The other day, in discussing the title of Derek Bok’s book on racial preferences in college admissions, The Shape of the River, I ridiculed Bok’s image of enlightened college administrators skillfully navigating their way through the turbulent currents of racial and educational politics for the general betterment of mankind. To illustrate the absurdity of Bok’s conceit, I want to tell the story of an acquaintance of mine who teaches at a high-caliber, high-profile univeristy. Because he spoke to me off the record, I will not reveal either the university or the subject he teaches.
This professor began his career teaching undergraduates, but switched over to one of his university’s graduate schools. At about that time, that graduate school instituted an aggressive race-based preferential admissions policy intended to attain a pre-determined level of African-Americans in its entering classes. My acquaintance actively supported this program. Unfortunately, he also taught the most demanding of the school’s required courses. He quickly found that very few of those admitted pursuant to the “affirmative action” plan could pass his course. Under pressure, he made the class less rigorous, to the extent that his conscience would permit, but the failure rate remained high. His fellow faculty members urged him to dumb down the course some more. When he refused, the school removed the course from the list of those required in order to graduate. At that point, my acquaintance resigned from the school and went back to teaching undergraduates.
In the upcoming debate over the Supreme Court cases regarding racial preferences at the University of Michigan, you will hear lots of rosy talk about how preferences bring about diversity without compromising educational standards. One should be very skeptical about such claims.
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