Social Engineering, Educational Pluralism, and Holistic Racism

by | Jul 6, 2003

They say we wouldn’t eat sausages if we ever visited a meat packing plant. For many of us, that’s probably true of hamburgers too. It’s one thing on a nice day to run into the supermarket and pick up some nice fresh-looking quarter-pounders for the grill and yet a whole different thing to think about […]

They say we wouldn’t eat sausages if we ever visited a meat packing plant. For many of us, that’s probably true of hamburgers too. It’s one thing on a nice day to run into the supermarket and pick up some nice fresh-looking quarter-pounders for the grill and yet a whole different thing to think about what happens between the time a cow steps off the train at one end of the plant and ends up all shrink-wrapped at the other end.

That’s sort of how it is with the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action. “In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity,” wrote Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her 5-4 majority opinion upholding the University of Michigan’s consideration of race for admissions to its law school.

The court’s green light to affirmative action came, wrote O’Connor, because the law school, not in a “mechanical way,” engages in a “highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file.” And that is consistent, O’Connor said, with Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.’s controlling stance in the 1978 Bakke case that held that there is a “compelling state interest ” in racial diversity, an interest that allows the use of race as a “plus factor” in order to get to the right mix of applicants into the classroom.

All that sounds good, but as for the details, the actual sausage-making, here’s a passage from Justice Powell’s opinion in the Bakke case: “The file of a particular black applicant may be examined for his potential contribution to diversity without the factor of race being decisive when compared, for example, with that of an applicant identified as Italian-American if the latter is thought to exhibit qualities more likely to promote beneficial educational pluralism.”

And how exactly, with thousands of applicants being processed in lickety-split time, do the holistically inclined social engineers in the admissions department find out if the Italian kid has a “potential contribution to diversity”? Do they ask if he spent any time growing up in the streets of Little Italy? And is that judged to be better for classroom variety than if he, say, spent his Italian youth in a rich suburb?

Do the planning engineers ask if the Italian kid’s dad was straight off the boat from Italy, or if his family is especially obedient when it comes to obeying the rules of Catholicism? Do they ask if he goes to his grandma’s house every Sunday for some good old-fashioned home cooking and a strong dose of inter-generational talking? Do these social engineers decide, in a culture that’s increasingly secular with increasingly fractured families, that any of this might be a “plus factor” in terms of promoting a unique perspective during classroom discussions, that any of this exhibits “qualities more likely to promote beneficial educational pluralism”?

In fact, none of this happens. The “plus factor” bonuses at the University of Michigan’s law school are parceled out, contrary to Justice O’Connor’s opinion, in a clearly “mechanical way,” in a manner that’s anything but “highly individualized.”

In order to achieve what it calls a “critical mass” of underrepresented minority students, i.e., Native Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics, the school runs an admissions system where racial discrimination and group preferences trump the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In fact, Justice O’Connor, in quoting Dr. Stephen Raudenbush, “the law school’s expert,” pointed to how a mechanical use of race delivered unequal treatment to the G.P.A.s and and L.S.A.T. scores of non-favored applicants. “In Dr. Raudenbush’s view, a race-blind admissions system would have a ‘very dramatic’ negative effect on underrepresented minority admissions,” wrote O’Connor. “He testified that in 2000, 35 percent of underrepresented minority applicants were admitted. Dr. Raudenbush predicted that if race were not considered, only 10 percent of those applicants would have been admitted.”

That’s progress, of course, in terms of racial bean counting, but with a fixed number of seats in the classrooms that simply means that other students, i.e., those in racial categories that don’t help the law school meet its diversity targets, had their scores and achievements downgraded.

A question. If the court finds a variety of opinions in the classroom to be of such a compelling state interest, what would it say about the fact that America’s campuses are now basically one-party institutions when it comes to the political leanings of the faculty? A recent Luntz poll of 151 professors from a cross section of Ivy League universities, for instance, found that only 3 percent of professors identified themselves as Republican.

“Only a comparatively narrow spectrum of views is really welcome on campus”, wrote Karl Zinsmeister in last September’s issue of The American Enterprise magazine. “If you stray from the liberal consensus you will soon find yourself without allies, without tenure, and eventually without a position.”

Well, now there’s a real diversity issue of key import for the courts. After all, it’s the professors who do the vast majority of the talking in the classroom.

Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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