President Bush decided yesterday
to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the pair of cases known as Grutter v. Bollinger
. Those cases emerge from challenges to the University of Michigan's system of race-based preferences in admission for undergraduates and law students. Legally, these cases raise two questions: 1) whether diversity can be a compelling government interest for the use of race-basd preferences, and 2) whether such preferences (as used by the University of Michigan) are properly tailored to reach that compelling interest. If there's no compelling interest, the Cour must strike down the preference; if the policies aren't written narrowly enough, the Court must strike them down.
Racial diversity has been put forward by many liberals and conservatives as an unassailable goal. University administrators and faculty like to argue that racial diversity leads magically to intellectual diversity, and that it creates a vibrant marketplace of ideas in the university. Learning and personal growth expand exponentially in such a diverse environment, this argument goes, because the multiplicity of viewpoints adds more perspectives to any particular debate, thus enriching the debate and the learning experience.
However, my experience at UCLA (as an undergraduate and law student) has not borne that out. If anything, this university cares much more about racial diversity than intellectual diversity - far more. When it comes to presenting balanced perspectives on any particular issue, from foreign policy to local land-use regulation, I have found UCLA to be quite lacking. Of course, this carries great benefits for me as a conservative, since it allows me to test my opinions and arguments in hostile territory. But it does many - including liberals - a disservice by creating a relatively homogenous environment when it comes to intellectual diversity.
If diversity is really what administrators at U.Michigan, UCLA and elsewhere care about, then they ought to consider exactly what it is about diversity that they want to bring into the classroom. If it's intellectual diversity, then race makes a poor proxy. Saying a black man has one perspective because of his race is specious -- it also cuts both ways. You can use that argument for positive and negative inferences about his character and perspective. The principle remains the same -- the use of race as proxy employs dangerous stereotypes and boils us all down to the quotient of our skin color.
If intellectual diversity is something truly prized at Michigan, then the facts of Grutter v. Bollinger make a very compelling argument for Barbara Grutter's admission:"As Barbara Grutter sees it, she embodies the kind of diversity that most law schools want.
"The 49-year-old mother of two had worked in the health-care information technology field and operated her own consulting business for 16 years. She had lived around the country as well as in Canada. On top of that, she boasted a 3.8 undergraduate grade-point average and law school admission test scores in the 86th percentile.
"In Grutter's opinion, there was only one flaw on her application to the University of Michigan Law School: She is white."
-- Chicago Tribune
But that's the point. Michigan, like many other schools, does not really care about intellectual diversity. They only parrot that argument before the Court because they know the court won't buy their purely racial argument. Without a clear nexus to the classroom and pedagogical purposes, affirmative action falls flat. Thus the need to link racial diversity to intellectual diversity -- at tenuous connection at best. University admissions officials ought to develop admissions systems that actually look for intellectual diversity if that's what they're truly after. In the absence of such initiatives, I find it highly questionable that university administrators actually care about intellectual diversity. It seems that university leaders only care what their student body looks like -- but that this diversity goes skin deep.