Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2003 / 27 Shevat, 5763

Edward I. Koch

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Why are sports exempt from racial diversity and universities encouraged to engage in racial preferences over individual academic achievement?


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | For the last 35 years, America has had a whole host of special programs that provide race and ethnicity based preferences that have largely benefited African-Americans and Hispanics.

The stated goal of these preferences was to undo the destructive effects of racism and discrimination. In the case of African-Americans, it was stated that the troubled condition of the black community was the result of slavery, which ended in 1865 although blacks were routinely denied equal rights for many years after that, a condition that many, including myself, believe continues to this day. No comparable reasons have been offered to support ethnic preferences for those with Spanish surnames.

It is ironic that the fight against segregation and discrimination employs programs that provide racial and ethnic preferences. The legal questions surrounding such preferences have never really been resolved, so it's not surprising that the constitutionality of a racial preference program created by the University of Michigan is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Pursuant to that program, the University of Michigan Law School assigns extra points to minority students in the admissions process. This means that whites with perfect test scores receive 12 points, and that all blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans -- regardless of their test scores -- get 20 points.

The U.S. Solicitor General, in supporting white plaintiffs who were denied admission to the Law School because minority applicants with lower test scores were accepted over them, takes the position that the Law School's point system is unconstitutional. In defense of its admissions practices, the Law School claims that race and ethnicity are not dominant factors and that they are treated like other aspects of applicants' backgrounds that are considered in order to create a diverse student body.

Most Americans agree that using racial quotas would not be defensible. According to Jonathan Alter, columnist in Newsweek published January 27, 2003, "…whites…oppose preferences for blacks by a 73 to 22 percent margin in the new Newsweek Poll. (Minorities are nearly as dubious, opposing preference for blacks by 56-38 percent.)" The government's position is that the number of points Michigan provides for race is so large that it effectively creates a set-aside or quota. Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor, agrees with the President that the number of points is too high. Secretary of State Colin Powell accepts race-based programs to assist minority advancement.

Everyone who favors set-asides and quotas never uses those words, referring instead to "affirmative action," a term including programs that are not racially based.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in previous cases that racial quotas are unconstitutional and, therefore, impermissible, with limited exceptions. The major exception is to correct prior and continuing discriminatory conditions. However, in the University of Michigan case, no claim of prior or continuing discrimination is alleged.

The current justification for racial and ethnic preferences in student selection is to achieve diversity.

Those like myself who oppose racial set-asides in education and support diversity believe that providing points or set-asides based on non-racial and non-ethnic factors, such as poverty, leadership skills and other indicia, would provide a pool from which a diverse student body could be assembled without discriminating against whites and Asians, as is the case in the Michigan program. Some states, avoiding race-based actions, guarantee that the top ten percent of students from every high school will be accepted by the state universities as is done in Texas.

Proponents of affirmative action claim that the Texas approach would perpetuate school segregation. Nonsense. There are no legally segregated schools in the U.S. today. Yet, schools are often overwhelmingly or exclusively black, Hispanic, white or Asian, depending on housing patterns that occur as a result of poverty or choice. People often want to live in ethnically or racially homogeneous communities, and neighborhood schools will reflect the makeup of those communities. No one in his right mind would suggest that school sports teams or professional teams be required to have racial set-asides, even when the teams may be overwhelmingly of one race, as is the case in basketball, hockey and football. The team is expected to reflect the best players available. Why is that acceptable? Why are sports exempt from racial diversity and universities encouraged to engage in racial preferences over individual academic achievement?

I believe that supporters of diversity would, if they could, require that every sector of our society reflect proportional representation in its makeup. I, on the other hand, believe that those engaging in intentional discrimination based on race and ethnicity should be sentenced, after trial, to a term in prison. I also believe that the best way to end racial discrimination is to not perpetuate it under a new name. In any event, whatever the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, we should accept it and bring this controversy to a conclusion.

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JWR contributor Edward I. Koch, the former mayor of New York, can be heard on Bloomberg Radio (WBBR 1130 AM) every Saturday from 9-10 am. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Edward I. Koch