By Thomas Sowell
(written in 2003)
When any policy can only be defended by lies and duplicity, there is something fundamentally wrong with that policy.
End Affirmative Action Now
No issue has been more saturated with dishonesty than the issue of racial quotas and preferences, which is now being examined by the Supreme Court of the United States. Many defenders of affirmative action are not even honest enough to admit that they are talking about quotas and preferences, even though everyone knows that that is what affirmative action amounts to in practice.
Despite all the gushing about the mystical benefits of "diversity" in higher education, a recent study by respected academic scholars found that "college diversity programs fail to raise standards" and that "a majority of faculty members and administrators recognize this when speaking anonymously."
This study by Stanley Rothman, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Neil Nevitte found that "of those who think that preferences have some impact on academic standards those believing it negative exceed those believing it positive by 15 to 1."
Poll after poll over the years has shown that most faculty members and most students are opposed to double standards in college admissions. Yet professors who will come out publicly and say what they say privately in these polls are as rare as hen's teeth.
Such two-faced talk is pervasive in academia and elsewhere. A few years ago, in Berkeley, there was a big fight over whether a faculty vote on affirmative action would be by secret ballot or open vote. Both sides knew that the result of a secret ballot would be the direct opposite of the result in a public vote at a faculty meeting.
When any policy can only be defended by lies and duplicity, there is something fundamentally wrong with that policy. Virtually every argument in favor of affirmative action is demonstrably false. It is the grand fraud of our time.
The need for "role models" of the same race or sex is a key dogma behind affirmative action in hiring black or female professors. But a recent study titled "Increasing Faculty Diversity" found "no empirical evidence to support the belief that same-sex, same-ethnicity role models are any more effective than white male role models."
The related notion that a certain "critical mass" of black students is needed on a given campus, in order that these students can feel comfortable enough to do their best, has become dogma without a speck of evidence being offered or asked for. Such evidence as there is points in the opposite direction.
Without affirmative action, its advocates claim, few black students would be able to get into college. In reality, there are today more black students in the University of California system and in the University of Texas system than there were before these systems ended affirmative action.
These black students are simply distributed differently within both systems -- no longer being mismatched with institutions whose standards they don't meet. They now have a better chance of graduating.
What of the idea that affirmative action has helped blacks rise out of poverty and is needed to continue that rise? A far higher proportion of blacks in poverty rose out of poverty in the 20 years between 1940 and 1960 -- that is, before any major federal civil rights legislation -- than in the more than 40 years since then. This trend continued in the 1960s, at a slower pace. The decade of the 1970s -- the first affirmative action decade -- saw virtually no change in the poverty rate among blacks.
In other words, most blacks lifted themselves out of poverty but liberal politicians and black "leaders" have claimed credit. One side effect is that many whites wonder why blacks cannot lift themselves out of poverty like other groups, when that is in fact what most blacks have done.
Affirmative action is great for black millionaires but it has done little or nothing for most people in the ghetto. Most minority business owners who get preferences in government contracts have net worths of more than one million dollars.
One of the big barriers to any rational discussion of affirmative action is that many of those who are for or against it are for or against the theory or the rationales behind group preferences and quotas. As for facts, the defenders simply lie.
Thomas Sowell has published a large volume of writing. His dozen books, as well as numerous articles and essays, cover a wide range of topics, from classic economic theory to judicial activism, from civil rights to choosing the right college.