The Myth That ‘Diversity’ Improves Higher Education Should Finally Be Laid to Rest
In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), Justice Lewis F. Powell introduced into constitutional law the well-intentioned canard that race-based affirmative action is permissible in higher education — despite race being a “suspect classification” under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment — because the presumed benefits of a “diverse” student body constitute a “compelling state interest.” This unsubstantiated rationale was based on Powell’s approval of Harvard’s use of race as a “plus factor” in admissions. Explicit quotas would not be tolerated, but more nuanced consideration of race by college and university admissions officers would pass muster if necessary to achieve “a diverse student body.” Thus was the current model of affirmative action in higher education launched and legitimized. In Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), the Court narrowly affirmed the vitality of Bakke, in a shaky 5-4 decision written by the now-departed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
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