Coast to coast decline in support of affirmative action

by Grace

Two recent events, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast, demonstrate that after half a century, support for racial preferences in college admissions is getting more and more unsustainable — both politically and intellectually.

Strong opposition by Asian-Americans helped defeat a California ballot measure pushing for the repeal of “Proposition 209, which banned racial preferences at state universities”.

… Asian Americans … flooded legislative offices with petitions arguing that a repeal would hurt their children’s prospects for getting into the most competitive public campuses. S. B. Woo, a former Democratic lieutenant governor of Delaware who is president of the Asian 80-20 PAC, led the effort, saying, “Asian Americans have always been picked out to be stepped on in race-conscious college admissions.”

The pressure led three Asian Democrats who had voted for the bill in the senate to withdraw their support and urge assembly speaker John Perez to postpone a vote. “We have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts,” they wrote Perez. “Many in the [Asian/Pacific Islander] and other communities throughout the state feel that this legislation would prevent their children from attending the college of their choice.”

Meanwhile on the east coast, support of race-based admissions among Harvard students dropped after a debate on whether “affirmative action does more harm than good”.

… Harvard professor Randall Kennedy, the author of the book For Discrimination, and Columbia professor Ted Shaw, the former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued that diversity is an important and noble goal that universities must pursue. UCLA professor Richard Sander, author of the book Mismatch, and University of San Diego professor Gail Heriot, a commissioner on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, presented statistics from over 20 peer-reviewed studies that showed how the good intentions of affirmative-action supporters have had disastrous results.

The research cited by Sander and Heriot shows that universities routinely put a race-conscious fist on the admissions scale, rather than a thumb. These heavy preferences mean that the median African-American student at law school has credentials lower than those of 99 percent of the Asian and white students — and underrepresented minorities admitted to law school based on a heavy preference are two to three times more likely to fail the bar exam.

… Professors Kennedy and Shaw didn’t challenge the empirical studies on mismatch, and Kennedy even stipulated that they were true. But he said the quest for diversity is important enough to justify affirmative action …

Professor Kennedy defended the harm inflicted on Asian-Americans, as long as it benefited other minority groups.

… Kennedy didn’t deny that Asians are harmed by racial preferences; he simply said the benefits of diversity are worth some individual sacrifice: “We have all sorts of programs that disadvantage people.” Sander replied that the “large racial penalty for Asian Americans” is “really repugnant” — Asian Americans are being “treated the way we used to treat Jewish Americans” when there was a cap on their presence at elite schools.

Given the overwhelming liberal ethos of Harvard’s campus, the impact of the debate on the audience was surprising. Audience members voted by keypad before and after the debate. Among those expressing a position, opposition to affirmative action rose by nearly a third — from 31 percent before the debate to 40 percent afterward. Support dropped from 69 percent before the debate to 60 percent afterward.

A recent Gallup poll shows most Americans oppose affirmative action in college admissions.

Related:  ‘Racial preferences mostly benefit fairly privileged students of color’ who help dispel stereotypes (Cost of College)

John Fund, “Racial Preferences Under Siege”, National Review Online, March 20, 2014. 

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