DIVERSITY, MERIT NEED NO CONFLICT

There is a grave injustice ongoing in the United States of America. Even in the current age of enlightenment, there is an institution that consistently stands in criminal opposition to the ideals of diversity. I am writing, of course, about the National Basketball Association. As it stands now, approximately 80 percent of the players in this athletic institution are African-American. And yet African-Americans make up only 12.3 percent of the total population of the United States. This clear discrepancy denies the benefits of diversity to the NBA and its viewers.

I’m willing to guess that not a lot of people agreed with my appraisal of the NBA above. And for good reason, for the central concern of the NBA should be fielding the best basketball teams it possibly can. It should not be concerned with the racial makeup of those teams. If it decided to start fielding teams based on skin color or other forms of diversity not directly related to the player’s ability to play basketball (i.e. hair color, eye color, astrological sign) then the quality of the league would certainly suffer.

The same principle holds for colleges. There simply is no concrete evidence that diversity has any benefit on the educational mission of a college. This benefit only exists in the vague reasoning that getting different people with different experiences together will magically make them all learn better. How exactly this process works has never been clearly defined and explained, but then again, specific facts seem to have no place in the argument over diversity.

I know I open myself up to criticism over my illogical obsession with factual correctness and my constant over-intellectualization of this issue. Perhaps it is wrong of me to demand specific facts and evidence before signing off on a policy that goes against the principle that people should be treated as individuals rather than members of a race. As the high scholar Homer Simpson once declared, “Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.” So I must admit that it could be entirely possible that diversity has a positive impact on education. Unfortunately, that leads me to wonder why it is that proponents have not rushed to diversify universities like Howard, Morehouse, and Smith. Oddly enough, the online edition of Black Enterprise magazine listed Morehouse at number one on its list of “The Top 50 Colleges and Universities for African-Americans.” I guess they didn’t get a copy of the memo that states that diversity is crucial for educational success.

The interesting but seldom heard argument however, is not over whether diversity itself is beneficial. Let us stipulate that diversity does have a positive impact on education, that it is indeed a “compelling interest.” Why does it then follow that using race as a factor in admissions, and possibly lowering admissions standards to meet the appropriate “critical mass” of minority students, is a good idea? Would not bringing in less-qualified candidates erase the benefits that diversity brings? Would it not be more logical to instead focus on providing better k-12 education for the underrepresented groups, thereby assuring that the college has a diverse student body without having to sacrifice its values?

To bring back in the earlier basketball analogy, if I were convinced that the sport would be improved by the addition of more green-eyed, red-haired Scorpios, it would be foolish to lobby for a lower standard in making teams for those players. It would be better for me to go out and do everything I can to make sure that they got high-level training so that they had the necessary skills for the NBA. In that case, basketball would gain the benefit of having more green-eyed, red-haired Scorpios without sacrificing player skill.

This idea, despite its small role in the diversity/affirmative action debates, is not new. Booker T. Washington had a similar plan at the start of the 20th century with his Tuskegee Institute. He hoped to confront racism by raising the economic skills and value of African Americans so much that the nation could not afford to continue to discriminate against them.

This plan also led to the end of discrimination in sports. Black athletes became far too talented to be ignored and thus most sports were far faster in integrating than other institutions throughout the country. And I challenge anyone to argue that racism is currently as big a problem in the nearly pure meritocracy of sports as it is in the rest of the country where affirmative action reigns.

Thus, my plea is for America’s colleges and universities to not give up on meritocracy so quickly. While I am personally neutral to diversity, since I see no reason to care what the racial composition of my classmates is, I do not feel that diversity and meritocracy need to be at odds. Diversity can and should be maintained not by using racial standards in admissions, but rather through raising the underrepresented groups up to the level necessary to be competitive. Thus, we would be raising individuals up, instead of lowering our standards, which would truly be affirmative action.

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