“Bans On Affirmative Action Help Asian Americans, Not Whites, Report Says” reads a Chronicle of Higher Education headline this week reporting on a new study of preference bans and attendance, offering little surprise to… any, it seems, aside from the study’s authors. The study examined the results of preference bans at a number of colleges, and found that they yielded significant increases in Asian American applicants, significant declines in black attendance, and mixed portraits otherwise, with some declines in white attendance, which can partially be attributed to demographic change in the applicant pools. It’s slightly odd to see race-blind admissions yielding a decline in white attendance, but, substantively speaking, it’s been apparent for a significant amount of time (to anyone who’s watched the UC schools, for one) that the end of preferences is principally a boon to Asian American attendance. And despite all this, opposition to preferences has continued to mount. How do the researchers explain this? Whites have been fooling themselves.
In a grim and considerably unfair portrait of the movement against affirmative action, the report suggests that their findings “can hardly be satisfying’ to ‘those who campaigned for the elimination of affirmative action in the belief that it would advantage the admission of white students.” Yes, it would be dissatisfying to those persons, but what is that demographic? I seem to recall broad enthusiasm for restoring merit as the source of anti-preference arguments and success, not white American racial interest. The report continues in this vein, predicting that whites may begin opposing affirmative action bans if Asians continued to make gains, observing that “Whites are still too influential in politics and in the private sector to sit quietly while this trend continues.” I was struck by the profound cynicism of this commentary, seemingly attributing the success of bans to narrow white misconceptions of their self-interest, until I saw the final line of the Chronicle report. One of the study authors, Charles E. Young, former chancellor of UCLA, stated, about the effects of preference bans in colleges, that “limits on affirmative action have ‘clearly negatively affected their ability to provide diversity in education,’ hurting the education of their students.”
Hurting the education, of course – now it’s easy to discern a narrative. What’s a new way to stem the tide against preferences and install diversity forever? Convince whites that they might want them!
The study commentary seems to advance a recent tradition of pro-preference argument, which seeks to bolster support for preference regimes by seeking to incorporate aggrieved parties into their preference schemes. Already, some have argued that preferences for vanishing males could convincingly be incorporated into existing diversity systems. Now we’ll see preferences for whites? It’s a novel universalist argument, but hey, any argument’s worth a try if it might keep affirmative action alive, right? I look forward to reading the full study.