race-based preferences

Giving students preferential treatment because of the color of their skin does not help minority college students – and in fact – it hurts them.

So says University of Michigan Professor Carl Cohen, who cannot be labeled as one of those token conservative scholars who speak out against affirmative action.

Cohen’s recently published bookA Conflict of Principles: The Battle over Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan” was profiled earlier this month in The Wall Street Journal, which noted the philosophy professor was “a liberal when he joined the Michigan faculty in 1955 (he is now 83).” ProfCohen

“Mr. Cohen stuck to his belief in colorblind law even as educators at his own campus and elsewhere abandoned it,” the Journal reported. “Early in his career, he joined the debate over preferences, arguing against them in various publications and at public events, though to this day he donates money to the NAACP and the ACLU, both ardent supporters of preferences.”

In A Conflict of Principles, Professor Cohen continues to grind against the grain in the world of academia by denouncing racial preferences for college admissions, this time with a special focus on his own employer, the University of Michigan, which has been embroiled in several high-profile affirmative action lawsuits.

The College Fix conducted the following interview with Professor Cohen on the subject:

What motivated you investigate affirmative action at the University of Michigan?

Cohen: The philosophical justification of democracy rests upon the conviction that all members of some community are equal. In a democracy any preference for a racial group is intolerable. I learned, in 1995, that my university, the University of Michigan — which I love – was apparently giving race preference in admissions. I felt obliged to get the details and to seek to change that practice.

What response did you expect to receive from your coworkers, administrators, or alumni, and how did this differ from the actual response you were given?

Cohen: Most students and faculty here believed, mistaken in my view, that admissions preference was an advantage for minorities. In fact, it is very damaging to blacks and CarlCohenother minorities when it is known that they have been preferred because of their race. But I knew that, since they believed preference was an advantage for minorities, my colleagues and students would for the most part disagree with me. And what I expected was in fact realized. They did. They still do. Disagreement here at the University of Michigan, however, was and remains courteous and civil, even when intense.

Do you feel that affirmative action is a well-intentioned but poorly executed program, or that it should be scrapped entirely and replaced?

Cohen: Affirmative action has many forms. It can be honorable and right. When it takes the form of outright preference, it is morally wrong and deeply unwise. If preference is what is meant by affirmative action, it should be scrapped entirely, for sure.

What system would you like to see for bolstering admission rates for minorities, if you feel a system is needed at all?

Cohen: To bolster admission rates we need to provide the education – especially early childhood education! That will enable minority applicants to succeed on their own merits.

Do you feel the University of Michigan administration treated you different after publishing your book?

Cohen: No, not at all. I have many friends among our administration; I respect and like them, even when I disagree with them. I think they respect me, as well.

If you could change just one thing about racial preferences in the college admissions process, what would it be?

Cohen: One thing to change about race preference, had I the power? Eliminate it.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Cohen: When admission preference is associated with skin color, the result is the strengthening of the ignorant stereotype that people having skins of that color are intellectually weak. This a canard, but it is reinforced by preference.

Preference in admission is a very bad thing for the minority preferred! It is also morally wrong, because it violates the fundamental principle that the races must be treated equally in a decent society.

College Fix reporter David Hookstead is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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A Supreme Court decision on whether universities can use race as an admissions factor is expected by June, however the court of public opinion has already weighed in on the matter – and Americans of all stripes stand largely against affirmative action, according to a variety of recent polls.

In those surveys, at least half if not more of those polled voiced opposition to race-based preferences.

Take a Rasmussen national telephone survey, which found only 24 percent of likely voters were in favor of using race as a factor in college admissions, while 55 percent stood opposed, and the rest were undecided. That survey was conducted 11 months ago.

More recently, a survey released in October found that 57 percent of Americans ages 18 to 25 – so-called young millennials – are opposed to racial preferences in college admissions or hiring decisions. In other words, nearly six out of every 10 opposed the practice.

“Although most younger millennials are firmly opposed to affirmative action programs in college admissions, relatively few report that they were hurt in the college admissions process because of their race or gender,” states a report on the results of the survey, conducted by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs at Georgetown University and the Public Religion Research Institute.

Results also indicated 47 percent of those in that age group “oppose programs that make special efforts to help blacks and other minorities to get ahead because of past discrimination.”

What’s more, the survey found “support for affirmative action programs diminishes considerably when younger millennials are asked specifically about affirmative action for college admission.”

The same month that survey was released, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Fisher v. the University of Texas, which deals with race-conscious college admissions in America’s public universities.

Most of academia has expressed support for the University of Texas, which aims to continue its practice of using race as a preferential factor in admissions decisions. Administrators and faculty at elite schools have also chimed in, defending the notion of “diversity” in the classroom. All members of the Ivy League, the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, and other big-name schools, have filed amicus briefs on University of Texas’ behalf.

Yet the higher education community’s overwhelming support for racial preferences is not mirrored by the general public.

This month, the American Enterprise Institute released a political report that compiled public opinion on a variety of issues, including affirmative action. In its publication, the organization cited data from a 2010 survey by the National Opinion Research Center which found that a vast majority of Americans – 81 percent – oppose affirmative action policies that favor African Americans.

What’s more, only between 44 and 62 percent of blacks polled voiced support for various minority preferences, the poll found. AEI’s public opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman notes, in an interview with The College Fix, that results on such a sensitive topic are always swayed by how pollsters’ frame the question.

Nevertheless, she points to perhaps the most consistent of all affirmative action data available, an annual survey by the UCLA-based Higher Education Research Institute. The poll has found that, since 1995 and every year since, roughly 50 percent of college freshmen believe race-based university admissions preferences should be abolished.

“You could balance a glass of water on that line it’s so flat,” Bowman says.

Fix contributor Danielle Charette is a student at Swarthmore College.

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