The University of Michigan is now the scene of the most important battle over affirmative action since the Bakke case at Stanford, settled so inconclusively some 25 years ago by the Supreme Court. There is absolutely no question that Ann Arbor’s undergraduate and admissions policies are based on a principle of racial preference that, in parallel cases (discrimination in favor of whites), has been repeatedly declared unconstitutional by federal courts. In addition to traditional selection criteria based on academic ability and achievement, Michigan also gives serious consideration to both ethnicity and low socioeconomic status (which is very often a codeword for race). This means, in the case of the law school, that black applicants are over 250 times more likely than white candidates to be selected.
Defenders of affirmative action in general and the University of Michigan in particular make the same three points: First, a diverse student body is desirable; second, without affirmative action, universities would become far more “white” than they are today; and third, virtually all successful minority members owe their careers to affirmative action. If the last two points were true, then diversity would hardly be so desirable as the University of Michigan’s officials are claiming. If blacks, nearly 140 years and five generations after the end of the Civil War, cannot make it on their own, they never will. It does no good to cite the historical record of slavery and discrimination. “Other people,” as Jesse Jackson once said so memorably in another context, “have suffered too.” The Irish, the Chinese, the Sicilians, and the Vietnamese boat people have their own stories to tell. The Irish and Sicilians are doing very well; the Chinese and Vietnamese (who have been in the United States less than one generation) are doing better than well. If blacks continue to believe that they, despite all the resources mobilized on their behalf, cannot succeed without affirmative action, it is because they think of themselves as losers. This is a grave insult to the many black professionals who have succeeded on their own, often in spite of affirmative-action policies that raise unfair suspicions about the competence of black doctors, lawyers, and scientists.
Ethnic diversity has never been a legitimate goal for a university, nor is it the real goal of the University of Michigan. Colleges and universities (like all schools) have two primary functions. The second, in order of importance, is to pursue higher learning and maintain the level of civilization through research, teaching, and study. Merit is the only relevant principle of selection in the competitive search for truth and excellence. That academic administrators now talk about “diversity” as an objective that supersedes excellence is all the evidence we need to know that they have betrayed one of the main purposes of the university. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever met a college president or dean.
The first and more important goal of higher education is to create the conditions not for cultural diversity but for a flourishing dominant culture. The medieval university was a purely Christian institution, while, at 18th-century Oxford, neither Catholics nor dissenters were allowed, and, although they have been regarded as educational clubs for rich men’s sons, English (and American Ivy League) universities have always been open to the poorer of the middle classes who displayed talent and aptitude.
The actual “poor” if, by poor, we mean bums, vagrants, moral anarchists, alcoholics, and trailer trash like our former president from Arkansas—were not welcome. Why should they have been? The university is a corporate community whose values and traditions are passed down from one generation to the next. Large numbers of outsiders—if they really are outsiders, namely, people who do not value truth, hard work, self-discipline, and cleanliness—will, in the short run, dilute and, in the long, obliterate the university as an institution. Today, alas, it is no longer the moral and intellectual quality of students that is the main problem but the low social, moral, and intellectual class of a large part of the professoriate of all universities.
My low opinion of university professors was formed in the hard school of my experience as student and teacher, and it was confirmed, some years ago, when I debated affirmative action at Ann Arbor. My teammate was a philosophy professor from Jamaica, and, when I brought up standards, he announced that he did not trust the testing process. After all, he had taken many IQ tests and had never scored above 68, and yet he held a chair at a major university. “QED,” I murmured under my breath. My teammate then abandoned my side when I made the following simple argument:
Normal people always favor the group to which their children belong, and it was only natural for the white middle class to privilege its own children. However, I—like most white middle-class Americans—have cheerfully subscribed to the notion of a colorblind society in which people will make their own way in life, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, and religion, solely on the basis of their own merits. If, however, you demand that one group be privileged over another, then I shall support the group to which my children belong. Do not ask me to discriminate against my own children, because no policy could be more immoral.
My philosopher teammate, looking at me as if I were crazy, declared that he could not follow my the argument. How could he, if his IQ really was 68?
The hippie faculty, now in their 40’s and 50’s, hooted and stamped their feet to drown me out. “Look at them,” I told the students. “Look at your intellectual mentors, these apostles of free thought. Now, you will know how to judge the propaganda they feed you in the classroom.”
And propaganda, not racial justice, is, after all, the point of every policy in higher education, not simply affirmative action and not only at the University of Michigan. These policies have little to do with race and everything to do with the project to replace the institutions of Western civilization with the unchallenged orthodoxy of so-called multicultural diversity that is the end of all culture and all diversity.