This January, British Prime Minister David Cameron criticized England’s most prestigious university for its failure to ensure a diversity. Citing a report that said only 27 black applicants had been admitted to Oxford in 2014 – in a class comprised of 2,500 total students – Cameron said:
“Too many in our country are held back – often invisibly – because of their background or the color of their skin. We must be far more demanding of our institutions, do even more to raise aspirations, and be relentless in the pursuit of creative answers.”
But while Chris Patten, Oxford’s chancellor, seemed sympathetic to the challenge, he responded with harsh words for racial quotas. In an interview with The Telegraph, Patten said, “I am in favor of universities recognizing their responsibilities for promoting social inclusion. But I don’t think that if you want high-class universities, you should expect them to lower their standards in order to make up for some inadequacies in our secondary education system.”
Patten said that by implementing such demands, Oxford would see an inevitable series of consequences. “Nobody will explain to me how you can make a system of quotas work while retaining the highest admissions standards. Quotas must mean lower standards.”
This is the only argument one should need when it comes to affirmative action. If there is a proven, systematic effort to discriminate against racial minorities, the government can and should step in. All you have to do is compare qualifications by applicant – in the business world and the academic world – and it will be readily apparent if this discrimination is happening.
In the U.S., we are abandoning that measure – if we ever used it in the first place. We went straight from “businesses and schools discriminate against minorities” to “businesses and schools must hire/admit a certain percentage of minority applicants.” This means that these institutions must – almost by definition – lower their standards to meet the burden of the law.
If this wasn’t always the case, it certainly is now. Schools and businesses love to crow about how diverse their demographics are, so you can see how their interests dovetail automatically. If they can have diversity and uncompromising standards, they won’t hesitate to make it happen. This creates a fair system – arguably one that’s already weighted against whites. It certainly makes the development of a rigid quota system unnecessary and insulting.
But under the Obama administration – and perhaps under the Cameron administration as well – the doctrine of disparate impact is king. They don’t care whether or not the discrimination is intentional; they only care about the raw numbers. Too few black students? That’s illegal. Too few black workers? Illegal. Too many black kids getting in trouble at school? Illegal.
Sure, they’ll even out the numbers after a while. But at what cost?