made it public. Now that it has been forced to defend itself, the university has resorted to vague, transparent pronouncements about “classroom diversity,” a feel-good construct that seemingly will never go away.

Corporations originally jumped on the diversity bandwagon to inoculate themselves against U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission lawsuits, which were becoming more prevalent over past decades, citing “disparate impact” hiring practices. If you can’t beat them, as they say, join them.

As a general rule, no one should be rewarded something without earning it. It’s like having a disgruntled, back-chair violinist in an orchestra – bitter about not having the status of first chair – suggest to the orchestra manager that he be placed in first chair anyhow, even though he can’t play well enough in the audition.

Once again, by a 5-4 decision in the UM law school case, the majority justices on the Supreme Court have chosen political expediency over what is right. By navel contemplation on the meaning of “compelling state interest” and other murky concepts of social engineering – as a justification for preferences – they once again confound means with ends and fail to uphold the equality in public institutions that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees, adding even another layer of confusion to the Bakke decision.

Justice O’Connor’s ruminations that racial preferences “won’t be needed” in 25 years show the bankruptcy of her opinion: If classroom diversity is a compelling interest today, will it not still be in 25 years? If minority students cannot meet competitive academic admissions requirements to top colleges today, what makes O’Connor think they will be able to 25 years down the road?

If the University of Michigan truly wants a diverse student body, it should eliminate all academic admission requirements and allow anyone to enter. Only then can it drop the charade that it has selected the best candidates, and see if it can educate both the wheat and the chaff.

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That is, being for current preferential quota programs, whether they be racial "set-asides" in hiring or awarding business, adding unearned "points" to minority admissions scores, and all the other racial schemes to include minorities that have evolved since the Supreme...
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Wednesday, 25 June 2003 12:00 AM
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