Stop Using the “Critical Mass” Theory

Those who advocate admissions preferences for “diverse” students say that colleges will be better learning environments if the student body isn’t all “the same.” Former Harvard president Derek Bok famously said, “It just wouldn’t do to have an all-white university.” In its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, a majority of the Supreme Court echoed this argument by asserting that the University of Michigan’s law schoolhad to be able to recruit a “critical mass” of each “diverse” group. Without this “critical mass,” advocates argue, minority students might not feel comfortable in speaking up; thus, diversity’s supposed “educational benefits” will not materialize.  

A somewhat surprising article in February 22 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education purports to take “A Critical Look at the ‘Critical Mass’ Argument.” The author, University of New Mexico law professor Dawinder Sidhu, lands a good jab but he doesn’t try for a knockout punch.

Here is the good jab. He observes that critical mass theory implies a defect or disability among “minority” students, in that they are “categorically incapable of articulating themselves as individuals.” The problem with that is that it “may actually validate racial stereotypes and perpetuate notions of racial inadequacy.” Federal courts, Sidhu suggests, should be leery of validating a policy that has such undesirable results.

However, Sidhu does not directly challenge the assumptions of the “critical mass” theory.  Here’s how he explainst: “A critical mass…is defined by the university as the point at which students in underrepresented minority groups no longer feel isolated or like spokespeople for their races. In the absence of this critical mass, the argument goes, students will feel forced to communicate viewpoints that are characteristic of their races.”

Bear in mind that we’re talking about young Americans who have graduated from high school with at least fairly impressive academic capabilities. They are strong enough students to be solid candidates for admission at good colleges and universities. Yet we’re supposed to believe that these students feel so “isolated” in to extent that if they speak up at all, they’re pressured to say things “characteristic of their races.”

Is there any evidence that the mindset described above is typical? Where are the supporting anecdotes? The central supposition of this argument is so preposterous that only “progressive” academics and jurists could take it seriously. As Professor Sidhu notes, the implications of the argument are demeaning, but the prior question ought to be whether or not it is true. 


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