Affirmative Action: Race to the Bottom

On Dec. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a constitutional challenge to racial preferences in college admissions. These preferences obviously hurt whites and Asians turned down to make room for less qualified minorities. Ironically the preferences also harm many Hispanics and African-Americans — the very students that are supposed to be helped. No wonder campuses are roiled with racial tension. It’s high time the court put a stop to racial preferences entirely.


Abigail Fisher, a white woman who sued the University of Texas for rejecting her in 2008, claims the university’s admissions process unconstitutionally favored minority applicants, violating her right to equality under the law. Like affirmative action programs everywhere, UT claims it judges each applicant “holistically.” Don’t buy it.

For UT applicants, simply being born black or Hispanic gets you points for “achievement,” even if your parents are wealthy bankers. Being born white or Asian gets you zip. It’s similar at Harvard, which is being sued in another case. In defense, Harvard says “when choosing among academically qualified applicants,” colleges need “freedom and flexibility to consider each person’s unique background.” That’s doubletalk. Many minorities admitted to elite schools based on race are not “academically qualified.”

A survey of selective colleges by UCLA professor Richard Sander documented that students who get in based on race tend to earn lower grades and are less likely to graduate. At less demanding colleges, they’d have a better chance to succeed. They’re in over their heads, confirmed Gail Heriot, member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Not in California, which outlawed racial preferences in 1996. Minority students now are more apt to attend lower ranked public colleges but twice as likely to graduate.

Heriot reports “mounting empirical evidence” that admitting students based on race is “doing more harm than good.”

That poignant lesson seems lost on administrators at elite universities who boast about large minority enrollments.

Racial preferences in law school admissions put many minorities on the failure track. At selective law schools, 51 percent of African-American first-year students admitted with racial preferences had grades in the bottom 10 percent of their class, compared with only 5 percent of white students performing that badly.

It is bad enough to be at the bottom of the class. “It is quite another for an African-American student to find himself toward the bottom of the class and to find half of his African-American friends and acquaintances there, too,” explains Heriot. It stokes bitterness, and feelings of injustice.

Minority students struggling academically tend to segregate themselves from other students. And turn to nonacademic pursuits — like campus protests.

This fall’s protesters at the University of Missouri, Princeton, Harvard and Yale are demanding “safe spaces” for black students.

In previous decades, students protested the Vietnam War or economic inequality. Today they lack a cause bigger than themselves. They whine about perceived racial slights. Imagine being admitted to an Ivy League college and then complaining about the names on the buildings — John Calhoun at Yale or Woodrow Wilson at Princeton (as if anyone who lived more than a century ago would pass muster by today’s values.)

Justice Clarence Thomas warned from personal experience about harm to minority students: “I watched the operation of such affirmative action policies when I was in college, and I watched destruction of many kids as a result.”

Of course, the Justices hearing the Texas case will focus on the harm done to students excluded because they are not favored minorities. Whites like Abigail Fisher, but also Asians. Like Harvard and many universities, UT limits Asian students, even though they have the highest test scores. Asian-American groups label that “racist” and remind the Court that “it demeans the dignity and worth of a person to be judged by ancestry instead of his or her own merit and essential qualities.”

It’s also unconstitutional. Now’s the time for the Justices to say so unambiguously, and put a stop to it.

Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.”

Also see,

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