The Supreme Court currently is considering the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. The case concerns administrators’ use of race as a selection criterion in university admissions. It is seen by many as critical to the continued vitality of “affirmative action” as public policy in the United States. Sadly, those who see in this case the possibility that racial preferences will be brought under control in any sector of our society, and especially in the area of university admissions, are off-target.
Commentators have pointed out that the decision in this case will affect private as well as public universities. Almost all private universities take federal funds, meaning that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids them from discriminating on the basis of race, just as if they were public universities. But affirmative action is not the only form of race-based policy in which universities engage in seeking to increase minority numbers and pursue other ideological goals. Universities, along with governments and even private employers, already have moved beyond the intrinsically limited logic of affirmative action to a program of “diversity” that is without limit, logic, or any reasonable means of oversight. We already are entering a brave new world in which diversity committees choose new students and employees on the basis of “narratives” that serve as fig leaves for racial and ideological considerations inimical to standards of excellence and fair play.
People who are not members of favored minority groups will continue to see their interests and life chances undermined as they are kept from educational and career opportunities for which they are qualified. Members of various “favored” minority groups qualifying for diversity status also will continue to see their interests undermined as they are thrown into academic and work environments for which they are not prepared, increasing markedly their chances of failure. And people like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will continue to be vilified whenever they dare out the obvious fact that policies specifically intended to circumvent criteria that measure how well prepared people are for a given position or university put individuals in positions for which they are not prepared. As to the institutions themselves, whether universities, governmental agencies, nonprofits, or even businesses, their very character is undermined and they increasingly become objects of resentment and ideological conflict.
Affirmative action as defined by the courts in recent decades may in fact be coming to an end or at least entering an era of close judicial oversight to limit its tendency to produce racial quotas. For decades now, affirmative action has been upheld by courts on the grounds that racial preferences of some kind may be necessary and useful in addressing specific past injustices, most particularly past policies that had the effect of improperly lowering the number of student members of various minority groups accepted into particular universities. This policy may be at an end for the simple reason that its logic and justification are limited. As a remedial policy—that is, as a policy justified as making up for past bad conduct—it rests on the bad conduct having been engaged in some time in the at-least-relatively-recent past.
Proponents of affirmative action point to traditions of discrimination rooted in the era of reconstruction. But the persuasive power of these arguments was rooted in the notion that affirmative action is part of a process, limited in scope and duration, aimed at cleaning out reconstruction’s institutional remnants, not at transforming all of society in accordance with a vision of government-enforced numerical equality. Despite the claim that diversity is the important governmental interest being served by affirmative action, if those defending racial preferences can no longer point to specific instances of discrimination or patterns of related misconduct and instead must continue arguing that existing preferences simply are not sufficient, then the justification for those preferences as affirmative action has evaporated. That the policies may not have “worked” in the sense of garnering sustainable higher levels of minority enrollments is beside the point. No discrimination means no basis for a discriminatory means of boosting minority enrollment.
For years, now, judges have been hinting that the various policies used under the title affirmative action may have an expiration date. Whether the policies ever should have been instituted in the first place and whether the expiration date should have long been recognized to have passed may be irrelevant, but then so is the claim of continued “underrepresentation” of various groups.
This much has been clear to university administrators and other proponents of race-based policies at least since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote of an expiration date for affirmative action in the case of Grutter v. Bollinger (539 U.S. 306 (2003)). Because this has been clear to people ideologically committed to deconstructing a system they consider to be intrinsically racist to its core—and also intrinsically sexist to its core, intrinsically homophobic to its core, and more generally intrinsically oppressive because an elite institution within a society that is racist, sexist, and homophobic to its core—those people have been working for years on a more sustainable program of action. That program is diversity.
Long used as a justification for affirmative action, diversity is in many ways more useful and sustainable as a freestanding program of action for those hostile to our inherited traditions. It sounds self-justifying. Who could be against diversity in a polyglot society such as ours? It sounds inclusive. If we are saying “let more, different people in” are we not automatically showing our tolerant and welcoming attitude? And it is vague enough to allow for the kind of ideological intolerance at the core of elite plans for America’s future.
The goal of diversity is, of course, to promote “role models” and “leaders of the future” among every conceivable racial, ethnic, and sexual minority. But it has the advantage over affirmative action of being itself the goal—that is, in promoting “diversity” universities and others claim that diversity itself, for its own sake, is a good intrinsic to their mission. The assertion is that all of us will learn more (or produce more, or serve people better) while incidentally promoting the interests of oppressed groups if those groups have a “critical mass” or “voice” in all our institutions. One of the advantages, for diversity’s proponents, of the critical mass numbers game is that few seats are left at the table for oppressor groups, and this provides a means by which they can eliminate what little political diversity survives on campus. White males obviously are the demographic put at risk, here, but as many applicants for academic jobs can attest, ideology can cost persons of any race, ethnicity, or sex (or religions) their chance at employment or admission. Conservatives, after all, continue to question the good of diversity, proving that they are racist, sexist, and homophobic, hence beyond the bounds of toleration. They also can be real pains in the neck with all their carping about due process rights and the like.
Similar goals are sought for government, non-profit, and business groups (especially in hi-tech and journalism). The overall goal is to forge a radically new society in which the state imposes broad rules and, more fundamentally, the various officers and committees exercising discretionary power to oversee professional, business, and personal relations to make them all more “just.” In the era of trigger warnings and “yes means yes” it is anybody’s guess what coherent definition of justice (if any) eventually will emerge. That said, the program is openly hostile toward traditional institutions, beliefs, and practices and openly committed to creating opportunities for those assumed to share the diversity mindset at the expense of those who do not.
There is no logical end to diversity’s extension because the world and its peoples are infinitely diverse. One can focus on whatever difference one chooses and raise it to the level of a social good, then plug it into the diversity apparatus. But what is this apparatus and how is it to be used? The apparatus already is in place and being used extensively in admissions, hiring, and promotion. It is the personal narrative, the story of oppression liable to expropriated by those without factual claims to minority status such as Rachel Dolezal and now-Senator Elizabeth Warren but intentionally open-ended so as to avoid the charge of imposing group-based quotas. In essence, the institutions (universities especially) simply invite applicants to show that they are on board with the diversity ideology and make their case for victimhood. One example should suffice, here. It is provided by the University of Michigan, but similar examples are literally everywhere in our education system.
Personal Statement — Tell us about yourself. How have your background and life experiences—including cultural, geographical, financial, educational or other opportunities or challenges—motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Michigan? For instance, if you grew up in a community where educational, cultural, or other opportunities were either especially plentiful or especially lacking, you might discuss the impact this had on your development and interests.
Requirements like this are justified as allowing admissions committees to “go beyond the numbers” to see whether students who have overcome, say, poverty or abuse may bring to the university experiences that will improve its educational environment. The claim is that they can show how their privileges have helped them as well, but then committees are realms of discretion. The quite reasonable argument also is made that students who have overcome diversity may have resources to succeed that have not been fully measured by standardized tests, grades, and letters of recommendation. Again, this part of the argument seems quite reasonable. Unfortunately, in our highly politicized atmosphere, it serves as a mammoth opening for committee discretion.
Many of us have trouble arguing against discretion in admissions. After all, standardized tests themselves are soulless monstrosities produced by educratic committees subject to often ludicrous fads. But the discretion here is ideological. It is aimed at “diversity” in the leftist sense of “anti-traditional” and “victimized.” The goal of questions like that asked at the University of Michigan is to encourage students who do not have the educational background and achievement necessary to compete successfully for admission to signal their oppressed status and so be bumped to the front of the line. It also encourages those who are so qualified to get on board, lest their seat be given away to someone more friendly toward the ruling ideology.
So, affirmative action may (or may not) be at an end. But this is not the end of racial preferences, or of the ideological march through the institutions that is transforming our society into a third-world bastion of mutual intolerance overseen by the government and its multitudinous minions, intruding into every aspect of our everyday lives. Of course, the primary object of derision, here, is the American mainstream—something already disintegrating. So long as we continue to mouth the platitudes of diversity without defending the reality of cultural norms and their necessity to any decent, meaningful life, the disintegration and degradation will continue as genuine diversity fades from existence.
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