Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rightist Convergence: Affirmative Action in College Admissions

There is an endless debate over whether differences between ethnic groups have genetic or cultural causes. It is a fascinating debate, and it will be interesting to see which position the genetic research of the next five years lends itself to.

That said, the genes-versus-culture debate is largely a distraction on many of the really pressing issues of today. One of these issues is affirmative action, and the resulting dispossession of white and Asian males. Whether differences in average qualifications are caused by different biology or different culture is beside the point, because while genes can't (currently) be changed, affirmative action is likely to change culture for the worse. Thomas Sowell details the pernicious effects that affirmative action has on both culture and race relations in every country where it is in effect. It should be clear to modern rightists that affirmative action has not worked and cannot work.

One defense of affirmative action in college admissions takes the form of comparisons between AA on the one hand, and legacy and geographic-diversity admittance on the other. If colleges can make decisions to favor out-of-staters over locals, and children of alumnae over "the rabble", then why shouldn't they be allowed to favor blacks and Hispanics over whites and Asians? My answer is: be consistent. Private colleges should be allowed to make whatever idiosyncratic admittance decisions their hearts desire, as long as they don't take taxpayer money.

Public colleges and grant-taking colleges should have no such freedom. Research grants improve the career prospects of those who take advantage of them, yet admittance procedures make very little attempt at assessing merit objectively. Tax money should not be channelled to students based on whimsical notions of diversity, nor should they be channelled based on loyalty to the marginally-qualified children of well-connected families.

What about leadership, extra-curricular activities, and the like? These are so subjective that it can't even be explained why they're important. Someone's penchant for joining clubs, or their "leadership potential", isn't going to shepherd them through difficult classes or prevent them from dropping out. "Leadership" is simply a bureaucratic, diversicratic code-word for membership in a privileged (non-Asian) minority group. Extra-curricular activities are a similar sham, since it's pretty clear that being "President of the Students of Color Club" is going to be treated differently than being "President of the White Students' Club". Taxpayer money should not be spent on such scams.

What criteria should a public college be allowed to use in admittance? The ACT and its Educational Testing Service equivalents, class ranking by grades, portfolios, and auditions. The latter two are of course not strictly objective; talents for art, music, and drama can't really be assessed objectively but they are certainly valid fields of study. Subjective criteria could theoretically be a back-door way of showing favoritism by race and legacy, but the effects should be minimized if subjective criteria are applied to a limited number of slots.

Such a move will of course be upsetting to those parts of the academic establishment that practice these admittance procedures and take taxpayer money. To mollify their alumnae, a lot schools will have to stick with legacy admits, which will necessitate that they stop taking public funds. If this means that public grants are reduced and/or shared across a broader range of establishments, so be it. Just as there is no reason to believe a university is better off with students from a greater number of states, there is no reason to believe research is better done in a university than in a lab, think tank, or research firm setting. Finally, it's not completely clear why research needs taxpayer funding anyway; if it is so worthwhile, a research project should have little trouble winning any number of private and independent backers.

No comments: