Why aren’t there more black scientists?

It sounds like a trick question. Indeed, it sounds like a variant of the question that sent the sheriffs of political correctness out to take then Harvard president Lawrence Summers into custody.

Gail Heriot is Professor of Law at the University of San Diego Law School and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Professor Heriot asks: “Why aren’t there more black scientists?” Not surprisingly, perhaps, Professor Heriot thinks that racial discrimination has something to do with it, but Professor Heriot has in mind the racial discrimination that dares not speak its name. She identifies the racial discrimination that goes under the rubric of affirmative action. This may make some heads explode:

Remember when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor predicted in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) that universities would no longer need race-preferential admissions policies in 25 years? By the end of this year, that period will be half over. Yet the level of preferential treatment given to minority students has, if anything, increased.

Meanwhile, numerous studies—as I explain in a recent report for the Heritage Foundation—show that the supposed beneficiaries of affirmative action are less likely to go on to high-prestige careers than otherwise-identical students who attend schools where their entering academic credentials put them in the middle of the class or higher. In other words, encouraging black students to attend schools where their entering credentials place them near the bottom of the class has resulted in fewer black physicians, engineers, scientists, lawyers and professors than would otherwise be the case.

But university administrators don’t want to hear that their support for affirmative action has left many intended beneficiaries worse off, and they refuse to take the evidence seriously.

The internal link takes readers to Professor Heriot’s heavily footnoted Heritage Foundation study: “A ‘dubious expediency’: How race-preferential admissions policies on campus hurt minority students.” For a mind-boggling, book length study that proves the point, see also Ricahrd Sander & Stuart Taylor, Jr., Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.

Professor Heriot has a modest proposal of the nonsatirical variety; it would actually do some good. She simply urges Congress to prohibit accrediting agencies from demanding ever-greater preferences for racial and ethnic minorities in admissions. Since the Higher Education Act is due for reauthorization, this is an opportune time for Congress to do the right thing. This proposal is aimed in particular at Senator Lamar Alexander and Reps. Virginia Foxx and our friend John Kline. Elaborating her thoughts in a message, Professor Heriot writes:

This is the easiest-to-swallow fix I can think of. Colleges and universities have little reason to object, since it does not prevent them from engaging in the affirmative action policy of their choice. All it does is prevent accreditors from forcing a policy on them. At the same time, since accreditors function as diversity cartel enforcers, I suspect it will have a significant effect, especially at medical schools. I did a FOIA request to public medical schools this summer and found about half were being pressured by their accreditor (the Liaison Committee for Medical Education with the unfortunate, all-too-pronouncible acronym of “LCME”) to increase their racial and ethnic diversity. Especially given the inevitable mismatch effect, preventing that pressure would be a significant step forward.

Professor Heriot provides additional details at her own site here (discussing medical schools) and here (discussing law schools).