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Failings of Affirmative Action on Campus

RACE relations on our nation's campuses are getting worse. A vast number of "racial incidents," ranging from the sadistic to the psychosomatic, are reported annually. In many college lunchrooms the only integrated tables are the ones occupied by varsity athletes. The much-vaunted solution of "multiculturalism" on closer inspection looks less like the cure than a possible cause.

For example, at the University of California at Berkeley, affirmative action has created what one professor there calls "two student bodies," distinguishable by skin color. Only 40 percent of the freshman openings are awarded to the best-qualified white and Asian students, while the rest are reserved for Hispanic and African-American applicants who must merely meet legal minimums. Since there is only room for the elite of the white and Asian applicants, those selected have Ivy League qualifications. Whi le the Hispanic and African-American students possess skills more than adequate for most colleges, many are overwhelmed trying to compete with Berkeley's handpicked whites and Asians. Thus the dropout rate of "protected" minorities is higher.

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Also quite serious is how affirmative action poisons campus racial attitudes. Because skin color determines who gets in, students use skin color to estimate how tough the class grading curve will be. Stories abound of students poking their heads into classes they are considering taking, exclaiming things like, "Too many Chinese," and scurrying off to find a class with less competitive demographics.

These are gross stereotypes; sadly, owing to affirmative action, students find them useful. In contrast, color-blind admissions would mean different ethnic groups would be, on the whole, comparably qualified. Stereotypes would be of less use; students would have to view each other as individuals. (Not that colleges wouldn't recruit minorities - but that admissions would not be based on race.)

Affirmative action inculcates smugness and condescension among whites and Asians, and instills self-doubt, paranoia, and frustration among its supposed beneficiaries. Sociologist Troy Duster spent a year interviewing Berkeley students about the growing racial hostility on campus. Dr. Duster (a black) was interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Affirmative action admissions "is where all the juices come out," Duster says. Blacks and Latinos support affirmative action, but are ambivalent because, "they say they are characterized as affirmative action admits, no matter what their grade point average is." Duster says these students are convinced that in the minds of whites and Asians "they don't really belong here. Affirmative action becomes a stigma for them." In this charged atmosphere, says Duster, students of color "feel belittled," and "just about anything can be interpreted as racism. 201> What I experienced when I talked to these kids is their increasing rage at their own inability to justify the charge of racism."

IN contrast, one type of campus organization does show that the races can work together: the varsity sport team. Why do jocks get along better than regular students? First, intercollegiate competition is so fierce that coaches must decide who plays solely on individual merit, not on race. Second, athletes stay together more than other students because they work together for a common goal.

If professors cut down on individual homework in favor of more projects assigned to teams, they would force students of different races to work together. Academic teammates might even lunch together. However, this reform requires color-blind admissions: without it, white and Asian students would find themselves carrying the load for their consistently underqualified Hispanic and African-American teammates, and race relations would get worse, not better.

Multiculturalists used political clout to make students hypersensitive about race. Now all Berkeley students must take ethnic studies to graduate. (A backlash forced Berkeley to offer "white studies.")

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A bill by California assemblyman Tom Hayden extended the logic of affirmative action to "solving" the problem of unequal graduation rates: forcing colleges to graduate the same percent of each ethnic group. (The bill passed but was vetoed.) This may have debased the market value of any Hispanic's or black's Berkeley degree, but, presumably, more affirmative action in the job market could fix that. Unfortunately, what affirmative action can't fix is the self-doubt that comes from never being allowed to k now if you've earned what you've got.

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