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When diversity is perverse

By PATRICIA REED, A UPI Outside View commentary   |   Aug. 4, 2003 at 5:24 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court recently gave Americans a diversity present. The only problem is, when we remove the colorful wrapping paper, we can't figure out what the gift is or what we do with it.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority, said the Michigan law school policy aims to "achieve that diversity which has the potential to enrich everyone's education..." The Court told us that diversity in college admissions is a good thing, as long as you don't use quotas in the admissions process.

How diverse is diversity? This middle-of-the-road, kiss-your-sister ruling opens the door for a cottage industry of attorneys to drive trucks through the amorphous goal of ensuring diversity on campuses, and isn't the feel-good affirmation it intends to be.

Our country was founded on the notion of equal opportunity, from "All men are created equal" to the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, to President John F. Kennedy's words, "It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color," to Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech to last, but not least, the Civil Rights Act: "All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin."

However, apparently, the Supreme Court's message is that, as a result of the split decision in the Bakke case, reverse or subjective discrimination is a warranted means to an end of ensuring "diversity."

Who and what defines diversity? Shouldn't admissions officers consider factors other than race, such as religion? Gender? Political party affiliation? Sexual preference? Physical attributes and handicaps? Meat-eating versus vegetarian? It seems that all such personal characteristics would contribute towards making campus life more diverse and interesting. But who wants to compromise the quality of their child's academic education in order to allow their children to attend a diverse and interesting place? Not the majority of Americans, I venture.

While Americans are divided in their support for affirmative action programs, an overwhelming majority wants to keep it out of the colleges, thank you.

According to a Gallup poll conducted on June 12-18, 49 percent of Americans favor affirmative action programs for racial minorities versus 43 percent who do not.

When asked specifically about the college admissions process, 69 percent of these same people say college applicants "should be admitted solely on the basis of merit, even if that results in few minority students being admitted," while only 27 percent say an applicant's racial background should be taken into consideration "even if that means admitting some minority students who otherwise would not be admitted."

A closer look reveals that the majority of whites do not support affirmative action admissions programs: 75 percent; Hispanics favor merit-only admissions: 59 percent; and blacks were closely divided on the issue: 44 percent favor merit-only programs: 49 percent favor admissions practices that also consider race. Doesn't sound like a resounding national cry for affirmative action admissions.

Racial and other admissions preferences are ultimately harmful. As minorities attend college in increasing numbers, the application of quota-type criteria may be a detriment to their admissions, making them victims of their own success.

Case in point: since women comprise the majority of undergraduate enrollees -- and the number appears to be rising -- it won't be long before the diversity rationale is used to limit the number of women in higher education, particularly in such fields as nursing and teaching.

Further, there will be winners and losers in the racial diversity game, serving to proliferate the notion that we are all not equal and that skin color distinguishes one American from another. Other impacts may include resentment, stigmatizing of beneficiaries, separatism, lowering of academic quality, potential discrimination in grading, "gaming" of the admissions system such as not providing race, instituting racial preferences within college majors. The list goes on and on.

Asking an admissions officer to make diversity decisions is like attempting to prepare a Paul Prudhomme recipe that merely prescribes, "Add meat, vegetables, and spices and make it taste good." As admissions officers attempt to drive the diversity bus without a map, they should ask for directions from folks who've achieved diversity without using race preferences in California, Texas and Florida.

They'd better pay attention to their state legislatures, because opponents of admissions preferences are hoping to do at the state level what didn't happen at the Supreme Court: make equal opportunity in admissions the law of the land.

-- Patricia Reed is Director of Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.

-- "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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