By George Leef
A large part of President Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington consists of revoking previous regulations that advanced leftist ideas about the economy and education. During the Obama years, the Departments of Education and Justice prodded colleges and universities to use race-conscious admission policies in order to achieve more diversity.
On July 3, those departments published a bulletin that withdrew seven documents from the Obama era. Those documents, it states, “purport to explain the legal framework that governs the use of race by elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools under the Constitution, Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The documents advocate specific hypotheticals and draw conclusions about whether the actions on those hypotheticals would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution or the Civil Rights Act.”
Education and Justice decided to rescind those documents because “they advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution, Title IV and Title VI. Moreover, the documents prematurely decide, or appear to decide, whether particular actions violate the Constitution or federal law.”
Even though those documents (Dear Colleague Letters and other forms of “guidance” for schools) have been withdrawn, the law against actual racial discrimination against any individual remains in place. What has been scrubbed is the federal government’s pressure on schools to adopt admission policies that discriminate against some students (and for others) based on racial classifications.
This bulletin will not prevent any school from using racial preferences. Litigation against such preferences is ongoing, such as the suit by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) against Harvard, discussed here by Terry Eastland.
What the bulletin signals is a complete U-turn by the federal government on the issue of racial preferences.
If Education and Justice eventually help persuade the Supreme Court in the SFFA case or some other that racial preferences –de facto quotas based on student ancestry – are of no educational value and therefore can’t be defended under the Constitution or the Civil Rights Act, won’t that be harmful to minority students?
Actually, it would stop harming them. So argues economics professor Walter Williams in this July 4 column. Racial preferences (a/k/a affirmative action) lead to the admission of black students to colleges and universities where the academic demands are too much for them. “To admit these students,” he writes, “makes white liberals feel better about themselves. It also helps support the jobs of black and white university personnel in charge of diversity and inclusion.”
Williams is right. It is just a politically useful myth that racial preferences are a benefit to minority students. Instead of working to improve the generally bad K-12 education that black students receive (Williams calls it “grossly fraudulent”), leftist politicians go for a “cure” – racial quotas – that ignores the underlying malady and encourages students to look not to their own improvement, but to racial preferences for their advancement.
Oh, but if schools had to stop using racial preferences, wouldn’t they lose “diversity”? That’s the claim always made by officials who want to keep evaluating students at least in part based on what racial group they seem to fit into. (I say “seem to” because with the ever-increasing homogeneity of America, it is less and less clear whether someone is “black” or “white” or “Asian” or any other group.) Supposedly, all students benefit from being in a mixed student body so that everyone learns how to cooperate with everyone else.
The glaring flaw in that argument is that virtually every college student in America is perfectly aware that the country (indeed, the world) is full of people who are different. Scarcely anyone doesn’t understand that it is imperative for us to cooperate with rather than antagonize people who are different – as if there weren’t lots of differences and disputes among people within every racial, ethnic, or religious category. Nothing is gained by obsessing over race and laboring to fill group quotas.
In that regard, it’s worth noting that the decidedly and deliberately non-diverse Japanese have long been extremely successful in international business dealings with people from a huge number of different cultures. What that shows is that people can show respect and cooperation even if they haven’t sat in a classroom with individuals from other races.
The mania over racial diversity is costly and counterproductive. Let us applaud the Education and Justice Departments for helping to clear a path out of this briar patch.