The Push for Unconstitutional College Programs

Darpa image on spectrometers

There they go again. Inside Higher Ed reports on a new handwringing study lamenting the “underrepresentation” of members of various “Underrepresented Racial and Ethnic Groups” (URGs) among engineering students.

The study by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, funded by the National Science Foundation, found, as all such studies always find, that “Hispanic and Black students” along with “American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (NHPI) students remain significantly underrepresented in engineering at the undergraduate and graduate level…. Hispanic students compose 19 percent of college undergraduates but only 11 percent of all engineering bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2016, an 8-percentage point gap. A gap similar for Black students [sic].”

There are also gender “gaps,” of course. Not only is there “disparity between women and men in engineering,” but also major gender gaps in college majors. “Engineering was the second largest field of study among bachelor’s degrees conferred to White males in 2016” and “the same is also true for Asian American males,” but “among White, Hispanic and African American females, engineering was the eighteenth largest field of study.”

[Why Racial Preferences Are a Bad Idea]

What is most noteworthy about this study is … nothing at all. This lack of noteworthiness, however, does not mean it merits no reply. Quite the opposite: since its assumptions and conclusions are so widely shared in higher education (and its publisher and funding so prominent), it deserves serious responses. Thus, I would like to offer two criticisms: 1) It unintentionally but clearly reveals that the ubiquitous rhetoric demanding “diversity” is a fraudulent sham, and 2) Most efforts to reduce racial, ethnic, and gender “gaps” and “underrepresentation” are patently unconstitutional.

This study, like all the others, never explains how having more black, Hispanic, Native American or Pacific Islander, or women engineering students (why not more Muslims or Finns?) would enhance engineering education. We need better bridges, not black- or women-influenced ones.

Apparently aware of this deficiency, the study, like all the others, abandons “diversity” and emphasizes that “national security” and economic growth and the “global economy” require more engineers. “What once was primarily an issue of equity and equal opportunity is now an issue of economic vitality and national security,” it concludes:

Broadening diversity in engineering is necessary to meet the demands by employers for more workers in the U.S. with the scientific and innovation skills necessary for the tech-sectors driving economic growth. The goal is not to redistribute engineering degrees to better reflect the demographics of the nation. Rather the goal is to produce enough graduates to fill the expanding needs of employers for a high-skill workforce. The only way to reach that goal is to increase the number of women and URM students in engineering at a significantly higher rate than recent years.

Really? Where is the evidence that lavishing more recruitment and retention efforts on black or AIAN or NHPI students is likely to produce more engineers than recruiting more Asians or Appalachians or rural Midwesterners?

[Get Ready for the Coming War Against Merit]

In addition, programs to increase group representation are presumptively unconstitutional. Much of the law concerning affirmative action is muddied, unclear, or full of loopholes, but one thing that is not is the consistent, long-standing prohibition against racial balancing “for its own sake.” As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in Parents Involved, citing a string of earlier opinions, “We have many times over reaffirmed that ‘[r]acial balance is not to be achieved for its own sake.’” The Solicitor General’s brief in that case also quoted a number of earlier opinions holding that “outright racial balancing” is “patently unconstitutional.”

This study, like all the others, is fixated on racial and ethnic “underrepresentation” leading to numerical “gaps,” which it wants to reduce because the nation needs more engineers. But in City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson, Justice O’Connor directly dispatched that justification for improving racial representation. “The desire to have more black medical students or doctors,” she noted, quoting Justice Powell in Bakke, is “not merely insufficiently compelling to justify a racial classification, it was ‘discrimination for its own sake,’ forbidden by the Constitution.”

To be sure, not all efforts to increase the number of minority or female engineers are prohibited. Assistance to minority-serving institutions, for example, comes to mind. Nevertheless, if the goal is to produce more engineers, more emphasis should be placed on … recruiting and retaining more engineers and much less on highly funded studies alarmed at the fact that women major in engineering less than men.

The same logic that leads this study to recommend more aid to Historically Black Universities, because they produce a disproportionate number of black engineers, should logically lead to efforts to encourage more white and Asian males to major in engineering because so many of them currently do.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

9 thoughts on “The Push for Unconstitutional College Programs

  1. My strong inclination is to agree completely about the negative effect of the obsession with race, ethnic, and gender “gaps.” BUT ….

    I can see some sense to the concern about producing enough people proficient in science and engineering, given the coming makeup of the populace and the well-documented underperformance of particular ethnic groups, named in the article. The declining overall capability of the American populace is a real concern. (I leave sex as a separate issue, but the declining capabilities of the increasingly feckless male part of the populace enters in a similar way.)

    I see this locally, where the leading public university in the state is showing some budget strains due to enrollment declines, albeit modest. Part of the problem is declining numbers of high school graduates. But another aspect of it is that a growing fraction of the high school graduate population is Hispanic, meaning lower rates of higher education participation, lower qualifications such as SAT scores. When the local recruiters talk about attracting more Hispanics, and “diversity,” I am quite sure that it is not all about being “progressive,” it’s also about making the payroll each year while trying not to lower admissions standards. I don’t envy them their task, and I don’t totally fault them for their professed motives, because I know what is at the back of their minds that must remain unspoken.

  2. There would also be more engineers in the U.S. if universities admitted more American students and fewer South Asians and Chinese! The financial incentive to admit foreign students and collect full tuition appears to have overcome altruism and racial “balance”. While this study claims a goal of increasing the supply of engineers for our economy, schools are often educating workers for our economic competitors.

  3. You know what’s actually unconstitutional? Denying Americans their economic and educational liberties to decide on what colleges to spend their own money. The real problem is tax payer money is diverted into the coffers of these clearly political institutions. Let them be what they want and acknowledge they have the right to run their indoctrination centers however they want using money people willingly and voluntarily give them.

    Discrimination is a foundational component of liberty. If you think the constitution bars people from setting up an institution and allow entry into that institution based on whatever (peaceful) criteria you want, then you don’t understand liberty, nor the constitution.

  4. The left knows it cannot exist in STEM disciplines. It hides behind
    a phoney curtain called diversity with the true aim of destroying
    merit based education.

  5. Alan Baake was denied admission to medical school in favor of a less qualified minority.
    The student who got Baake’s seat was Patrick Chavis — who became a MD in Baake’s place.

    Over 20 years ago, Jeff Jacoby looked up what had become of Dr. Chavis — see: http://www.jeffjacoby.com/10931/affirmative-action-can-be-fatal

    Engineers can kill people too — remember the bridge that collapsed last March at Florida International University?

  6. Go ahead and force minorities to enroll in intro-STEM courses. The first semester and first year flunk-out rate will be phenomenal. And I’m sure they’ll all appreciate the ego-bruising that was arranged for them.

    1. I sincerely appreciate your response. As someone who has been a college professor for 3 decades now, I am not confident your prediction is the likely outcome.A professor at another college –I’m choosing not to be more specific as to the details as I fear it would jeopardize that professor’s career–indicated the professor’s college was going to make “advancing diversity” one of the criteria for getting tenure and promotion. A different professor recently told me the way to get good evaluations is to be an easy grader. My fear is that the easily demonstrated grade inflation that has already taken place will be a response to the effort to “increase diversity” in STEM. The phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations” comes to mind with respect to this issue. I was recently notified of a conference to be held about grading students’ writing that was to take diverse methods of communicating into account. Another professor excoriated me in my college’s paper for mocking graduate students who complained that correcting spelling and grammar was a “microaggression.” I think Orwell is laughing at all of this. i hoap nuthing ive ritin hear ofendz enywon.

  7. The solution is easy.

    Put the students in the program the university needs them in.

    All this stupid freedom is overrated anyway. Choosing your own major can result in a shortage of workers, we must gladly work where the party needs us.

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