|(43) It Shouldn't Be Good to Have It Bad
California's Disguised Racial Quotas
John McWhorter (08/04/02)
|It Shouldn't Be Good to
Have It Bad (08/04/02)
Excerpted from the Washington Post Commentary
"At UC Berkeley, where I teach, we are awaiting the arrival of the first freshman class [Fall 2002] selected under a revised admissions policy for the University of California schools. All applicants are being evaluated according to whether they have survived "hardships," with those who have done so netting extra points. Under this policy, the student submitting a top-level dossier who has led a lucky life will often be less likely to get in than one whose dossier is just as good but also attests to suffering from family strife, the care of younger siblings, certified emotional problems or the like.
"This [hardship policy] is technically a 'race-neutral' policy, but it's really just old wine in a new bottle. The UC 'suits' have crafted a canny end run around 1996's Proposition 209, which outlawed racial preferences in college admissions. The new policy is designed to bolster the presence of "brown" minorities -- blacks and Latinos -- without explicitly targeting race. ... In fact, this new policy enhances the culture of victimization, teaching students of any color a lesson history will consider curious and misguided.
"After Proposition 209 took effect beginning with the entering class of 1998, the numbers of brown students admitted to Berkeley and UCLA dropped sharply. [But] In reality, the outlawing of racial preferences did not so much bar black and Latino students from the UC system as reshuffle them. While the numbers of these students fell at the flagships Berkeley and UCLA, which have the very highest admissions standards, they rose at several other UC schools, all solid institutions and many prestigious, such as UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego.
"Nevertheless, the idea of a brown student of any background being held to the same standards as others remained alarming to scattered committees and student groups. ... [Nonetheless,] With the futility of reversing the new law clear [to supporters of preferences], the 'hardship' factor has been added as a palliative.
"... [I]n a constructive vein, sniffing out hardship among all students looks great on paper. But the seams show in practice.
"It must be remembered that hardship has always factored into student assessments across America at almost all schools, as you would expect. ... After Proposition 209 passed -- even before the new universally applied hardship policy -- scholarship awards were rechanneled according to such life trials, with packages once earmarked for "diversity" newly labeled as "hardship" bonuses.
"A Wall Street Journal piece some weeks ago described [an Asian] student with a 1410 SAT score who, having failed to describe any hardships she had suffered, was denied admission to Berkeley and UCLA, while another [Latino] student with an 1120 SAT, stressing her humble origins and her help with supporting the family as her mother fought breast cancer, was admitted to both. In other words, a superficially well-intentioned policy penalized the first young woman for feeling that her concrete accomplishments [rather than her victimhood] made a sufficient case for her admission.
"And this despite the fact that as the child of a struggling Korean-immigrant pastor, the first young woman had actually survived hardships -- just as, well, most of us have. Most people's lives are far from perfect. ... Making do despite obstacles, then, is a matter of ordinary human resilience. As such, the new policy at UC is ranking students according to how vibrantly human they are. And this is a sharp departure from assessing how well a student is likely to perform academically. [Emphasis added. Editor.]
"Certainly, hardship of obvious significance must be taken into account when evaluating an applicant. But when a black high schooler tells a newspaper interviewer, "I hope Berkeley can understand that I had to babysit after school," we see the results of a culture of excuse-making. And no one would argue that performance is enhanced by focusing on obstacles. For decades now, students entering college have imbibed a "victimologist" perspective; now UC's "hardship" policy serves as a kind of college prep course on the subject.
"In the end, one must ask why UC administrators could not simply base a preference system on socioeconomic class. Various studies have shown that class crucially affects the correlation between students' grades and scores and their actual abilities. ... This would fulfill the original goal of affirmative action, to give opportunities to those unfairly barred from advancement, rather than making do with crude color-coded headcounts.
"The reason class alone does not move the UC administrators is no mystery. As Shelby Steele has argued, racial preference policies have always been less about giving a race the skills to succeed than assuaging white guilt.
"Advocates of the new [hardship] policy openly sniff that a class-based preference system would net more working-class whites and Asians than brown students. This is true -- particularly for whites, whose large numbers mean that numerically there are more of them living on the other side of the tracks than blacks.
"But if the true goal of the policy were to address societal injustice, then those so troubled by "hardship" would have no problem with an influx of working-class whites. After all, it surprises no one that there are more whites than blacks or Asians in California. ... It's no accident, then, that the rejected student above is Korean while the admitted one is Latino -- nor even that a Korean student with a 1500 SAT who, just like the Latino one, helped support his family when his mother got breast cancer, was rejected." © 2002 The Washington Post Company
John McWhorter is senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and associate professor of linguistics at University of California at Berkeley; his next book is "Authentically Black: Essays for the New Black Majority" (Penguin Putnam).
Excerpted from "It
Shouldn't Be Good to Have It Bad" written by John McWhorter
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