Are Ivy League institutions discriminating against Asian Americans by limiting how many are admitted? That's the subject of a debate published this week in the New York Times...They do well, so in education circles they're not considered "minorities" and hence can feel the full force of racial discrimination. Logic is not the strong suit of the liberals who create these policies.
As I see it, we know that even well-intentioned people regularly rationalize discriminatory behavior, that society as a whole is often horrified at its own bygone race-based policies, and that race is so fluid in our multi-ethnic society that no one can adequately conceive of all the ways it is changing; knowing these things, prudence dictates acceptance of the fact that humans aren't equipped to fairly take race into consideration. At various times in history, doing so has nevertheless been a necessity. We're lucky that it isn't a necessity now, and that class-based affirmative action would effectively target the most needy racial minorities in a race-blind way.
To imagine that today's college-admissions officers can step outside the failings of humanity, making subjective judgment calls in secret with racial enlightenment that is unprecedented in human history, is folly. It may have seemed possible and even done more good than harm when America was mostly grappling with black and white. Now that we're asking people to calibrate the "diversity value" of American blacks, Africans, Hispanics, Thais, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, and many more besides? The prudent course is acknowledging the limits of our wisdom. Alas, intellectual humility and restraint are not among the Ivy League's virtues.
Update: Does anyone truly believe that affirmative action candidates for faculty really are the best instructors a college can get? No. Next question.
The problems of such hiring assumptions and practices are so manifold as to make it nearly inconceivable that they should have been implemented across North American universities without any significant protest — but implemented they have been, and most academics I know will admit no serious contradiction between the ideal of equality and the reality of discrimination against white male candidates. It should be self-evident — but is not — that any form of hiring is wrong that does not make merit its first and major criterion. Not only academic departments are harmed by practices that imperil quality; the candidates themselves, who must live with the question of their real qualifications forever undetermined, are placed in a humiliating position. Moreover, department morale is likely to suffer considerably when members see less qualified candidates favored due to non-intellectual factors, with resentments and rivalries an almost inevitable result.
What stands out most in my recollection of that time is the dishonesty of the proceedings. A member of the department who served on a campus-wide committee tasked with developing best practices to promote diversity mentioned one of their recommendations: after a minority candidate is hired, members of the department should take care to tell all their friends of her merit; the equity preference should not be mentioned. The omission hit at the nub of the matter. It was not that individuals were necessarily lying as they offered their various justifications and rationales; many of them believed in what they were doing, at least some of the time. But it was impossible to believe wholeheartedly and without hesitation through all of those strained, compromised, and occasionally ludicrous moments of hedging, half-truth, selective blindness, and forced praise.
No matter one’s commitment to righting past wrongs, one could not avoid recognizing that non-intellectual criteria were being used to hire candidates into positions ostensibly defined by intellectual achievement.
Update #2, 12/24/12: Here's the racial breakdown for Cal-Berkeley. I wonder how many of those Asians are affirmative action candidates. I wonder what their percentages would be if there were no affirmative action at Berkeley. I heard once, but can't find a citation for it, that someone once told Governor Reagan that without affirmative action our University of California campuses would be overwhelmingly Asian and his response was, "So what?" I'd like to find out if that anecdote is true or not, and what the context was.