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Archive for Sunday, January 26, 2003

New questions to measure diversity

January 26, 2003

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— It is really a misunderstanding. Out in Ann Arbor -- which is the Athens of the Midwest, if it does say so itself, and it does -- the large-hearted and progressive-minded University of Michigan insists that its undergraduate and law school admissions policies do not actually involve racial preferences. Heaven forfend. The policies are diversity preferences.

Granted, African-American, Hispanic and Native American undergraduate applicants get 20 points added to their scores (150 is the maximum possible) just for being members of their groups. And although the law school has a different way of weighting race, applicants from those three groups are much more likely to be admitted than other applicants with comparable academic credentials. However, the university says rewarding certain favored races and ethnic groups is just a means of promoting diversity.

Because the university is an institution of higher learning, its focus is on minds. Therefore the "diversity" it wants -- the law school speaks of diversity of "perspective" -- is presumably diversity of thinking. Or, considering that applicants are young and intellectually unformed, perhaps just diversity of experiences and outlooks.

In any case, the university's assumption appears to be that race or ethnicity is a reliable predictor of an individual's inner landscape -- of his or her mental makeup. This assumption might seem to involve the sin of racial and ethnic stereotyping, or even the scarlet sin of profiling. However, it obviously cannot involve either, because the university is famously progressive, and hence abhors both sins.

Furthermore, the university is liberal and hence surely on the cutting edge of Michigan postmodernism. So it probably more or less believes that all ideas are equally worthy, or unworthy. Whatever. And the university's focus on African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans indicates a special interest in groups that have been discriminated against in higher education and (unlike, say, Jews and Asians) have not surmounted past discrimination to become well-represented in higher education. Proportional representation, that is the goal.

Now, given the university's insistence that its preferences are not about race but diversity, and given the fact that the only pertinent diversity in a university is diversity of thought, and given the fact that the university fancies itself exquisitely concerned with the excluded, therefore: Its admissions policies should include preferential treatment for conservatives.

In Ann Arbor, which voted for George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984, when each was losing 49 states, conservatives are scarce. This must grieve the university, which craves diversity and surely resents the accusation that academic institutions favor diversity in everything but thought. So here is a modest proposal.

The university should promote diversity of thought by asking all applicants the following 15 questions, awarding each applicant 10 points for each diversity-enhancing answer (150 points being a perfect Diversity Quotient):

l The Supreme Court's principal function is (a) to wield the Constitution as a living document to right all wrongs (b) to protect the Second Amendment.

l Do you wish to enroll in UM's ROTC program? U.S. policy toward Iraq should be: (a) give peace a chance (b) pave it.

l The UM Wolverines athletic budget ($54 million) (a) is too small (b) should be contributed to Greenpeace.

l True or False: Ohio State is part of the axis of evil. Were you home schooled?

l Do you watch Fox News Channel?

l America's coolest anchorman is (a) Tom Brokaw (b) Dan Rather (c) Peter Jennings (d) Brit Hume.

l Do you read National Review while listening to Rush Limbaugh? Can you tell the difference between The New York Times front page and its editorial page?

l The most socially beneficial development in America in the last three decades was (a) Roe vs. Wade (b) the University of Michigan speech code (c) ESPN.

l America's worst failing is (a) racism (b) sexism (c) inequality (d) imperialism (e) respect for the United Nations.

l Given a choice, would you own (a) an environmentally friendly hybrid car? (b) a Ford F-150 pickup truck?

l Who is the more plausible president: (a) Martin Sheen of "The West Wing"? (b) John Edwards of North Carolina? (c) Any of the Dixie Chicks?

l The Miller Lite ad in which the "tastes great" woman and the "less filling" woman duke it out in a bodice-ripping cat fight is (a) fascistic phallocentrism (b) a hoot.

Dear applicant, if your answers optimize your Diversity Quotient (b, yes, b, a, true, yes, yes, who are those first three guys?, yes, you're kidding -- right?, c, e, b, c, b), well, then: Welcome to Ann Arbor, you wonderful addition to Wolverine diversity.




-- George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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