Some unpleasant truths about racial preferences

The June issue of Commentary includes an excellent piece by Jonathan Kay of the National Post called “The Scandal of ‘Diversity.'” We cannot link to this piece, which I think is important enough to summarize at length.
Kay begins by discussing a study by the political scientist Stanley Rothman on the effect of diversity on educational quality at American universities. Rothman?s study is based on a survey of students at 140 universities about their scholastic experiences. Instead of asking how the students feel about “diversity,” as other studies have done, Rothman correlated responses about student satisfaction and perceptions of educational quality with data on black enrollment. Rothman found that student satisfaction and perceived educational quality varied inversely with the proportion of enrolled African-American students. His data also showed that “diversity contributed to the incidence of encounters perceived as discriminatory rather than decreasing them, [even] after controlling for a student’s membership in a historically victimized group.” This sounds like a fancy way of saying that, insofar as race relations are concerned, no well-intentioned deed goes unpunished.
Kay explains these results by discussing his experiences at Yale Law School. The law school attempted (at least in his day) to avoid a “treadmill” environment by making its classes “pass-fail” and then passing virtually everyone. But, because its students are ambitious, many attempted to distinguish themselves by joining the Yale Law Journal. To do so (at least in Kay’s day), they had to pass a “take home” test. The graders were not informed of the test takers’ identity, and no race-based adjustments were made. Typically more than half of the white and Asians students passed, compared to maybe one out of ten blacks. As a result, only two of the 113 members of the Journal were African-American, even though the student body was nearly ten percent black.
When these numbers were released, public meetings were convened to discuss the problem. Instead of blaming it on the obvious culprit — a racially skewed admissions policy — esoteric theories of racial exclusion were trotted out. Black applicants were said to be approaching the writing component with a special –black — style that the graders were unfairly punishing. Or the will of the black applicants had been sapped by the “institutional racism” that permeated the school. Kay recalls that, as if on cue, black students began acting alienated, and social estrangements broadened. “Whites became increasingly reluctant to offer any comment that might be interpreted as threatening to blacks, while classroom comments by black students on any race-charged issue would almost always go unchallenged.” One black student complained that she felt “excluded and alienated from the classroom environment” because her criminal law professor had devoted only three weeks of his course to the topic of race.
The lesson is clear. As Kay puts it, “It is impossible to construct an academic environment in which every type of meritocratic ranking or competition is eliminated. Eventually the wheat and the chaff get separated. When [because of preferential admissions policies] blacks find themselves disproportionately represented in the chaff, ‘institutional racism’ and other supposedly explanatory theories follow, and interracial relations suffer.” Or, in the words of Thomas Sowell, “if you send a second-quintile student who is black to a first-quintile school, he will see racism everywhere; if you send him to a second-quintile school, things will be fine.” As Professor Rothman’s study shows, right now things are not fine. Will the Supreme Court begin to set them right?


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