What’s so compelling about diversity anyway?


Author: Joshua Thompson

PLF recently filed a brief in Fisher v. University of Texas. There, two white female students are challenging the admissions process at the University of Texas that grants preferences to black and Hispanic students. In our brief (in which we are joined by the American Civil Rights Institute, the National Association of Scholars, and the Center for Equal Opportunity), we argue that the diversity rationale promoted by the University cannot justify their discriminatory program.

[I]t is a group-right concept of diversity; a concept that lumps together widely different cultures and individuals under one banner; a concept that perpetuates stereotyping; a concept that dehumanizes the very individuals it is designed to aid; and, a concept that the University uses here to substantiate its infringing on the appellants’ individual right of equal protection. But this group-right diversity concept contravenes the very premise of the Constitution.

With oral argument in Fisher less than a month away, Mindingthecampus published an excellent article by Russell K. Nieli yesterday, titled, “How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites, and Lots of Others.” The essay is full of sombering facts about the harm done in the name of “diversity.” As I have pointed out on this blog before, preferences granted in the name of diversity often come at the expense of Asian students.  Nieli writes, “Thinking as they do in racial balancing and racial quota terms, college admissions officers at the most competitive institutions almost always set the bar for admitting Asians far above that for Hispanics and even farther above that for admitting blacks.”  Indeed, this anti-preference for Asians is so extreme that Asian students must even outperform their white counterparts:

Asians must do substantially better than whites in order to reap the same probabilities of acceptance to these same highly competitive private colleges. On an “other things equal basis,” where adjustments are made for a variety of background factors, being Hispanic conferred an admissions boost over being white (for those who applied in 1997) equivalent to 130 SAT points (out of 1600), while being black rather than white conferred a 310 SAT point advantage. Asians, however, suffered an admissions penalty compared to whites equivalent to 140 SAT points.

In other words, a black student with an SAT score 449 points lower than that of an Asian student is more likely to get admitted to one of America’s highly select universities than her Asian counterpart.  While this Asian anti-preference is more widely known, Nieli lays bare the “diversity rationale” in a wide range of other areas.  For example:

  • When comparing “rich white students” to “poor white students,” the poorer students are at a significant disadvantage.   (“When equally matched for background factors (including SAT scores and high school GPAs), the better-off whites were more than three times as likely to be accepted as the poorest whites.”)
  • When comparing students that held leadership positions in extracurricular activities, “Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student’s chances of gaining admission.”
  • Furthermore, with respect to leadership positions in high school ROTC “the more competitive private universities seem to have little interest in diversifying their student bodies when it comes to people who have served in the American military or people who intend to make a career out of military service.”

The diversity movement began with a lone opinion of Justice Powell in Bakke v. Regents of the University of California.  When the social engineers failed in their attempt to justify preferences by saying they were remedying “societal discrimination,” they latched on to Powell’s opinion, switched tactics, and began saying that the same methods were now an attempt to achieve “diversity.”  This theory received a shot in the arm when the Supreme Court, in Grutter v. Bollinger, held that diversity can be a compelling interest for highly selective law schools.  What should be clear after reading Nieli’s essay, however, is that admission preferences granted in order to boost “diversity” are a sham.  The justifications for these preferences are written on whole cloth.   Universities have no interest in diversifying campus culture with a wide range of ideas. To the contrary, admissions preferences are simply designed to achieve a predetermined mix of certain races on campus.  On this point, Nieli quotes Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz:

The raison d’etre for race-specific affirmative action programs […] has simply never been diversity for the sake of education. The checkered history of ‘diversity’ demonstrates that it was designed largely as a cover to achieve other legally, morally, and politically controversial goals. In recent years, it has been invoked — especially in the professional schools — as a clever post facto justification for increasing the number of minority group students in the student body.

I highly recommend reading the entire essay.  Furthermore, I hope the essay finds its way into the hands of a few of the justices (or the Obama Administration) deciding the Fisher case.  The constitution does not countenance the blatant racial discrimination that continues in the name of “diversity.”  I’ll let Nieli bring us home:

I suggest a different approach: elite colleges should get out of the diversity business altogether and focus on enrolling students who are the most academically talented and the most eager to learn. These students should make up the bulk of their entering classes. Call it the Cal Tech Model since the California Institute of Technology seems to be the only elite institution that comes close to realizing such an ideal. Or call it the U.S. Olympic Team Model, or the Major League All-Stars Model, since it is based on the same strict merit-selection principle governing our Olympic sports teams and our major league baseball all-star teams. Let the diversity chips fall where they may and focus on recruiting the most intelligent, most creative, and most energetic of the rising generation of young people. In my naive way this is what I always thought elite universities were supposed to be about.