How race preferences damage higher education

I want to second Steve’s praise for A Dubious Expediency: How Race Preferences Damage Higher Education, the fine new essay collection edited by Gail Heriot and Maimon Schwarzschild. The contributors include the two editors, Heather Mac Donald, Peter Kirsanow, and Peter Wood.

Gail’s chapter on the impacts of race preferences on their intended direct beneficiaries is must reading, in my opinion. Wouldn’t it be great if the chapter were read by the Supreme Court Justices considering whether to hear the challenge to Harvard’s discriminatory admissions policy?

I thought I knew all the ins-and-outs of the “mismatch” argument — that race preferences disadvantage the alleged direct beneficiaries by driving them out of difficult study areas they would be able to pursue successfully at schools they would attend absent the preferences. But I learned plenty from Gail’s chapter.

The best summary of the harms of racial preferences in a college admissions comes right out of the chute — in the first paragraphs of the first chapter, by John M. Ellis. As dean of graduate studies and research at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ellis helped start that institution on what he calls “the slippery slope” of affirmative action. Now that we’re far down that slope, he surveys the effects.

Here are some of the ones he cites:

[Affirmative action] has spawned mischievous new pseudo-disciplines that are in reality little more than collections of political activists who undermine the academic integrity of their institutions; it has damaged the campus climate for free expression, both through speech codes designed to protect the sensibilities of minorities and through the creation of a campus political monoculture.

It has led to rampant grade inflation that is in large part a response to the problem of students mismatched with academic environments for which they are not prepared and in which they cannot compete; it has damaged the prospects and morale of countless numbers of these mismatched students.

It has been the largest factor among the pressures to dumb down college curricula by deemphasizing indispensable knowledge of the history and thought of Western civilization in general, and our own country in particular, and that in turn has produced a generation ignorant of much that previous generations knew with only a high school education.

It has helped establish the campus hegemony of an intellectually vacuous and ignorant postmodern relativism; and, paradoxically, it has severely damaged the chance for its intended beneficiaries to enjoy the excellent education through which previous groups of “have-nots” (e.g., Italian Americans, Jews, Irish Americans) have been able to climb the social ladder to achieve full equality of opportunity.

And, of course, it is manifestly unfair to White and Asian Americans who are denied admission because of their skin color.

Maimon Schwarzschild, in a chapter on preferences based on economic class, concludes the book by warning that “in a world economy in which prosperity and growth depend increasingly on education and knowledge — and social mobility, in turn, depends on prosperity and growth,” burdening American higher education with preferences that override merit “tends to threaten social mobility rather than promote it.”

Racial preferences harm their intended direct beneficiaries, harm education, threaten our position in the world, and violate fundamental principles of fairness embedded in our Constitution. A Dubious Expediency makes this case better than any volume of which I’m aware.

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