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Recently, distinguished University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax opined that a group of students who were subject to lower admission standards than their peers did not, in her experience, perform as well in her classes. Outrage ensued. Many commenters have insisted that she was wrong in her impression, and they might be correct. No explanation has been advanced, however, exactly as to why superior performance ought to be expected from less-qualified students.
Meanwhile, representatives of another racial minority group have sued Harvard University, alleging decades of discrimination against highly-qualified applicants. So far, deafening silence has greeted them. There seems to be very little, actually, that anyone can say.
These cases of unintended consequences in academia illustrate the commonsense conclusion to which many Americans have already come: It’s time to end policies of race and gender favoritism.
Whether or not “affirmative action” policies ever served to address injustices or to redress legitimate grievances, they have, by now, become divisive, unfair, and counterproductive.
An affirmative-action hiring or admission—by which I mean, the selection of an objectively less-qualified candidate, for identity politics reasons—produces three likely victims, from the outset.
The first is the qualified applicant who would have received the position had some aspect of identity not shifted the decision. This person, however, may be the least harmed. After all, the merits that should have helped him achieve his goal, are generally transferable to the pursuit of some other goal. (Perhaps, in the case of college admissions, he’ll be a top student at his “safety college,” instead of a middling student at his first choice.) Also, since he will generally be unaware of the wrong which was done to him, he’ll carry no burden of bitterness.
The second victim, frequently, is the supposed beneficiary. Admission to an academic program, or placement into a job, for which you are not qualified, can be a soul-destroying experience. Through no fault of your own in such a circumstance, you’ve been set up to disappoint yourself and those who are cheering you on—and worse, in case of failure, you’ve been preemptively provided with a tempting excuse: the supposed bigotry, which your selection was supposed to help redress in the first place. It’s a formula which can easily alienate and embitter the very person it was supposed to benefit most.
The third victim is the affirmative action recipient’s qualified peer. To be a member of a group that routinely receives favoritism is to be suspected of being less-that-qualified yourself. The suspicion that “you didn’t build that!” can dog the steps of even the most-qualified, and is a ready-made slander for any unscrupulous rival.
Even though the taboo against racism is one of the most powerful in our society, the implication that someone may have been fast-forwarded beyond his qualifications because of favoritism can sow doubt about an individual all too easily. Thus a holder of the “favored” identity can be burdened with distrust to dispel, perhaps repeatedly over the course of a career—all thanks to well-meaning policies.
The worry seems to be that if identity factors were discarded in favor of purely-merit based selections, we might end up with classrooms, corporations or government agencies that don’t “look like America.” If we think so, then we’re perceiving “America” in a distorted way.
An American Olympic basketball team looks like America.
A Navy SEAL team looks like America.
A highly-talented, brilliantly conducted gospel choir looks like America.
And a prestige university classroom full of avid, gifted scholars with uniformly high SAT scores looks like America.
Some of these groups might occasionally turn out monochromatic or nearly so, by happenstance—if inclusion is based upon objective criteria. There’s no reason that should particularly alarm us, in the absence of active malice excluding qualified applicants. Excellence looks like America—and unfairness, in pursuit of an appearance of fairness, does not.
Proverbs 20: 10 Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.
Proverbs 16:11 A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.
Divers measures Heaven hates,
Adjustments by unjust weights,
Scales unbalanced by sly thumbs—
That is not how justice comes.
Divers weights—it is a pity,
How we achieve divers-ity.
A man’s gift makes room for him—
‘Til it contradicts the whim
Of the overlords unseen,
Counters of the “human beans.”
Black, white, handicapped, or gay—
What irrelevance they weigh.
As our self-appointed judges
Prosecute their ancient grudges,
Divers measures turn the worm—
What do such actions affirm?
With transactions thus completed
Both sides (rightly) soon feel cheated.
A man’s gift will, soon or late,
Grant him audience with the great—
But ’til then it’s a good bet he’s
Overlooked by all the petties.
The great have learned, in their ascents,
To stick to honest measurements.
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