VITAL SIGNSrnEDUCATIONrnAffirmative Actionrnand the Academyrnby Philip JenkinsrnWhile most of us would deny thatrnthe United States has an officialrnideology, much of our daily life is profoundlyrnshaped by a body of principlesrnthat are manifested in policies known asrnaffirmative action, multiculturalism, andrn”diversity.” These decide matters as fundamentalrnto one’s life-chances as accessrnto jobs and education, to social mobilityrnand economic status, while the underlyingrnprinciples have been absolutely internalizedrnby millions who have given nornthought to the ideological system theyrnrepresent. This theoretical structurerndominates our thought and conduct atrnleast as pervasively as Marxism ever guidedrnthe population of the former SovietrnUnion or the present China. This is allrnthe more remarkable because the theoryrnin question has no immediately obviousrnname, no founding texts or writings, norngroundbreaking individuals whose iconsrnarc given places of honor by the partyrnfaithful. We cannot point to paleo- orrnneoversions of the theory, no orthodoxrnor heretical strands. Paradoxically,rnthough, the basic principles of the modelrnare regarded with such dogmatic venerationrnby its adherents that criticism orrndiscussion is unthinkable. Careers havernbeen destroyed by the devotees of thisrnstealth theory.rnThere are two reasons for this lack ofrndefinition. First, the theoretical frameworkrnthat gave us affirmative action originatedrnas an ad hoc set of responses tornwhat were perceived as egregious injustices,rnand these emotional reactions subsequentlyrnexercised a critical influencernon policymaking. The theory thus developedrnto buttress the policy, rather thanrnthe other way around. Second, the ideologyrnis not expounded at length becausernif it were, the basic principles would havernto be admitted and discussed, and itrnwould rapidly become apparent thatrnthese notion.s would carry no public supportrnwhatever, being thoroughly inimicalrnto conventional concepts of democracy,rnfairness, and common sense. We thereforernfind the curious situation that arnhugely influential theorv of social organizationrnand reform survives onlv b)’ virtuernof not being discussed, and indeed its advocatesrnpursue a consistent strategy ofrnavoiding an overt definition of principles.rnA strange theorv indeed, all thernmore so since so many countries aroundrnthe worid are on the verge of imitatingrnthe American experiment in this area.rnThis situation has a peculiar relevancernfor me personalh’, as I have spent most ofrnmy working life m the American higherrneducation system, a world dominated byrnthe system of structural racial and genderrnprivilege that is called affirmative action.rnIf this scheme is indeed to becomernworldwide, then I can truly say that Irnhave seen the future at firsthand, and itrnabsolutely does not work.rnAffirmative action originated in thernwidespread public outrage at black oppressionrnprior to the civil rights era, andrnthe notion that vigorous government actionrnwas requested to counteract centuriesrnof abuse. While this approachrncommanded wide public support, therernwas always a basic confusion about whatrnexactly government was meant to do. Arnlarge majority of the population favoredrnthe creation of legal mechanisms torncombat discrimination, especially inrnemplovment, and the only organizedrnopposition to this idea came from arnlargely discredited group of segregationistrnpoliticians who warned that civilrnrights would ultimately mean a newrnform of racial bias against whites, and therninstitution of racial quotas. These warningsrnreceived little attention, and politicalrnleaders declared (probably sincerely)rnthat neither outcome was intended orrnprobable.rnIn the decade after 1965, however, arnnumber of developments radically transformedrnthe nature of “nondiscrimination.”rnThe courts played a pivotal role,rnwith a series of decisions that enlargedrnthe scope of discrimination and movedrnin the direction of equal outcome ratherrnthan equal opportunity. This meant, forrnexample, that employers were prohibitedrnfrom using a wide range of hiring criteriarnwhich had the de facto effect of eliminatingrnmore black than white applicants.rnThe courts also supported federalrnschemes to ensure that emplovcrs mo’edrntoward a certain proportion of minorit}’rnemplovees, students or contractors, effectivelyrnthe quota sstcm that hadrnspecifically been ruled out in the 1965rndebates. This meant adopting differentialrnracial criteria, such as the longclandestinernpractice of “race-norming”rntest scores. (For instance, X receives 89rnpoints on a test, Y receives 79. X scores atrnthe 80th centile for whites, while Y scoresrnat the 82nd centile for blacks. Thisrnmeans that Y’s score is higher than X’s,rnand is permancntlv and officiallv recordedrnas such, without any inkling of thernsleight of hand which made a score of 79rnsuperior to one of 89. In summary, Vrngets the job or the university scholarship.)rnStill more explosive, the courtsrntended to place the burden of proof onrndefendants in discrimination lawsuits,rnmaking it exceedingly difficult to showthatrna limited minority presence did notrnamount to systematic discrimination. Byrnthe late 1970’s, most employers had gotrnthe message that pro-minorit’ discriminationrnwas not only acceptable but essential,rnespeciallv for those who had anyrnhope of dealing with federal or state government.rnThe 1978 Bakke decision consecratedrnthe new regime.rnMoreover, “minority” had now subtK’rnexpanded to include categories far beyondrnthe intended beneficiaries of thernoriginal civil rights legislation, meaningrnAmericans of African descent. Thernsame principles now applied to all racialrnminorities, and most critically, to women,rnall of whom now required the samernform of group compensation for pastrnmaltreatment. The oddities of the theoryrnare, or should be, obvious. Fundamentalrnto the notion of compensation isrnthat there are identifiable groups whornhave historically gained or lost by discrimination.rnThe black-white questionrnalone involves the acceptance of the categoryrn”white,” which vvhile including therndescendants of slave-masters and traders,rnalso covers the heirs of Slavic miners,rnIrish laborers, or Jewish sweatshop workers,rnincluding those who had not set footrn38/CHRONICLESrnrnrn