Posted on October 11, 2013

The Real Beneficiaries of Racial Preferences

Robert Weissberg, American Thinker, October 10, 2013

Despite their public unpopularity and court ordered restrictions, racial preferences in higher education still manage to hang on and if anything, the Obama administration has pushed them even harder. To wit, on Friday September 27th, both the Department of Justice and Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter that strongly affirmed that using skin color in college admissions was still permissible. According to the letter,

The Court preserved the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs. The educational benefits of diversity, long recognized by the Court and affirmed in research and practice, include cross-racial understanding and dialogue, the reduction of racial isolation, and the breaking down of racial stereotypes.

This is a peculiar interpretation of the recent Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin that involved a white student (Abigail Fisher) denied admission to the U of T who claimed that academically less qualified blacks were admitted due to their race. In a 7 to 1 vote the Court remandered the case back to a lower appellate court with instructions that the University of Texas’s race-based admissions policy pass the high hurdle of strict scrutiny. That is, there must be a compelling government interest in using race and the policy must be narrowly tailored to accomplish this aim. At best, race-based affirmative action will survive but, guaranteed, it will now be much constrained.

The letter also misrepresents so-called “research findings”–they don’t exist. It is as if the Obama administration is stuck in the 70s and 80s when colleges unashamedly applied racial quotas in admissions.

The letter might be construed as yet one more political gesture to placate his African American constituents by improving education opportunities for young blacks. Wrong–admitting academically troubled black students means thousands of politically manufactured middle class jobs for adult African Americans. That these admittees would be better off elsewhere matters not. This is all about jobs, not quality education.

Begin by understanding that no African American youngster will be denied a college education if racial preferences vanished tomorrow. American higher education offers a place for everyone including those who barely escaped high school. The question really is at what school, and racial preferences merely sharply up the odds of a black student reaching beyond what his or her academic record justifies.

Consider a smart but academically lazy black student from Chicago. Local choices range from top tier Northwestern to Chicago State University to Harold Washington Community College among others. Ending of racial preferences might only mean, say, attending the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle versus Northwestern (and he could still transfer to Northwestern if he excelled at Chicago Circle). None of this sorting out constitutes a cosmic injustice.

But, what if our indifferent student “got lucky” thanks to racial preferences and was accepted at Northwestern? Now, unbeknown to the preference beneficiary, the over-his-head youngsters will be a career bonanza for others. These jobs, moreover, will only add to the tuition bills and thereby boost student debt.

Let me outline how all this works. Begin with the school’s admission office. Now permitted to recruit according to race, newly hired staff will visit largely minority high schools to attract enrollees while other staff members showpotential recruits around campus. Still other admission personnel will scrutinize minority applications to uncover below-the-surface traits that might “objectively” justify admission, a “holistic admission” review policy to circumvent legal bans on naked racial quotas.

A poorly prepared minority freshman may also be required to enroll in remedial classes to compensate for shoddy high school preparation. Then there will be full credit racially-themed courses, e.g., Black Studies, to assist in high priority retention. Entire departments may have to be established for this purpose–professors, administrative assistants, student advisors and secretarial staff. A special librarian may be added to curate relevant books and journals.

But the real bureaucratic expansion will occur in non-academic activities. Think themed residence hall, complete with live-in advisors, activity coordinators and other staff to guarantee a safe, supportive college experience. Experts will also be added to infuse multicultural elements into course offerings across academic departments, a true make-work extravaganza despite intellectually shoddiness. And rest assured, each top administrator will now have advisors for “minority affairs” to, among other tasks, help departments develop job advertisements that display a willingness to welcome minority candidates.

If racially tinged campus incidents occur, even hoaxes or honest misunderstanding, figure more employees expert on cooling animosities with mandatory sensitivity workshops, race-sensitive policy guidelines (especially for campus security) and other measures to prevent imagined campus disorder. Further add consultants to help eliminate invisible but still debilitating racism.

What is especially notable about this job explosion is its cost, invisibility to outsiders, and its survival even as budgets for higher education shrink. Heather MacDonald tells of how the University of California faced a $250 million shortfall in 2012 (plus a billion in debt) but its San Diego campus still managed to hire a Vice-Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at a starting salary of $250,000 plus $60,000 for relocation costs and a $13,500 temporary housing allowance (and who knows the cost of his or her staff). Elsewhere, the San Francisco campus appointed a vice chancellor of diversity and outreach–with a starting salary of $270,000–to create a “diverse and inclusive environment.” Keep in mind that these outlays do not include the expenses of hiring academic head hunters who, for a fee, will find the school’s next Dean of Outreach and Inclusion. And the University of California is hardly unique.

In a world of growing job insecurity, these positions rival the job security of tenured professors. No college president will insist that such outreach efforts squander precious funds better allocated to scientific research. And imposing on merit-based undergraduate admissions surely risks Department of Justice investigation and howls of outrage from student and faculty activists. Remember, none of this racial pandering costs any administrator personally; the opposite is true–a stellar record on recruiting minority undergraduates, retaining and graduating them, even if in dubious grievance soaked majors, is the ticket to career advancement.

What energizes Obama’s passionate defense of racial preferences is that nearly all those whose livelihood depends on it have scant options outside the academy. What would they do if all the black students on campus attended academically appropriate schools and therefore needed scant special assistance? Gone would be all those tutors, professors, Deans of Diversity and all the rest who owed their livelihoods to graduating students in over their heads academically.

To repeat, defending racial preferences is really about sustaining a politically manufactured middle class existence for thousand of African Americans. The Obama administration surely recognizes this awkward reality and thus hardly surprising that must go to extreme lengths, even lying, to help those whose ample livelihood rests on racial preferences.