The left considers affirmative action one its most sacred cows. On a liberal’s list of don’t-touch programs, affirmative action ranks right up there with abortion. And nowhere is affirmative action worshipped more fervently than in the admissions offices of colleges and universities. But there are problems with affirmative action that liberals either deny or choose to ignore, problems that undermine the viability and credibility of the program. The following problems should be considered by those in Congress who have the ability to eliminate this misguided attempt at government-coerced social engineering.
Affirmative action was originally conceived as a way to eliminate discrimination in hiring practices and in college admissions. Ironically, in actual practice affirmative action attempts to end discrimination by discriminating. Those being discriminated against as a result of affirmative action, particularly in the case of college and university admissions, more often than not are white and Asian students who score higher than the black students who are given their seats in the Freshman class.
Because the courts are beginning to question cases in which lower scoring black students are admitted to colleges and universities over higher scoring white and Asian students, affirmative action advocates are quietly changing their approach. Their new rationale for maintaining affirmative action in college admissions is that the program promotes diversity. But this slight-of-hand trick is just a slick way to continue basing college and university admission on race rather than merit. If colleges and universities were truly interested in diversity, they would admit students on the basis of diverse characteristics rather than race. Race is hardly the only aspect of diversity. What about religion, worldview, politics, geography, and a host of other characteristics that make people different? In fact, one could argue that admitting students to colleges and universities on the basis of race limits diversity in the student body rather than increasing it.
Further, if diversity is the goal of affirmative action in college and university admissions, why stop at the classroom? Why not apply affirmative action to the football, basketball, and baseball teams? Why not apply it to the faculty? Since these teams are such an important part of the college experience, surely the need for diversity is just as great in them as it is in the classroom. If a black applicant who scores low on the SAT can be admitted to college over an Asian who scores high, why shouldn’t a short, fat, white kid who cannot shoot or jump be admitted to the college’s basketball team over a tall black kid who has the makings of another Michael Jordan? Absurd you say? Why is putting an unqualified student on the basketball team over a qualified student any different than doing the same thing in the classroom? They are both college students—supposedly.
As to affirmative action in the hiring of faculty members, does the need for diversity apply in this case too? If so, colleges and universities have a big problem. Since more than 70 percent of college and university professors identify themselves in surveys as either “liberal” or “very liberal,” colleges and universities are violating their own justification for affirmative action, not to mention their claim to providing a well-rounded education. If faculty diversity is important, college and university faculties should be more balanced on the liberal-conservative spectrum. By the way, don’t expect any major changes in this regard. Liberals now control the faculties of most colleges and universities and have no plans to relinquish their control in the name of diversity or for any other reason.
Perhaps the greatest irony of all concerning affirmative action is how Asian minorities are being treated by college and university admissions offices. No one would deny that Asians are a minority in America—no one that is except admissions officers in certain colleges and universities. Although students of Asian heritage are clearly a minority in America, major universities such as Harvard have begun to limit the number of Asian students they will admit, and they do this in the name of affirmative action. Apparently Asian students work too hard, study too much, and score too high on standardized tests—things that Harvard and other left-leaning universities claim give them a competitive advantage over other minorities. In other words, as applied by Harvard and other institutions of higher education, affirmative action applies only to minorities who don’t work hard, study long hours, or score high on standardized tests.
In a diverse nation such as ours, whenever there are competitive openings in colleges or universities, there are going to be applicants of both genders and all races. This being the case, there is only one fair way to fill the limited seats: meritoriously. Colleges and universities should admit the best candidates who apply as determined on the basis of merit. Merit, not race, gender, or ambiguous criteria such as diversity should be the only consideration when making admissions or hiring decisions.
Members of Congress need to ask themselves a hard question: Is it time to eliminate affirmative action as a government program? I suspect that there are few members of Congress on either side of the aisle with the gumption to take on the sacred cow of affirmative action. My message to these weak-kneed members of Congress is that they should consider the words of my colleague, Robert J. Kriegel, who once wrote: “Sacred cows make the best burgers.”