As the Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in two affirmative action cases involving the University of Michigan, the ghost of "diversity" was omnipresent. But like most ghosts, this one was hard to pin down, confront, or even describe clearly. Diversity has become a mantra for the defenders of racial quotas and preferences. (And make no mistake, this is what these programs are: at Michigan, an applicant is awarded 20 points out of a possible 150 on his "selection index" just for having the right skin color). But what does this "diversity" mean?
In colleges and universities, in particular, one might think that diversity of the mind would be most important. It is, after all, the clash of opinions, the give and take of debate, that leads to real education. But curiously, the very same liberals who defend diversity are often those who are the first to quash dissenting (i.e. conservative) opinions on campus. For them, diversity is simply a matter of race. But even this debased and insulting understanding of diversity poses some problems for its defenders.
Justice Clarence Thomas exposed this clearly when he pointed out that the logic of Michigan's affirmative action programs would seem to prohibit historically black colleges. If all the students are the same race, then the school must be "un-diverse," and therefore bad, right? In response, the Washington Post reports, one of the university's lawyers said "such institutions 'do have diverse student bodies.'" But clearly that can't be true under the definition of diversity used by Michigan.
As the Claremont Institute argued in its brief in the Grutter case, many historically black universities, such as Morehouse College, have a luminous roster of accomplished alumni. Those alumni, we argued, "should be offendedwe all should be offendedby Michigan's patronizing statement that 'preparing students for work and citizenship in our diverse society is difficult, if not impossible, in racially homogenous classrooms and racially segregated communities."
As the life of Justice Thomas shows, learning and teaching are not matters of race or skin color. They are matters of individual effort, achievement, and virtue. Is it not long past time that America banished the ghost of racial classifications from our law and our land?
The Court's decision in these cases is expected in July.
You can read more about the Claremont Institute's writings on affirmative action and civil rights here.