Diversity By Design
Hurtful to Minorities, and the Supreme Court Isn't Easing the
by Donald E. Scoggins
A New Visions Commentary
paper published June 2003 by The National Center for Public Policy
Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110,
Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail Project21@nationalcenter.org,
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
Affirmative action programs were created
to help underprivileged minorities overcome adversity so they
could take full advantage of the opportunities America has to
offer. In reality, it can stifle that same opportunity, increase
racial tension and create just the sort of abuse it was meant
A new set of rulings by the U.S. Supreme
Court wont make things any easier. The justices upheld one racial
preference program at the University of Michigan while striking
another one down. The net result? We'll see this issue back before
the Court again and again until a substantive decision is rendered.
Affirmative action programs can easily
become "quotas" requiring strict numerical representation.
In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled the University of California
at Davis unconstitutionally used quotas in admissions. While
striking down explicit quotas, Justice Lewis Powell created a
new standard for preferences when he wrote, "the goal of
achieving a diverse student body is sufficiently compelling to
justify consideration of race."
At the University of Michigan, plaintiffs
charged, Justice Powell's diversity provision was used to create
an unfair advantage for certain minorities. Applicants to the
undergraduate program were given 20 points out of a possible
150 simply for being black, Hispanic or Native American. Other
applicants were judged solely on test scores, grades and an essay,
among other non-racial qualifications.
White applicant Jennifer Gratz claimed
the system rejected her for a less-qualified applicant due to
her race. University president Lee C. Bollinger defended the
system, saying, "the Powell opinion recognized that it's
important to think in terms of racial diversity and ethnic diversity."
While this provision was ruled unconstitutional,
a second program used by the law school to ensure a "critical
mass" of certain minorities was upheld. The decision said
racial preferences should be used sparingly, but nonetheless
allowed race to continue to be a factor for admission to an academic
Ironically, the week before the oral
arguments in the University of Michigan case, one of my sons
was accepted to the school's engineering program. He's quite
smart. I'm hoping he wasn't accepted solely because of affirmative
I'm black, but my wife is Asian Indian.
My sons selected "African-American" on their college
applications. My wife was offended, and suggested they select
"Asian-American" or "other." The boys said
they might not get in because everyone knows Asians are smart
and my sons didn't think their academic records were that good.
They reasoned that selecting African-American and having reasonably
good grades and test scores would allow them to rise to the top
of the pile of black applicants.
My sons took advantage of affirmative
action to get into a good school. Unfortunately, they took advantage
of a system that presupposes certain students don't have the
best academic credentials because of their racial heritage.
Genuine black achievement is stigmatized
by the perception that what blacks achieve was helped by special
exceptions. Maybe a black freshman was accepted because he got
a perfect SAT score and had a 5.0 grade point average with advanced
placement courses. Unless you know that student and recognize
his abilities, you might guess he is instead cruising by on his
I believe in diversity, but not at the
expense of others or when it breeds contempt. After almost 40
years of racial preferences, I believe it needs to be retooled.
(Donald E. Scoggins is member
of the African-American leadership network Project 21. He is
a real estate specialist in Northern Virginia. Comments may be
sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.