Arguments for Racial Preferences Losing Ground

Ashley Thorne

At National Review, John Fund assesses the state and fate of racial preferences, given that California has just shelved an a proposed bill that would have reinstated them. Asian Democrats in the state changed their minds about the bill after hearing from their constituents, to whom racial preferences would actually be a detriment. "Asian Americans have always been picked out to be stepped on in race-conscious college admissions,” said one Asian Democrat. 

Fund believes arguments for racial preferences are less and less convincing:

The intellectual case for preferences is looking increasingly shaky. Last month, a packed auditorium at Harvard Law School featured an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on whether “affirmative action does more harm than good.” Harvard professor Randall Kennedy, the author of the book For Discrimination, and Columbia professor Ted Shaw, the former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued that diversity is an important and noble goal that universities must pursue. UCLA professor Richard Sander, author of the book Mismatch, and University of San Diego professor Gail Heriot, a commissioner on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, presented statistics from over 20 peer-reviewed studies that showed how the good intentions of affirmative-action supporters have had disastrous results.

By the end of the debate, Sander and Heriot (a member of the National Association of Scholars' board of directors) had persuaded nearly 10 percent of the audience members who before the debate said they were pro-affirmative action. A point Sander and Heriot emphasized was that colleges and universities are not open and transparent with prospective students about the risks of mismatch and failure that often result from racial preferences for underprepared students. 

At this point it is unclear whether California will try to resurrect the bill overturning Proposition 209, the ballot initiative banning racial preferences that was voted into law in 1996. But for now, such discrimination does seem to be losing ground.

Image: Leland Yee, 2011. (Dan Honda/Staff) (Dan Honda)

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