The advocates of affirmative action sabotage principled standards and call that justice. But is it just to create new wrongs in place of old ones? Is it just to turn vital institutions into centers of special-interest social engineering?
The price tag for affirmative action is a society of fresh injustices and low standards. And the costs of affirmative action are piling up — in, among other things, lawsuits, scandals, institutional erosion, and new cycles of grievance.
But its defenders remain unfazed. If anything, they are eager to ratchet up the pressure. Take University of California head Richard Atkinson. He is going all out to oppose a racial privacy initiative slated for California ballots that would end the practice of racial categorization on state and local government forms. He is urging UC Regents to oppose the initiative because its passage could “adversely affect the university’s ability to carry out its core mission.”
What does this say about the UC’s core mission? It suggests that its mission is not academic but political, not intellectual excellence but racial and social engineering.
Other universities have managed to pursue the core mission of education without racial head-counting. But it is essential to the University of California’s mission only because it has forsaken its original mission for an ideological one. Atkinson knows that he is not in the field of finding the best teachers and best students but in the business of running racial numbers. He wants a university that reflects his concept of racial fairness, even though this leads to gross unfairness toward Asian minorities and a perversion of the university’s academic mission harmful to all.
That damaging the quality of an institution for the sake of social engineering undermines all racial groups is a conclusion Atkinson’s egalitarian mind won’t permit. He will take fake equality over real excellence.
It wouldn’t occur to him that his racial mindset disserves citizens anymore than it occurs to New York Times editor Howell Raines that his racial mindset disserves readers.
Did Raines say, “Let’s give Jayson Blair a few more chances for the sake of our readers. They would prefer we meet our racial goals than provide them with an honest newspaper?” No, if the public trust determines decisions at a newspaper, then editors fret not about racial quotas but about hiring and retaining qualified journalists capable of serving the reader. Similarly, if the common good determines decisions at a university, then regents say, “Let’s find the best scholars and most promising students,” not “let’s make sure we meet our racial diversity goals.”
Supposed guardians of the public good like Raines and Atkinson have long forgotten it, pursuing instead personal political goals they would call “liberal fairness.” But “liberal fairness” is just the promotion of special interests at the expense of the common good.
Is it good for society at large if the New York Times becomes a jobs program for politically favored minorities? Is it good for society if the UC system becomes a glorified high school so that an equal percentage of underperforming students can be represented? Liberals might say, “Yes, this is good. Lowering standards and corrupting insititutions are sometimes necessary for the sake of fairness.”
But this shows that the liberal concept of the good lacks any real moral content. What affirmative action proponents consider good for their subjects isn’t good, both because it can lead to a corrupting pressure that results in corner-cutting and cheating, but also because it implicates the beneficiary in an act of injustice.
Affirmative action isn’t good for the soul. Not for those who grant it, those who receive it, and not for the society too confused or intimidated to stop it.