Quotas: The Other Reason To Worry About California
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[Previously by David Orland: Brigitte Bardot's Cry In The Silence]

"And always keep ahold of nurse,
For fear of finding something worse."
Hilaire Belloc.

Hilaire Belloc's advice to Edwardian children has now come true for white Americans: the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger has effectively replaced the quota-and-point-system discrimination of traditional affirmative action with an ill-defined "interest in diversity" as an intrinsic public good.

Not for the first time, this horrible idea can be blamed on California—where a leaked Board of Regents report has just revealed that, in 2002, social engineering admissions officials at UC Berkeley admitted nearly 400 students with SAT scores of 600-1000, while rejecting thousands of students with scores above the entering class's average—average!—of 1337. [UC Berkeley Admissions Scrutinized , Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2003 By Rebecca Trounson, Tony Perry and Stuart Silverstein]

And, as I have earlier argued, a Yes vote on Proposition 54, which seeks to eliminate quotas by eliminating government collection of racial data, won't help.

At least the traditional affirmative action system had two great merits:


  • An implicit sunset provision: once the representation of favored minorities achieved something like proportionality, affirmative action could be said to have run out of reasons to exist.


  • No mission creep: since only certain groups (i.e. blacks and Native Americans) could plausibly claim to be the victims of sustained institutional discrimination, affirmative action was blatantly over-reaching when it sought to benefit recent immigrant groups—that is, people whose ancestors weren't in the U.S. to suffer discrimination in the first place.

The Supreme Court has changed all that. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's 5-4 majority opinion that racial preferences are justified, not by past discrimination but rather by an "interest in diversity" has assured that quotas can now be extended with impunity to groups for whom affirmative action was never intended.

This raises an intriguing—if so far unexplored—question: will whites, too, be eligible for admissions preferences in cases where they find themselves under-represented?

Not a chance.

In the first place, there is the notion of "critical mass" introduced by the University of Michigan and endorsed by O'Connor's majority ruling. Critical mass, O'Connor claims is that percentage of students from a given racial group necessary to make all members of that group feel "comfortable" on campus while contributing to the "breaking down of racial stereotypes" held about that group by outsiders. [See O'Connor's majority Opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger]

Not coincidentally, what constitutes "critical mass" in particular cases is almost entirely up for grabs. This situation suits university administrators just fine (not so surprising, really, when you consider that it was university administrators who invented the concept).

Even so, there will obviously be an upper-limit beyond which "critical mass" considerations can no longer apply - say, when the representation of a given racial or ethnic group exceeds 25% of the student body. Even with current mass immigration, it will be some time before white student representation on public university campuses falls below this level.

The "critical mass" to make white students "comfortable," in other words, will be assumed achieved - whether or not whites are under-represented relative to their share of the state's population.

Hence no racial preferences for whites.

Secondly, diversity-conscious college administrators simply don't care about whites.

Consider California. Following the passage of Proposition 209, the 1996 state ballot initiative banning the use of race and ethnicity in public hiring and admissions, the University of California was compelled to re-think how it did racial preferences. In place of crude quota discrimination, UC administrators introduced a supposedly more nuanced system that, as they put it, sought to balance the "need for diversity" with their interest in staying this side of the law.

For supporters of racial preferences, this looked like very bad news indeed. Without a very considerable leg-up, the substandard test scores and GPAs of black and Hispanic students would put them at a significant disadvantage compared to whites and Asians. Proposition 209, its critics warned, would mean an end to diversity in the University of California system.

But it didn't work out that way.

Remarkably, in the years since the Proposition 209's passage, the representation of under-represented minorities has not significantly diminished. In some cases it has actually increased.

The reason: an aggressive and hugely expensive campaign by the University to promote diversity.

The result: the vast disparities noted by the leaked Board of Regents report. Of course, UC administrators made vague noises about "other" factors in these students' admission, such as high school grade point averages. But all these claims collapsed upon examination, as The Los Angeles Times Rebecca Trounson, Tony Perry and Stuart Silverstein noted, to their credit. [VDARE.COM is scrupulously fair!]

But diversity has for the moment been saved.

Or has it? The story is quite otherwise for the University's white students.

Whites are today a minority of the California state population. And they are also an under-represented minority in its public university system. With the exception of one year (1999), white representation on UC campuses has actually declined since the passage of Proposition 209 - from 43.7% in 1997, the last year that affirmative action was in force on UC campuses.

Yet you would seek in vain for evidence of public concern over the representation of the state's largest minority — whites — in its public institutions.

If "diversity" were applied fairly and across the board in California, whites would also be included under its umbrella.

But it isn't and it won't be.

Thanks to Sandra Day O'Connor and her majority of Supremes, California now threatens to be the model for our future. O'Connor even went so far as to single out California (together with Florida and Washington) as examples of how public universities might tailor diversity-sensitive admissions policies in the post-affirmative action era.

The Supreme Court's ruling means more (and different) preferences, imposed on us for longer. It would be absurd to wax nostalgic for the bad old days of quotas and racial set-asides. But it is clear that, for the disfavored majority, the new legal situation has gotten worse.

In her opinion, Justice O'Connor did muse, vaguely, that in 25 years we might not need racial preferences in university admissions, any more.

And perhaps she's right. Given current rates of immigration, in 25 years, whites will be just another minority in many—if not most—states.

We shall all be living in California—unless we take political action.


David Orland [email him], a columnist for www.boundless.org, lives in France.

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