Two Steps Forward, One Back

Two good items of note this week so far, and one bad. 

National Review Online (for which I am a contributing editor) has an excellent article on smashing the bamboo curtain — that is, ending anti-Asian American discrimination in university admissions — here.  It includes an amusing discussion of how “Vijay Chokal-Ingam, an Indian American who happens to be the brother of Fox comedy star Mindy Kaling, revealed that he won acceptance to medical school by claiming to be black. Frustrated at being rejected by medical schools in part because of mediocre test scores and a 3.1 grade point average, Chokal-Ingam shaved off his slick black hair in 2001, began using his middle name, ‘Jojo,’ and checked the ‘black’ box on his applications.”

And Professor Nicholas Rosenkranz has a fine post on an intriguing package deal for Congress, namely coupling immigration reform with, again, ending racial preferences (and not just in university admissions either).  Professor Rosenkranz links to a Center for Equal Opportunity study on racial preferences at the University of Wisconsin law school, here.   CEO supporters may recall that our Wisconsin study was not well-received in Madison, and a mob there overran our press conference.  

On the other hand, there is a bad article on faculty “diversity” efforts in Inside Higher Ed.  And here’s my posted response:

This is really an appalling article. There is no discussion of the fact that it is almost always illegal to hire and promote with an eye on race, ethnicity, and sex. And there is very little discussion of why the principle of nondiscrimination should be subordinated here in order to achieve a predetermined racial and ethnic and gender mix. The fact that such an article could be written, edited, and published without these fundamental issues being addressed shows how entrenched but mindless the "celebration of diversity" has become. See this link (and the articles cited in it) for more on why this is wrong and illegal.  I hope that those on university hiring committees will, as the link discusses, "push back."

*              *              *

To be fair, it’s not just university faculties that seem to have forgotten that it is illegal to give preferential treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex — plenty of private companies are guilty of this, too.  Workforce Magazine’s current issue has published my reminder to them:
Executives who have read “Ceiling Is Believing” (Workforce Magazine, February 2015, p. 32) should not forget that it is illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to discriminate or give preferential treatment on the basis of sex in hiring and promoting. 

This ban applies to politically correct as well as politically incorrect discrimination.  There are only limited exceptions, and none of them applies in the circumstances discussed in the article.  Executives should simply recruit, hire, and promote the best qualified individuals, regardless of sex, and not worry about achieving a predetermined gender mix.  

Anything else is not only illegal, but unfair and divisive, and ultimately damages the company by favoring less-qualified people.

*              *              *

It occurs to me that there is a common denominator in the recent controversies in Indiana/Arkansas (over gay rights and religious freedom) and Ferguson (over race and policing): The Left is so insistent on a radical egalitarianism that it will obliterate all standards that might lead to unequal outcomes for its favored groups, no matter how rooted in reason or faith.

This is disturbing if you like social standards or religious faith, especially since the Left will demagogically play the race card and the homophobe card against anyone who disagrees with it. Social standards inevitably will have a “disparate impact” on some basis or other; religion-based beliefs in right and wrong, likewise, inevitably are unaccepting of certain behaviors.

The conflict is further sharpened because the decline, among many demographics, of traditional marriage before children is the root cause of many or most social problems (and a matter of central concern to people of faith).

*          *          *

I should note that I’ve made a similar point about the Left’s war on standards before, in this article (that began and ended with a tie-in to Bill Cosby’s controversial remarks a few years ago along these lines): 

There are really two principles at stake in the current debate over racial and ethnic preferences or, more broadly, civil rights, or, more broadly still, racial and ethnic relations. The first is whether we ought to encourage discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity; the second is whether we ought to allow discrimination on the basis of merit.

Once upon a time, the Left opposed racial discrimination. It argued that it was unfair to let racial considerations trump qualifications based on merit. The principle of nondiscrimination carried the day in the 1960s, and it was enshrined into law in various statutes. But these statutes have not resulted in proportional representation for some groups, particularly African Americans, at the upper reaches of our elites. And so now, ironically, it is the Left that pushes racial preferences and denigrates merit.

There are both charitable and uncharitable ways to explain this. The charitable explanation is that the Left cares so deeply about integration that it is willing to sacrifice or bend considerations of merit. If you insist on integration, and merit stands in the way, then you must sacrifice merit. The less charitable explanation is that the Left has never been comfortable — or, perhaps, with the ascendancy of deconstructionists and other certain kinds of Leftists, it has become less comfortable — with the whole notion of merit.

As African Americans disproportionately failed to succeed, in any event, excuses were made. Once upon a time, segregation and institutionalized discrimination were serious, formidable, ubiquitous obstacles. Removing them improved blacks’ status and opportunities, but other obstacles remained, or grew, like illegitimacy, crime, substance abuse, and failing to make the most of the greater opportunities given. To attack these problems, however, was not in the Left’s repertoire; it was “blaming the victim.” It was easier to continue to blame discrimination, present and past — even if present discrimination is dramatically and undeniably less, and even if the legacy of past discrimination must be exaggerated. And the Left also started to attack merit itself.

I am using “merit” broadly to mean “standards” of all kinds. I am not saying that reasonable people cannot differ about whether high-school grades are more or less important than SAT scores in predicting academic performance in college, to give an obvious example. The Left likes to paint the opponents of preferences as wishing to make university admissions mechanically. This is not so. Choose whatever standards you like, but do so honestly and apply them equally to all. But one suspects that a significant part of the Left really doesn’t want standards, period.

They don’t like the SAT, of course, and they really don’t like the whole notion that some individuals are thought to be smarter or to work harder than others. They love making it illegal for employers and educators to use selection criteria that have a “disparate impact” on minority groups — having a high-school diploma, for instance — no matter that the criteria are neutral on their face, as applied, and as intended, and were adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons. They don’t like laws that say convicted criminals can’t vote, even those still in prison.

They love multiculturalism. The relativists favor multiculturalism because they don’t believe that one culture can be superior to another. They oppose assimilation for the same reason. Assimilation can be favored only if we believe that one culture is preferable to others and ought to be dominant.

So long as applicants meet “a minimum test score,” liberal civil-rights professor Lani Guinier is happy to have university admissions made by “what is in effect a lottery for admission among the applicants who meet the minimum standard.” Of course. This makes it statistically certain that no group will be “underrepresented” or “overrepresented,” whether that group is racial, ethnic, sexual, whatever (so long as they all apply in the right proportions). The only problem is that the less qualified are as likely to get in as the more qualified. But if you reject the whole concept of qualifications, then what does that matter?

Well, there are in fact many problems with this kind of egalitarianism. By not rewarding talent and industry, we fail to encourage them. There are, likewise, benefits to a stratified higher education system. It better ensures that each student can have the most demanded of him or her, can be given an environment most tailor-made to his or her potential. Society — as well as the individuals involved — ultimately reaps the rewards when hard work and industry are rewarded. And society will suffer if we refuse to acknowledge differences between, say, criminals and noncriminals.

*          *          *

One last item:  The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest last week supporting a transgender prisoner, who alleges that the Georgia Department of Corrections failed to provide adequate care for her gender dysphoria (which is, according to Wikipedia, “the formal diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe people who experience significant dysphoria (discontent) with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth”).  You can read DOJ’s press release here and the statement of interest here.