Why? Because affirmative action can, and occasionally has, given the majority a taste of what it is like to be part of a discriminated minority.
Of the places this has happened, few have drawn more attention that colleges and universities. Some schools’ efforts to diversify their student bodies have led to accepting minority applicants whose qualifications (grades, standardized test scores, high school activities) are less than those of someone who does not belong to a racial minority group.
Factoring race into the qualifications for admission seems to fly in the face of the principle laid down by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who did not want his children judged by the color of their skin. It also stands in opposition to the trend toward “meritocracy” in other aspects of college admissions. Gone are the days when children of alumni got preferential treatment or when men with lower test scores were admitted over more qualified women, just to keep the genders in balance.
Now the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, in which a student who was denied admission is suing the university for discriminating against her because she is white. She contends that less qualified minorities were admitted while she was not.
However, the case is not a simple “was she or not?” The university will argue that the quality of a university education depends on more than the intellectual capacity of its students. A university is responsible for introducing students to the diversity of society, and therefore more than grades should be taken into consideration. Also, grades and test scores do not tell everything, as evidenced by the fact that two of the justices on the court — Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas — benefited from affirmative action early in their careers.
Court-watchers point out that five of the justices are already on record opposing the use of race as a factor in college-admission decisions, which suggests that affirmative action in this regard may be in trouble. So, it would seem, is diversity on many college campuses.