The ink was hardly dry on the Justice Department’s memorandum that it was looking for lawyers interested in investigating “possible litigation relating to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions” than the New York Times lashed out with a piece claiming that the reason for the action was that white students were suffering from discrimination in admissions at top universities.
According to the Times, this action is ominous since affirmative action “cuts to the heart of programs designed to bring more minority students to university campuses.” The obvious message was that Trump was just looking to shore up support in his white political base, at the coast of harming minority students.
Now, this might turn out to be much ado about nothing. As we read in this Daily Caller article dated August 3, the Justice Department is downplaying the importance of the story. A Justice Department source is quoted as saying, “This was a personnel posting; it does not reflect a new policy or program or any changes in longstanding DOJ policy. Whenever there’s a credible allegation of discrimination on the basis of race, the department will look into it.”
In truth, however, it is not longstanding DOJ policy to look into every credible allegation of discrimination. The Obama DOJ ignored a very credible allegation by Asian-American students that they have been treated with discrimination by many colleges and universities that accept federal funds and thus are forbidden to practice racial discrimination.
If the Justice Department were to start taking racial discrimination complaints seriously and investigate cases where it seems plain as day that a school is operating a quota system for students from particular racial groups, that would be good. Many top colleges do that.
For example, in this August 2 National Review article, David French points out that at Yale from 2001 to 2008, “the percentage of Asian-American students never exceeded 13.8 percent of the student body or dropped below 13.5 percent – an unbelievable almost decade-long fluctuation of only .3 percent.” That sure looks like a quota, but the Supreme Court held that quotas are impermissible in the Bakke case and reiterated that holding in Gratz v. Bollinger. The Justice Department has never bothered itself with “affirmative action” programs that obviously violate the law.
The point I want to make is that it ought to be irrelevant whether the group that’s complaining about racial discrimination is Asians, whites, or any other, for the simple reason that government should not play favorites among citizens at all. Each person is morally and legally entitled to equal treatment.
It is just as offensive for a government-funded (in whole or part) college to establish preferences for some groups of students based on their ancestry as it would be for a DMV office to have an expedited line for persons of a particular race and another (and much slower) line for everybody else. Almost no one would tolerate a preference system at the DMV, but many colleges and universities have gotten away with the same thing for their applicants.
And yet, returning to my title, why do opponents of color-blindness immediately play the race card and insinuate that those who oppose “affirmative action” do so only because they want to help or hurt some group group? For instance, consider this Philadelphia Inquirer column by Will Bunch, entitled “What do black have to lose under Trump? College apparently.”
Bunch wants to make this move by the Justice Department (if it happens) into a divisive racial issue, supposedly meant to keep black students out of college. The glaring problem with that claim is that racial preferences have nothing to do with whether black students go to college. It only affects where very small percentage of them will go – to a somewhat more prestigious college if they’re given racial preference, or a somewhat less prestigious college if they aren’t.
Attending a more prestigious college may, in the short run, be a slight benefit (or it might be a hindrance, if the student is academically mismatched), but those considerations shouldn’t matter enough to throw away the general principle that government must treat all citizens equally.
“Progressives” simply can’t admit that. They know that their “expand the state” agenda depends on support among minority groups who have been led to believe that policies that give them preferences are just and beneficial. That’s why they are so quick to smear as racist those who want government to abandon group preferences and treat each individual as an equal.
In a similar instance recently, National Education Association president Randi Weingarten declared that the origins of school choice were rooted in segregationism, implying that today’s proponents of school choice must harbor racist attitudes.
Whenever people don’t have good arguments on the merits, they turn to ad hominem attacks. That’s what we are seeing in the battle over racial preferences.