Charles Lane of the Washington Post discusses the suit brought by Asian-American plaintiffs charging Harvard with racial discrimination in undergraduate admissions. The column is from the “on the one hand this, on the other hand that” school of opinion writing — not a despicable approach, either in general or to this topic.
To me, the most interesting bit of information in Lane’s column is this: Harvard’s expert witness told the court that without its system of taking race into account (favoring some races/ethnic groups while disfavoring others), its class of 2019 would have been 15 percent African-American and Latino, rather than 28 percent as it actually is.
To me, this is an admission that Harvard can achieve diversity without granting racial and ethnic preferences.
Harvard has about 6,700 undergraduates. If 15 percent of them belonged to favored minority groups, there would be approximately 1,000 African-American and Hispanic undergrads.
Thus, White and Asian-American students would have ample opportunities to get to know Black and Hispanic students. Black and Hispanic students would also be represented, and not just by a lone student, in many Humanities courses. Thus, White and Asian-American students would be able hear whatever Harvard believes might be the Black and Latino view of various books, works of art, and historical episodes and movements. (I hope Harvard doesn’t believe there is a Black or Latino view of mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc.)
Here’s another way of looking at it. Not that long ago, Blacks and Latinos combined did not make up much more than 15 percent of the U.S. population. In 1980, they were 18 percent.
Were we a racially and ethnically diverse nation in those days? Surely we were. If this minority population had lived in close proximity with Whites and Asian-Americans throughout the U.S. and performed the same work, would these four groups have had plenty of contact with one another. Yes.
Thus, we see a central fallacy of the diversity rationale for race-based preferences. Diversity is not the same thing as representation in proportion to minority presence in the population. The 28 percent representation of Blacks and Hispanics that Harvard contrives to obtain basically mirrors the representation of these groups as of the 2010 census. But that level isn’t required to provide diversity.
Proportional representation is a “social justice,” not a diversity, imperative. If Justice Powell, the fifth vote in the Bakke case, hadn’t decided to embrace a diversity-based argument in favor of preferential admissions, the social justice warriors who control institutions like Harvard wouldn’t be talking about diversity. (Powell, though, never embraced proportional representation as a yardstick for diversity).
And they would have been right not to hang their hat on diversity in this scenario. Under any honest analysis, it doesn’t get them where they want to go — to proportional representation.
Indeed, based on what Harvard’s experts have told the court about what the college’s undergraduate population would look like without the biased admissions policy, diversity doesn’t justify any race-based preferences at all.