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It’s odd in some ways, fitting in others, that M. Rick Turner would be in effect the University of Virginia’s diversity czar, aka, Dean of the Office of African American Affairs, for as we saw here he’s expressed his dissatisfaction with the very concept of “diversity.”

“I don’t like the word a€?diversity’ because it kind of weakens the issue,” Turner [told the Charlottesville Daily Progress]. “The issue is race. The issue is color.”

A revealing opinion piece in the Daily Progress last week demonstrates that he hasn’t changed his mind, although I suspect the only difference between Dean Turner’s views about “diversity” and the views of diversity mavens at other universities is simply that he’s more willing to say in public what most believe. The article, “UVa Must Boost Black Recruitment,” appeared on Jan. 18, 2004, p. B6, but it is not available on the Daily Progress web site, or elsewhere online.

Turner begins by praising UVa’s (and by implication, his) success, noting that the university ranks near the top in its “retention and graduation of black students.” In fact, as a UVa web site proudly points out, UVa has “the highest African American graduation rate among major public institutions in America.” (See my discussion here, however, for what is unsaid when these impressive statistics are put on display: UVa’s black graduation rate is indeed high, but it is also true that the rate at which blacks fail to graduate is nearly twice that of whites and Asians. Of the class that entered in 1996, just under 13% of blacks failed to graduate in six years, compared to 7% for whites and Asians.)

But for the past three or four years, Turner notes, he has

become increasingly concerned about the declining number of black students applying for undergraduate admission and subsequently enrolling as first-year students.

Thus the need to redouble recruiting efforts.

It is no secret that a primary factor in declining applications is the diminishing recruitment of black students….

It is important for the University of Virginia to resume aggressive recruitiment and get back to the business of enrolling more black students.

Why? That’s right, why? I know this question isn’t usually asked, but why should UVa spend more time, and presumably money, recruiting more black students? The university certainly isn’t discriminating, at least not against blacks. If the number of blacks who are applying to and/or enrolling at UVa is declining, presumably they are finding more attractive opportunities elsewhere. Is that bad? If UVa were more successful, that would presumably mean other comparable schools were less successful in attracting black students. What exactly is the point of this intercollegiate competition?

It is true that blacks are “underrepresented” at UVa compared to their percentage of the commonwealth’s population — 8.8% vs. 19.6%. But then, whites are also “underrepresented” at UVa — 68.2% vs. 72.3% — and Asian Americans are vastly “overrepresented” — 10.9% vs. 3.7%. In any event, since UVa is a highly selective institution that makes no claim to mirror the ethnic make up of the commonwealth, these figures are largely irrelevant.

If diversity, as opposed to “diversity,” were in fact the motivating goal, then it would appear that UVa suffers a number of ethnic and other deficits that far exceed any dearth of black students. Only 4.5% of its students, for example, come from overseas. The numbers of Arab, Muslim, and Pentecostal students are not reported, but I’m sure they are not great. Diversity, again as opposed to “diversity,” would seem to call for greater efforts to recruit them or Native Americans (currently 0.3% at UVa), Aleuts, Idahoans, Argentinians, Italians, etc., etc., before making massive efforts to increase the percentage of black students from 8.8% to 9% or 10%.

Of course by now it’s widely recognized that “diversity” doesn’t mean diversity; it has become a code word for blacks, the term of choice after the Supremes barred compensation or overt proportional representation as justifications for racial preferences. The great virtue of Dean M. Rick Turner is that he doesn’t flinch from saying out loud what most diversiphiles deny in public but admit among themselves. Thus:

As we begin another chapter in university history, let us strengthen our resolve and commitment to racial diversity with the objective of creating a supportive and welcoming climate where African-American students, faculty, staff and administrators can comfortably take advantage of the university’s resources. [Emphasis added]

As I’ve pointed out here too many times to cite, “diversity” is usually defended with arguments that amount to using blacks for the benefit of whites. It is the former, after all, whose presence provides whatever benefits “diversity” has to offer to the white students at selective institutions. Without preferences the black students who were admitted because of them could still attend integrated but less selective institutions and both give and receive whatever benefits diversity has to offer, but the whites at selective institutions would be bereft. But Dean Turner will have none of this. For him, it is clear that the “objective” of diversity is to provide benefits to the blacks who are admitted ostensibly to provide it.

Turner does refer to the “focus on attaining racial diversity through equal opportunity in admission,” but it’s clear that by “equal opportunity” he does not mean what most Americans mean by equal opportunity — being judged by racially neutral non-discriminatory standards. In fact, he seems to mean not equal opportunity at all but racially proportional results. Or perhaps more accurately, what he means by “equal opportunity” is not the absence of racial discrimination but the presence of racially proportional results. Thus he points out that

Dr. Clay Carson, a Martin Luther King scholar at Stanford University, reminds us that when we discuss the issue of diversity, the basic question should be: “Do African-Americans have access to educational opportunities equal to white Americans?”

The answer is clearly a resounding a€?No!’ Diversity initiatives do not address the complexities of inherited disadvantage.”

Diversity initiatives certainly do not do that — they are not designed to — but “diversity” of the sort Turner recommends and that is in fact practiced clearly is designed to do precisely that. Whether or not it does so — by, for example, giving preferences to black applicants who have “inherited” wealth and privilege from their professional parents as often as to actual sons and daughters of the center city — is another matter. Again, it is clear that what Prof. Carson means by diversity has very little if anything to do with diversity as it has been traditionally understood and everything to do with simply increasing the number of blacks on campus.

Most of the justifications of racial preferences to produce “diversity” strike me as fundamentally dishonest. Dean Turner, by contrast, is refreshingly honest about “diversity” as it is actually practiced.

ADDENDUM: What Does “Equal Opportunity” Mean?

When diversity’s defenders, like Dean Turner and Professor Carson, demand that blacks “have access to educational opportunities equal to white Americans,” what exactly are they demanding? I don’t think that is altogether clear, but by now it is clear that the crux of the disagreement between defenders and critics of racial preference concerns the meaning of “equal opportunity,” and even of equality itself.

Carson’s phrasing is interesting, for in the debates over equality during Reconstruction the Radicals (those favoring strong civil rights protections for blacks) often stated their purpose as ensuring that blacks would have the same rights as whites — say, to make and enforce contracts, to pick a popular example often cited. They were not demanding anything for blacks that whites didn’t have. Their definition of equality, in short, was that blacks and whites should have the same rights and be judged by the same standards.

Today’s preferentialists, in sharp contrast, regard the neutral application of equal standards as tantamount to discrimination. What they mean by equal opportunity is closer to guaranteed success (in admissions) for an uncertain proportion (“critical mass,” as the University of Michigan put it) of minority applicants. This can be seen very clearly by looking at the numbers at UVa, as the Center for Equal Opportunity has done.

In 1996, the relative odds of admission to UVA, controlling for test scores and high-school ranks, show a strong degree of preference given to blacks over whites (33 to 1 in 1996). For 1999 admissions data, the relative odds of admission, controlling for test scores and high-school ranks and also for legacy and in-state resident status, show an even stronger degree of preference given to blacks over whites (111.11 to 1 in 1999)

As I pointed out here, quoting another CEO study, the preferences at the UVa law school are even more dramatic.

In a 2002 study, the Center for Equal Opportunity reported that “the relative odds of admission of a black over a white applicant for UVa, controlling for other factors, was almost 650 to 1 in 1998 and 730 to 1 in 1999 (the highest in any CEO study.”

In a Wall Street Journal OpEd, Linda Chavez, CEO’s president, summarized the findings of her organization’s studies of over twenty other universities:

Of the schools examined, 15 schools showed large, statistically significant odds ratios favoring black applicants. The relative odds ratio favoring black over white students with the same grades and test scores at North Carolina State, for example, was 177 to 1; at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the odds ratio was 174 to 1; and at the University of Virginia, it was 111 to 1.

“To put this in some perspective,” Ms. Chavez concluded, “the relative odds that a smoker compared to a non-smoker will develop lung cancer are 14 to 1.”

A 1999 study of UVa by the Center for Equal Opportunity’s??has some revealing numbers:

  • 15,521 individuals applied to UVa. and 5,184 (33%) were admitted.
  • 8% of the applicants were black and 77% were white.
  • 12% of those admitted were black and 72% were white.
  • 48% of black applicants were admitted. (In 1996, 56%)
  • 31% of white applicants were admitted. (In 1996, 30%)

These numbers do not describe a regime that most Americans would regard as governed by the principle of equal opportunity. Thus, it seems to me, the practices that result in these numbers must be changed so that they conform to what we mean by equality, or we must change our definition of equality, frankly recognizing that it no longer requires non-discriminatory treatment.

Say What? (3)

  1. Semi-Intelligent Thoughts January 26, 2004 at 2:43 pm | | Reply

    Another Brief Thought

    You probably know this, but it’s very hard to write an extended blog entry on 4 hours of sleep. Thus, “brief thoughts.” I was reading through the Daily Orange to see if there was anything to write about, and I…

  2. Stu January 26, 2004 at 11:56 pm | | Reply

    SAT Question I Would Like To See, But Never Will:

    Pitchfork Ben Tillman is to Dean Turner as:

    a. David Duke is to Elijah Muhammed

    b. Lestor Maddox is to Al Sharpton

    c. Roger Taney is to Sandra Day O’Connor

    d. All of the above.

    Based upon your latest about my alma mater, I am thankful that I neither pay Virginia income taxes nor go soft-headed when I am asked to reach for my wallet “For the Glory of the UVa.” Gag me with an epithet.

  3. The American Mind January 28, 2004 at 6:13 pm | | Reply

    Carnival of the Vanities #71

    By hosting this week’s Carnival I’ve learned two things: 1. This is a lot of work; 2. There are some

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