Affirmative action once again saw its day in the highest court last week, and, unsurprisingly, Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments on the subject stole the spotlight.
The conservative jurist made headlines after he stated that black students admitted to prestigious universities largely due to their race rather than academic merit would do better at “lesser schools.” While the oral argument may appear artless when transcribed to print, it is a point that is backed up by extensive research conducted mostly by African-American scholars.
But that fact was hardly raised in the furor surrounding Scalia’s statement and many pundits were still outraged over it. While the politically incorrect comments of the Supreme Court’s resident Archie Bunker took most of the attention surrounding the second hearing of Fisher v. University of Texas, skittish liberals are worried that America’s chief judicial body may overturn race-based admission standards for good.
That led The New York Times to publish a unique defense of affirmative action practices in higher education: “Diversity Makes You Brighter.” The writers open with a citation of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stating that diversity naturally “enriches” the educational experience of everyone in a 2003 majority opinion that upheld race-based admission.
That serves as a nice prelude to the study of the two authors — University of Texas at Dallas professor Sheen S. Levine and Columbia University professor David Stark — who attempt to definitively prove how minorities enrich critical thinking and decision making for everyone around.
The academic study presented two sets of groups — one homogeneous and one diverse — with the task of solving problems as a collective. The study, which was trying to test the value of ethnic diversity in assessing market price bubbles, found that the diverse groups outperformed the homogeneous groups by 58 percent. The sole reason for this difference, according to the researchers, was the mere presence of minorities.
It wasn’t due to them having some sort of special skill or a higher capacity for critical thinking — their difference from the majority alone made everyone magically smarter!
This incredible finding had the Times contributors gushing and concluding that diversity is just plain awesome.
However, there are problems with applying this study to the realm of higher education, besides the fact that correlation doesn’t equate to causation. For one, the vast majority of college work is done independently and without the help of classmates. So the group project model is not fully applicable to the college experience.
The more major problem with the study comes with the implication that severely undermines of the positive nature of the study’s findings. The researchers say the reason why the homogeneous groups failed to solve issues correct was due to the participants’ willingness to believe their peers — rightly or wrongly. The participants in the diverse groups were less likely to believe each other’s assertions and more likely to engage in “cognitive friction.”
Now this may be good when trying to resolve price bubbles, but it’s probably not ideal for the kind of harmonious community universities strive for.
Inadvertently, the study gives some support to the renowned Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s startling research that diversity leads to a serious decline in social trust in a given community. According to Putnam, people distrust one another and are more likely to engage in conflict — both between and within the respective ethnic groups — when they live in areas with high levels of diversity.
And we’re seeing this kind of social disharmony on our college campuses right now. All throughout the country, campuses have become embroiled in protests that have disrupted university life and divided students along racial lines. The calling card behind all these demonstrations is the desire to expand and reinforce diversity at a given university.
The way to achieve this, according to student demands, is to increase the number of students of a specific racial group, ensure faculty and staff hires correspond almost exactly with a student body’s racial make-up and that special assistance is given towards students of a specific race to ensure they stay in good academic standing. (RELATED: Brace Yourself For Racial Activism In College Football)
In addition to these demands, there are also the requests that professors be more “culturally sensitive” in their teaching and for the implementation of new, more politically correct curriculum.
The argument for these demands is that they are necessary in order to rectify systematic oppression. Remember, these are called for with affirmative action in place.
What’s causing this unrest is the very thing these aggrieved students want more of: the diversity obsession. Deans, administrators and judges like Sandra Day O’Connor believe that schools inherently benefit when they base admission policies on attaining the highest level of diversity among its students rather than the highest level of quality.
Instead of enhancing the educational environment, it leads to insane student demands, costly multicultural initiatives and the curtailing of free speech. In other words, it reduces the educational quality of a campus.
If your professor is afraid to teach a sensitive subject out of fear that he might incite a protest or a well-respected intellectual is disinvited from speaking on campus because his words might offend someone, you’re not getting the most out of your college education.
The diversity obsession leads to a racial fixation that prizes students and teachers primarily on the color of their skin rather than their academic merit. No wonder why campus protesters feel like they can demand racial power at the expense of the student body as a whole.
It’s also no wonder that these activists want more academic assistance to keep some of their peers from falling behind. Affirmative action has led to this kind of academic mismatch that serves no benefit to the student or to the institution.
But if we accept the argument behind the NYT op-ed, there will be more minority students falling behind at elite schools for the sole purpose of making privileged white liberals feel smarter.
Isn’t that what diversity is all about?