01 Jan 2003 New Visions Commentary: Diversity By Design Hurtful to Minorities, and the Supreme Court Isn’t Easing the Pain, by Donald E. Scoggins
Affirmative action programs were created to help underprivileged minorities overcome adversity so they could take full advantage of the opportunities America has to offer. In reality, it can stifle that same opportunity, increase racial tension and create just the sort of abuse it was meant to eradicate.
A new set of rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court wont make things any easier. The justices upheld one racial preference program at the University of Michigan while striking another one down. The net result? We’ll see this issue back before the Court again and again until a substantive decision is rendered.
Affirmative action programs can easily become “quotas” requiring strict numerical representation. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled the University of California at Davis unconstitutionally used quotas in admissions. While striking down explicit quotas, Justice Lewis Powell created a new standard for preferences when he wrote, “the goal of achieving a diverse student body is sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race.”
At the University of Michigan, plaintiffs charged, Justice Powell’s diversity provision was used to create an unfair advantage for certain minorities. Applicants to the undergraduate program were given 20 points out of a possible 150 simply for being black, Hispanic or Native American. Other applicants were judged solely on test scores, grades and an essay, among other non-racial qualifications.
White applicant Jennifer Gratz claimed the system rejected her for a less-qualified applicant due to her race. University president Lee C. Bollinger defended the system, saying, “the Powell opinion recognized that it’s important to think in terms of racial diversity and ethnic diversity.”
While this provision was ruled unconstitutional, a second program used by the law school to ensure a “critical mass” of certain minorities was upheld. The decision said racial preferences should be used sparingly, but nonetheless allowed race to continue to be a factor for admission to an academic program.
Ironically, the week before the oral arguments in the University of Michigan case, one of my sons was accepted to the school’s engineering program. He’s quite smart. I’m hoping he wasn’t accepted solely because of affirmative action preferences.
I’m black, but my wife is Asian Indian. My sons selected “African-American” on their college applications. My wife was offended, and suggested they select “Asian-American” or “other.” The boys said they might not get in because everyone knows Asians are smart and my sons didn’t think their academic records were that good. They reasoned that selecting African-American and having reasonably good grades and test scores would allow them to rise to the top of the pile of black applicants.
My sons took advantage of affirmative action to get into a good school. Unfortunately, they took advantage of a system that presupposes certain students don’t have the best academic credentials because of their racial heritage.
Genuine black achievement is stigmatized by the perception that what blacks achieve was helped by special exceptions. Maybe a black freshman was accepted because he got a perfect SAT score and had a 5.0 grade point average with advanced placement courses. Unless you know that student and recognize his abilities, you might guess he is instead cruising by on his skin color.
I believe in diversity, but not at the expense of others or when it breeds contempt. After almost 40 years of racial preferences, I believe it needs to be retooled.