Monday, June 16, 2008

An amazing admission 

The Chronicle of Higher Education is an industry newspaper, that industry being colleges and universities. It reflects back the belief system of its readers -- as, I believe, any newspaper does, which is why I don't waste lots of electrons here venting about the liberal bias of the StarTribune. Readers want to hear their views confirmed by those who are supposed to be unbiased; academia and Minneapolis are liberal places.

This week's edition marks the 30th anniversary of the Bakke decision with a headline article "'Bakke' Set a New Path to Diversity for Colleges" (permalink; temporary link for non-subscribers.) It is, of course, from Bakke that we get the term "diversity" as the motivation for current university efforts at minority recruitment:
Before Bakke, selective colleges regarded race-conscious admissions policies mainly as a way to remedy past societal discrimination against black, Hispanic, and Native American applicants. The Bakke ruling declared that justification off limits, replacing a rationale grounded in history with one grounded in educational theory.
But has anything really changed? The article contains more than a modicum of doubt:

So broad was the imprint left by Justice Powell's reasoning in Bakke that Justice John Paul Stevens would later remark, in a speech delivered three months after the Grutter decision, that he had argued to his fellow justices that rejecting the diversity rationale would cause a "sea change" in American society.

Truth be told, however, many college administrators still describe race- and ethnicity-conscious admissions policies as tools for improving black and Hispanic access to their institutions. Relatively few colleges have done any research showing that their policies produce favorable educational outcomes.

Arthur L. Coleman, a veteran higher-education lawyer now at EducationCounsel, a for-profit law and policy center, says many people "still don't get" that "we are looking at issues of diversity in a fundamentally educationally oriented way." In advising colleges, he says, he does not use the term "affirmative action," and he warns that focusing on enrollment numbers or talking about promoting social justice is "at core a mistake."

Emphasis mine. This admission, which can be refuted if one can produce the studies the Chronicle says does not exist in volume, should stand as an indictment of modern universities, and should be an invitation for rolling back some programs. As many including Hugh Hewitt are today in a conference asking How Free Is the University, I'd hope the meaning and the departure from Bakke is not lost on them.

It is worth remembering that the Justice Blackmun's view that "in order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race" was in fact the minority opinion of the Court. Diversity is supposed to be about education, neither about social justice nor combating white privilege. While some might have wished for later cases like Grutter to have rolled back some of Bakke -- and, fair to say, I'm one such person -- a stricter reading of the case and an agreement among us that demonstrated improvement of educational outcomes should be the goal of minority student recruitment efforts would make for a vast improvement in what is happening here.