June 25, 2003
Dear Concerned Citizen,

"Diversity" sounds like a very good idea, and the Supreme Court recently upheld racial preferences on the grounds that they contribute to diversity on campus. Although the court narrowed the criteria that could be used to implement preference programs, the ruling is basically a victory for affirmative action. It is also a flawed ruling.

Previously such programs were justified in the name of compensation or atonement: blacks and other minorities need to be “made whole” for their longstanding historical sufferings. But the compensation argument has become weaker over the years, as new generations of minorities seem further removed from the direct effects of slavery and segregation. Moreover, how does one justify compensating an alleged victim by imposing the cost on people who have had no hand in the original injustices?

Consequently those who support minority preferences in college admissions, job hiring and government contracts have had to think of new justifications. In the area of university admissions, they have hit upon a novel idea: racial preferences help to diversity the campus and enhance the intellectual and cultural environment for all students.

The basic idea, which has considerable intuitive appeal, is that a diverse campus is better than a monolithic one. African American and Hispanic students who are admitted to Berkeley or Michigan bring valuable new perspectives so that not only do minority students benefit from attending selective colleges, whites on those campuses also benefit from the presence of more Hispanics and African Americans. Oddly a program that systematically discriminates against whites can now be defended as existing in large part for the benefit of whites.

There are, however, two fundamental problems with this benign portrait of racial preferences promoting the common good. First, the diversity that is being generated is largely artificial and bogus. Most selective colleges do not recruit inner-city African Americans or Hispanics from the barrio; rather, they recruit middle-class blacks and Hispanics who go to better schools and have stronger academic skills. This, of course, enables those minority students to have a better chance of succeeding on campus, but it also means that they tend to come from the same relatively privileged backgrounds as their white counterparts. Consequently the main difference between the minority and white students is not their worldviews or life experience: it is merely the color of their skin.

Moreover, since selective campuses are uniformly liberal in their political views, the recruitment of African American and Hispanic students frequently has the effect of strengthening the monolithic liberal climate of campuses like Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Michigan. Strangely a campaign to bring racial and ethnic diversity to the American campus has the effect of undermining another form of diversity: intellectual diversity.

The second problem with the diversity rationale can be summed up in two words: Asian Americans. Because Asian Americans on average perform well on tests of academic skills, they are helped by merit-based admissions policies. Affirmative action policies have the effect of increasing the proportion of blacks and Hispanics on campus, and reducing the proportion of whites and Asian Americans.

But aren’t Asian-Americans “diverse”? Don’t they bring intellectually and culturally enriching viewpoints? Of course they do. What this means is that the choice between affirmative action “diversity” and the merit-based monolithic campus is a false choice. In reality, merit-based policies also produce diversity.

Consider an example that is very close to real life: with a merit-based admissions policy, campuses like the University of Michigan and Berkeley are likely to be around 50 percent white, 40 percent Asian American, 5 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent black. With racial preferences, such campuses are likely to be around 40 percent white, 30 percent Asian-American, 15 percent black, and 15 percent Hispanic.

It’s important to see that the second result isn’t more “diverse” than the first: it simply reflects a different ethnic mix. There is no guarantee that the second mix would be any richer, intellectually or culturally, than the first. Indeed it seems a fair assumption that since merit-based policies bring smarter and better-prepared students to campus, they will provide a generally stronger and richer intellectual climate than the one produced by policies that depart from the merit principle.


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  Dinesh D'Souza
Dinesh D'Souza, the Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, served as senior domestic policy analyst in the White House in 1987-1988. He is the best-selling author of Illiberal Education, The End of Racism, Ronald Reagan, The Virtue of Prosperity, and What's So Great About America. He is the designated expert on current American culture for tothesource.
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