AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AS IVY FIG LEAF: This NYT article confirms a disturbing trend that I personally experienced as an undergraduate at Yale. Instead of benefiting the victims of historic prejudice in the United States, Ivy League affirmative action programs result in the admission of disproportionate numbers of Caribbean and African immigrants, and/or their children. Apparently, it isn't only at Yale where black students tend to have French surnames.
While Caribbean and African blacks deserve their places at Harvard and Yale, they shouldn't benefit from preferential admission standards designed to encourage the admission of African-Americans. Of course, Ivy League admissions officers are quite resistant to talking about this trend. They are so desperate to cement their employers' progressive image that they are not concerned about how they come up with enough black students to fill their unofficial quotas.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that this sort of criticism lacks a certain credibility, coming as it does from an author who generally opposes affirmative action. Yet as the chair of the Harvard sociology department points out,"You need a philosophical discussion about what are the aims of affirmative action...Even Henry Louis Gates and Lani Guinier think the system is deeply flawed. I'd go further and say that Ivy League political correctness has become a palliative for liberal white consciences rather than a commitment to real social justice.
"If it's about getting black faces at Harvard, then you're doing fine. If it's about making up for 200 to 500 years of slavery in this country and its aftermath, then you're not doing well. And if it's about having diversity that includes African-Americans from the South or from inner-city high schools, then you're not doing well, either."
The NYT article also says:
While about 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, Lani Guinier, a Harvard law professor, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's African and African-American studies department, pointed out that the majority of them — perhaps as many as two-thirds — were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.
They said that only about a third of the students were from families in which all four grandparents were born in this country, descendants of slaves. Many argue that it was students like these, disadvantaged by the legacy of Jim Crow laws, segregation and decades of racism, poverty and inferior schools, who were intended as principal beneficiaries of affirmative action in university admissions.
What concerned the two professors, they said, was that in the high-stakes world of admissions to the most selective colleges — and with it, entry into the country's inner circles of power, wealth and influence — African-American students whose families have been in America for generations were being left behind.
"I just want people to be honest enough to talk about it," Professor Gates, the Yale-educated son of a West Virginia paper-mill worker, said recently, reiterating the questions he has been raising since the black alumni weekend last fall. "What are the implications of this?"
Both Professor Gates and Professor Guinier emphasize that this is not about excluding immigrants, whom sociologists describe as a highly motivated, self-selected group. Blacks, who make up 13 percent of the United States population, are still underrepresented at Harvard and other selective colleges, they said.
The president of Amherst College, Anthony W. Marx, says that colleges should care about the ethnicity of black students because in overlooking those with predominantly American roots, colleges are missing an "opportunity to correct a past injustice" and depriving their campuses "of voices that are particular to being African-American, with all the historical disadvantages that that entails."
But others say there is no reason to take the ancestry of black students into account.
"I don't think it should matter for purposes of admissions in higher education," said Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, who as president of the University of Michigan fiercely defended its use of affirmative action. "The issue is not origin, but social practices. It matters in American society whether you grow up black or white. It's that differential effect that really is the basis for affirmative action."
Mary C. Waters, the chairman of the sociology department at Harvard, who has studied West Indian immigrants, says they are initially more successful than many African-Americans for a number of reasons. Since they come from majority-black countries, they are less psychologically handicapped by the stigma of race. In addition, many arrive with higher levels of education and professional experience. And at first, they encounter less discrimination.
"You need a philosophical discussion about what are the aims of affirmative action,'' Professor Waters said. "If it's about getting black faces at Harvard, then you're doing fine. If it's about making up for 200 to 500 years of slavery in this country and its aftermath, then you're not doing well. And if it's about having diversity that includes African-Americans from the South or from inner-city high schools, then you're not doing well, either."
Even among black scholars there is disagreement on whether a discussion about the origins of black students is helpful. Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociologist and West Indian native, said he wished others would "let sleeping dogs lie."
"The doors are wide open - as wide open as they ever will be - for native-born black middle-class kids to enter elite colleges," he wrote in an e-mail message.
There is also wide disagreement about what, if anything, should be done about the underrepresentation of African-American students whose families have been here for generations. Even Professor Gates, who can trace his ancestry back to slaves, and Professor Guinier, whose mother is white and whose father immigrated from Jamaica, emphasize different ideas.
"This is about the kids of recent arrivals beating out the black indigenous middle-class kids," said Professor Gates, who plans to assemble a study group on the subject. "We need to learn what the immigrants' kids have so we can bottle it and sell it, because many members of the African-American community, particularly among the chronically poor, have lost that sense of purpose and values which produced our generation."
In Professor Guinier's view, there are plenty of other blacks who could also succeed at elite colleges, but the institutions are not doing enough to find them. She said they were overly reliant on measures like SAT scores, which correlate strongly with family wealth and parental education.
"Colleges and universities are defaulting on their obligation to train and educate a representative group of future leaders," said Professor Guinier, a Harvard graduate herself who has been studying college admissions practices for more than a decade. "And they are excluding poor and working-class whites, not just descendants of slaves."
Harvard admissions officials say that they, too, are concerned about attracting more lower-income students of all races. They plan to spend an additional $300,000 to $375,000 a year to recruit more low-income students and provide more financial aid to these students.
"This increases the chances that we will be able to reach into the communities that have not been reached," said William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid.
While Harvard officials ignore the ethnic distinctions among their black students, Harvard's black undergraduates are developing a body of literature in the form of student research papers.
Aisha Haynie, the undergraduate whose senior thesis Professor Guinier cited, said her research was prompted by the reaction from her black classmates when she told them that she was not from the West Indies or Africa, but from the Carolinas. "They would say, 'No, where are you really from?' " said Ms. Haynie, 26, who earned a master's degree in public policy at Princeton and is now in medical school.
Marques J. Redd, a 20-year-old from Macon, Ga., who graduated in June and was one of the editors of Harvard's black student guide, said that Harvard officials had discouraged them from collecting the data on who the black students were.
"But we thought it was one aspect of the black experience at Harvard that should be documented," he said. "The knowledge had power. It was something that needed to be out in the open instead of something that people whispered about."