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Dumbing Down For Diversity

Opinion Editorial
July 17, 1996

By Linda Gorman

Attorney General Gale Norton has told Colorado higher education officials that they cannot grant admission based on race. The quota crew is in a tizzy. No one quoted in Fawn Germer’s July 11 story in the Rocky Mountain News agreed with Norton’s position. Not, of course, that Colorado schools really sort applicants by race. No, they just use race as one of many factors in admission. Says Tillie Trujillo, associate director of admissions at CSU, “Are there decisions based solely on a person being diverse…absolutely not.”

In higher educationese “diverse” people are those authorized to check boxes other than “white” and “male” on their census forms. Many people in higher education act as if people of the same skin color, gender, and victimization status all think alike. Having a variety of outlooks on campus thus reduces to attaining the proper mix of officially sanctioned affirmative-action categories. One commits heresy by suggesting that individuals may have opinions that don’t fit neatly into affirmative-action categories.

Witness Representative Nolbert Chavez who was quoted as saying that Norton “is continuing the hateful tone in which she has served as attorney general” and that “she is doing all she can to require institutions of higher education to be exclusive, as opposed to inclusive.”

What a silly statement. Any institution admitting fewer people than want to attend is by definition exclusive. The question at hand is how Colorado’s state universities and colleges will exclude people, not whether they will. Universities have historically believed in the dissemination of knowledge and the dispassionate search for truth. To carry out their mission they used to insist on admitting only the best prepared applicants. Superb students who couldn’t afford tuition won merit scholarships. As a result, all students were prepared to learn at a college level. Dropout rates were relatively low, and as a group college graduates enjoyed above average lifetime earnings.

In the 1960s the intellectual elite noticed that incomes were not equal across U.S. racial groups and that the groups with lower incomes were under-represented on college campuses. Under the guise of reform it began indulging its predilection for social engineering. Higher education was its laboratory. Officials established admission quotas, based faculty hiring on group identity, and remade the curriculum to reflect their preoccupation with race, ethnicity, and gender.

The experience at the University of California at Berkeley illustrates how such reforms hurt students around the country. John H. Bunzel, writing in The Public Interest, notes that in 1983 the University of California system decreed that the racial composition of University students should be “comparable to the ethnic, gender and income distribution of California’s high school graduates.” By 1987, only 40% of the freshman class was admitted solely on academic grounds. The remaining 60% was made up of students in protected categories.

The difference in academic preparation was huge. In 1986 the mean SAT score for “affirmative-action” black freshmen was 952. Normally admitted whites and Asians scored 1232 and 1254, respectively. Admitting ill-prepared students into an academically demanding program is like putting a high school football star into the NFL–his chances of success are nil. In 1985-86, 90% of regularly admitted freshmen had a GPA of 2.0 or better. For affirmative-action admissions the percentage was 62%. The university predicted that only 27% of all blacks would graduate. Good students who might have done well at less rigorous schools were thus sacrificed in the name of compassion and affirmative-action.

The social engineers responded to the embarrassing affirmative-action graduation rates by degrading everyone’s course of study. General requirements were dropped. In 1964, 90% of the leading undergraduate institutions required courses in the natural sciences. Only 34% did so in 1993. In 1964, 36% required mathematics. Only 12% did so in 1993. Junk majors were created. They proliferated until even the most ill-prepared student could graduate.

Recent work on wages shows how badly students have been robbed. Employers pay for concrete knowledge. Economists Jeff Grogger and Eric Eide, found that a great deal of the increase in the value of a college degree in the 1980s resulted from the increase in engineering and science majors between 1976 and 1984. Engineering majors initially earned about 15% more than high school graduates. Education and letters majors earned 13% less. Would students in junk majors have been far better off had they had been required to master basic academic skills before entering college? The data say yes.

Wasting four years of a young person’s life by bending admission standards so that one can admire one’s devotion to inclusiveness is a selfish indulgence rampant in higher education. If Representative Chavez really cared about students he would agree with Attorney General Norton. Race has no place in college admissions.
Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute.
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