This week's Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on diversity in higher education that begins, "Despite decades of antidiscrimination policies and affirmations of equality, there's still little racial and ethnic diversity at the top at many of the colleges."
And last year, as legal challenges to affirmative action were building, the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education issued a firm statement entitled "On the Importance of Diversity in Higher Education" that justifies affirmative action on the grounds that it "enriches the educational experience" and "challenges stereotyped preconceptions" before concluding, "the diversity we seek and the future of the nation do require that colleges and universities continue to be able to reach out and make a conscious effort to build healthy and diverse learning environments that are appropriate for their missions."
A few months earlier, President Barry Mills of Bowdoin College issued a statement on liberal education that included the following paragraph:
As for affirmative action, my own view is that this is a necessary practice that has opened the doors of educational opportunity to many who never dreamed of being able to attend college--folks representing part of "the 99%" in America who are looking to better their lives and the lives of their families. I will be writing more over the coming months on the importance of considering race and economic means in the admissions process.
Now, there are factual objections to each of these statements. The Chronicle story, for instance, opens with the assertion that "The Ivy League's senior leadership is overwhelmingly white and heavily male," but only a few sentences later notes that in executive, administrative, and managerial positions, women hold "a majority of such jobs at five of the eight Ivies" (five of the eight Ivies have female presidents, too). Likewise, the ACE rationales for affirmative action are debatable, as recent and oft-discussed research by Richard Sander and others have demonstrated. And Mills's assertion--because of affirmative action "many who never dreamed of being able to attend college" can now do so--is patently ridiculous, for most colleges in the United States are not selective in admissions.
But it's time to drop these factual and logical objections and opt for a simpler, more direct response to certain campus leaders who insist on the necessity of affirmative action in admissions and hiring. History has shown that reasoned arguments against affirmative action make no difference to people who support it. They are committed to it for reasons that often go beyond empirical and logical grounds, including liberal guilt and white guilt, and guilt that searches for expiation through policy is never going to be satisfied.
The overheated condition of race matters in the U.S. calls for a different approach. When white male President Mills pledges to press for race-based affirmative action, the right reply is this: "Well, then, sir, you must resign your post immediately and call for Bowdoin to hire a racial or ethnic minority in your place." Keep it simple and direct. Every white male board member of the ACE should receive a message to step down. Let's ask white male campus leaders to stand up for their own principles and do the thing they want everybody else to do. When white women acquire a disproportionate number of jobs in campus leadership, yet still call for more diversity, they, too, should be asked to withdraw.
This is the logic of affirmative action, and if diversity proponents who are white follow it to its conclusion, they should relinquish their positions as soon as possible.