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(See also: MulticulturalismDiversityPremise of Universal White RacismLiberal Racism; and Social Justice)

For many years, advocates of affirmative action have dismissed any suggestion that preferential policies in employment and academia sacrifice excellence to achieve "diversity." Former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman Clifford Alexander, for one, said that affirmative action "has nothing to do with finding unqualified black men or women. It is about finding qualified black people who ... have been overlooked." Historian John Hope Franklin heartily agreed that the policy "makes no compromise with respect to ability."

A large body of empirical data gathered from the world of higher education disputes these claims. In recent decades, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores of white applicants to America's colleges and universities have been, on average, about 200 points higher than those of their black counterparts. Nonetheless, black students have been admitted to virtually all academically competitive schools at much higher rates than whites. At Amherst College in 1995, for instance, 51 percent of black applicants were admitted as opposed to 19 percent of white applicants. At Rice University that same year, the corresponding numbers were 52 percent and 25 percent for blacks and whites, respectively. At Bowdoin College, the figures were 70 percent and 30 percent. In their 1998 book The Shape of the River, Ivy League professors William Bowen and Derek Bok reported that at five of the most elite universities in the U.S., black applicants whose SAT scores fell within the 1200 to 1249 range had a 60 percent chance of admission, whereas whites with similar scores had just a 19 percent chance.

At medical schools, the situation is much the same. The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) scores of blacks who are accepted are actually lower than those of whites who are rejected. At the University of Maryland Medical School in 2000, blacks with college Grade-Point-Averages (GPA) of B or B+ and MCAT scores in the bottom half of all test-takers had a 70 percent chance of admission; for whites and Asians with similar credentials, the chance was 2 percent.

At America's top law schools, blacks are admitted at fully 17 times the rate that a colorblind process would allow. At UCLA Law School in 1994, for instance, a black applicant with a college GPA between 2.5 and 3.5, and an LSAT score between 60 and 90, had a 61 percent chance of admission. The corresponding rates for similarly qualified Asians and whites were 7 percent and 1 percent, respectively. At the University of Texas Law School in 1992, 100 percent of all percent of blacks who scored between 189 and 192 in the school’s academic rating system were admitted, as were 89 percent of Mexican American applicants; for whites, the figure was 6 percent.

Advocates of affirmative action claim that the scholastic aptitude and achievement tests that were designed to help college administrators determine which students deserve to be admitted, are culturally and racially biased in favor of whites and are therefore invalid.

But this contention is exploded by the fact that Asian students typically outperform both blacks and whites on these allegedly "biased" exams. To conceal this inconvenient reality, proponents of affirmative action typically do not classify Asians as a distinct minority group. Instead, they conflate the achievement-test scores of Asians with those of whites -- and then lament that "white" students (including Asians) are "overrepresented" on college campuses. If Asians were to be counted as minorities, of course, that claim would collapse under the weight of its own logical incoherence.

Soon after the 1996 passage of Proposition 209 in California, which banned race- and gender-preferences from the state's public agencies and universities, an MSNBC news headline announced a "Plunge in Minority University Enrollment" at the University of California, with UC Berkeley reporting that "minority admissions had declined 61 percent." Former California Chief Justice Rose Bird complained that the UC system would soon be "nothing more than a group of elitist, `lily white´ institutions." Actually, the total percentage of racial minority students at Berkeley, Asians included, had fallen much less dramatically, from 57 percent to 49 percent. If one factored in the burgeoning group of students who declined to state their race, the minority percentage had fallen only 3 points, from 61 percent to 58 percent. The drop was exclusively among blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians. Asians, who made up less than 10 percent of the California population, were not counted as a "minority." Instead they were lumped together with whites.

UCLA Law School professor Eugene Volokh observed at the time:

"Calling Asians white also creates new lines, possibly very dangerous ones. 'White' has stopped meaning Caucasian, imprecise as this term has always been, and has started to mean 'those racial groups that have made it.'  'Minority' has started to mean 'those racial groups that have not yet made it.' ... Falsely calling a school 'lily-white' gets a strong reaction from readers.  Accurately saying 'There are relatively few blacks and Hispanics at the school, but there are many Asians, perhaps more than there are whites,' leads to a much more complex (as well as more well-informed) response."

Adapted, in part, from "How the Asians Became White," by Eugene Volokh (April 9, 1998).


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For resources analyzing the research on Affirmative Action, click here.

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