The Supreme Court has announced it's going to rule on the constitutionality of the University of Michigan's racial preference system. A few observations:
1] The University defends its quota system by claiming that "diversity" improves all students' educations. But an upcoming International Journal of Public Opinion Research article called "Does enrollment diversity improve university education?" by social science heavyweights Stanley Rothman, Seymour Martin Lipset and Neil Nevitte will blast that claim out of the water. (The first draft was accidentally distributed on the Internet last October.)
2] When racial diversity is achieved through racial favoritism, intellectual diversity turns out to be the victim. "Political Correctness" is inevitable when many students, faculty, and administrators are on campus only because of their race. They naturally feel a little touchy. That's why even printing the fact that the university uses racial preferences has become an offense punishable by newspaper-stealing. (In contrast, the University of Utah is rapidly becoming a global leader in the human sciences, such as anthropology, in part because its nondiverse student body allows for more honest discussion.)
3] The "Diversity" mantra also demands conformity among colleges i.e. uniformly "diverse" student bodies. Practically the only top school in America that seems to believe in colorblind meritocracy is Caltech. And, now that fact has gotten out, this most rigorous of science and engineering schools is under siege (see also here) for not admitting more black students, regardless of whether they would flunk out.
4] It's widely assumed that standardized tests such as the SAT unfairly penalize black students, who would get good grades if only they were admitted. But standardized tests actually overestimate black performance.
"On average, test scores overpredict the later performance of blacks compared to whites, especially at the right tail [the highest level of test scores]. This result holds for colleges, professional schools, and job performance. If a black and a white have the same test scores and prior grades, at right tail institutions the black will on average do about a third to two-thirds of a standard deviation worse in later academic performance than the white. In this sense, test scores are not predictively biased against blacks."
Numerous theories attempt to explain this. The simplest: blacks tend to have a poorer work ethic. In telling contrast, the SAT underpredicts the grades of Asian students, arguably because they have better work ethic.
5] A typical conservative ploy is to denounce racial preferences as racist against blacks. John McWhorter, for example, says, "College-admissions committees … basically are saying that blacks can't compete in the truly decisive arena: the classroom." But this cute soundbite doesn't get us very far.
The fundamental problem: everybody (whites conservatives, white liberals, blacks, guys who just got off the 747 from Bangalore, everybody) knows that, yes, indeed, without racial quotas of one sort or another, few blacks would get into a highly selective institution such as the University of Michigan law school. (Here's a long article from Commentary Magazine documenting this.)
The average African American scores about one standard deviation below the white mean on most tests of mental ability, whether formal examinations or everyday life challenges. (This has been called "fundamental constant of sociology" in America.)
Elite institutions recruit from among people who score at least two standard deviations above the white mean (e.g., IQ=130 or SAT of somewhere around 1300, using the easier scoring system of the last half decade). About 17 times more whites per capita will qualify than blacks. Since there are almost six times as many whites as blacks in this country, the white to black ratio in elite institutions would thus be about 100 to 1.
(I get asked about this a lot, so here's how you can do these calculations yourself using Microsoft Excel and its handy "=Normdist" function. To find the percentage of whites scoring above 130 [it's 2.28%], click on "Insert," then "Functions," then "Statistical," then "Normdist," and fill in the blanks. For whites, Set X = 130, Mean = 100, Standard Deviation = 15, and Cumulative = True. Then, do it again for blacks [it's 0.13%], this time setting Mean = 85.)
6] No matter what the Supreme Court says, the bureaucrats just aren't going to let the level of black participation in elite institutions drop back to the colorblind level. They are staging "massive resistance" - just as in the Jim Crow South after Brown v. Board of Education.
For example, my alma mater, Rice University in Houston, has supposedly been prevented from using racial preferences since the 1996 federal appeals court ruling in the Hopwood case. But, as Jacques Steinberg has just reported in the New York Times ("Using Synonyms for Race, College Strives for Diversity," December 6), Rice uses blatant subterfuges to violate the intention of the court:
"But like other colleges, Rice says it remains fiercely committed to having a diverse student body, so in the years since, it has developed creative, even sly ways to meet that goal and still obey the court. Thus the admissions committee, with an undisguised wink, has encouraged applicants to discuss "cultural traditions" in their essays, asked if they spoke English as a second language and taken note, albeit silently, of those identified as presidents of their black student associations. …
"'You can no longer say to the committee, 'This is a great African-American from New York,' ' said Julie M. Browning, the dean for undergraduate enrollment at Rice. 'You have to drop a lot of language associated with affirmative action.' Instead, Ms. Browning said, the admissions team at Rice has developed a whole new vocabulary — including the overarching goal of achieving 'cultural inclusiveness' in the student body — to justify its admissions decisions."
This is particularly galling to me because Rice students follow the old Southern college tradition of an "honor code." Students pledge not to cheat. In return, they are accorded privileges such as being allowed to take home closed book tests and complete them at their convenience.
Apparently, the spirit of the honor code does not apply to the Rice administration.
7] In conclusion, it's important to keep affirmative action for blacks in perspective, however. African Americans make up only one eighth of the U.S. population. They are currently growing rapidly in numbers, but that rate of increase will be leveling off.
The real danger to American unity comes from the combination of racial/ethnic preferences and ceaseless immigration. Already, according to Ward Connerly, the subverting of California's Proposition 209 is more driven by the legislature's Latino Caucus than its Black Caucus.
Solutions? There is no single magic bullet. But we'll have to constantly keep working on all of the following if we want to prevent eventual Kosovo-style trouble in America:
December 08, 2002