A New Affirmative Action


A New Affirmative Action

by George Liebmann

About a year ago, a major newspaper, mingling its editorial and news pages as is now usual, published charts showing flat Black enrollment at a number of major universities in an effort to influence the then-pending Supreme Court affirmative action litigation. There was no qualitative assessment including such matters as dropouts, remedial programs, or school discipline. The approach was reminiscent of that once voiced by former HEW Secretary Joseph Califano: that since Harvard Ph.D.s do well, American Blacks would be aided if more of them were to receive Harvard Ph.D.s.

This approach is now seen to have failed. The number of Blacks is now equaled or eclipsed in many places by the numbers of Hispanics and Orientals. Intermarriage, which Tocqueville regarded as the index of equality in society, has increased, requiring something in the nature of a Nuremburg law to accurately bestow racial [preferences, which in any case flowed disproportionately to the professional classes and West Indian and other immigrants. A visibly failed and arbitrary program continued to be fueled by virtue-signaling among lawyers and journalists.

Colleges were burdened with large remedial programs, Larger lawyers’ offices and admissions and discipline offices consumed funds that once would have been devoted to core subjects. Administrators grew to out-number professors. The introduction of an indigestible lump of under-prepared and hence unhappy students; as at Columbia and Yale in 1968, even produced riots, and academic freedom has been endangered.

Unfashionable disadvantaged groups have not benefitted. Appalachian high schools, Catholic schools in the Rust Belt, and Christian schools in the South have not been over-run by Ivy League admissions officers.

Interest-group liberalism does not provide an impulse to academic excellence. As observed by Judge Learned Hand “the herd isregaining its ancient and evil primacy; civilization is being reversed, for it has consisted of exactly the opposite process of individualization.” Hand made himself unpopular in 1958 by declaring that the only tenable basis for the desegregation decisions was a ban on racial classifications. After 65 years of travail and tribulations, the Supreme Court has taken his point.

Administrators of the vanishing affirmative action dispensation have overlooked the admonitions of George Kennan that schools exist to serve intellectual and not social purposes, those of Edward Levi that universities cannot become microcosms of society and those of Bertrand Russell that society as a whole benefits from academic elitism.

Recent and proposed policies promote a focus on everything but the knowledge possessed by high school graduates, an approach not duplicated in Great Britain and France, with their A-levels and baccalaureate examinations. This has absolved colleges from taking any interest in the curricula of high schools or the education and qualifications of teachers in them. As a result, scientific jobs are either bestowed on recent, frequently short-term, immigrants or are outsourced to foreign countries.

What would an action program renouncing ethnic categories and embracing individualistic liberalism look like?

1. Like the National Merit Scholarship program and the one-time New York State Regents’ Scholarships, it would reward demonstrated achievement in high school.

2. It would provide paths to residential higher education for those performing well in post-high-school distance learning programs, like the MOOG programs offered by MIT and other American universities, the courses offered by the University of Maryland-University College once limited to Americans abroad, and the similar programs of the Open University in Great Britain and UNISA in South Africa

3. It should reserve substantial parts of upper classes for students doing well at community colleges and the military.

4. It should provide facilities, including child care facilities, for mature female undergraduates, as at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge in recognition of the fact that such students are apt to be highhly motivated.

5.It should offer early career or mid-career enrollment to persons without a college background who have proven themselves in business, government, or the military, on the pattern of the Nieman Fellowships for journalists at Harvard and the Pew and Press Fellowships in England.

These opportunities, if well publicized, should produce minority enrollments similar to those elicited by the present corrupt system, with lower dropout rates, no costs for remediation, and fewer discipline problems

They reward the deserving rather than the undeserving, the mature rather than the immature, and aspire not to a perfectly equal society, but to an open one.

The emotional fuel for ‘affirmative action’ was the plight of a black underclass in our large cities, who benefitted not at all from it. What they need are work programs like the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps, uncontroversial when it was ended by wartime labor demands, which was directed at its inception by General George Marshall, who made his reputation there. Also needed is a larger and more incentivized Army so as to avoid the repeated re-deployments into war zones that have produced a massive suicide rate among recent veterans.

The last two measures are not within the means of higher education institutions, however committed. They should stick to their proper business.

The writer, President of the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar, is the author of various books on law and history, most recently The Tafts (Twelve Tables Press, 2013)

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