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 Celebrating Diversity 

June 24, 2003

The hot weather has returned to the East, and it’s hard enough staying awake and alert without reading the prose of the U.S. Supreme Court. Led by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Court has now, to nobody’s surprise, equivocated grandiloquently on the touchy topic of “affirmative action.”

I wish the subject could be discussed in plain language, without recourse to stupefying terms like diverse educational environment, holistic, compelling governmental interest, potential diversity contributions, heterogeneous society, and so forth. For Pete’s sake, we’re talking about college kids!

Justice O’Connor alleges loftily, “Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our nation is essential if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realized.” No kidding? But of course the Court is supposed to be applying the U.S. Constitution, not the Pledge of Allegiance, from which the phrase one nation, indivisible is taken.

Such mushy rhetoric is typical of the Court. Its rulings emanate less from the text of the Constitution than from the justices’ feelings about such slogans as diversity, racial discrimination, underrepresented minorities, inclusion, color-blind, and racial preferences. The liberals have their pet clichßs; the conservatives have theirs.

But it’s not the job of courts to decide what kind of society should exist, or whose “dream” is to be “realized.” As the philosopher Michael Oakeshott warns, “The conjunction of ruling and dreaming generates tyranny.” Free men have their own purposes. The state has no business imposing its purposes on them. Especially in the name of “diversity.”

[Breaker quote: Without imposing it]Why is “diversity” even an interesting goal? When I was in college, the student body, though predominantly white, was diverse in all sorts of ways. I’m sure an all-black student body would be pretty diverse too, since everyone is different. Diversity is hard to prevent.

Of course we’re now discussing a special sort of prescribed diversity, the dream of liberal ideology. It actually sounds pretty monotonous. Why, in this context, does nobody ever speak of “variety” rather than “diversity”? Just what “educational benefits” are supposed to stem from making diversity an end in itself?

I never noticed that my own education was particularly enhanced by the diversity, in any sense, racial or otherwise, of my fellow students. I learned from my professors and the books I read. Other students had fairly little to teach me, and I know I had little to teach them. That’s why we were students. We weren’t there to make “contributions” to the “educational environment.” We were there to learn. Has something changed since then?

I know this is crushingly obvious, but it seems to be lost on jurists and educators who suppose that fine-tuning admissions policies is, or could ever be, the road to utopia. Their inflated view of their own role stems from an inflated idea of education itself, or rather a conception of education that is both grandiose and debased.

O’Connor speaks of education as producing “civic leaders.” Sounds like the sort of nonsense you hear in commencement speeches, where the graduating class, in the presence of their proud parents, is said to consist of “the leaders of tomorrow.” Maybe civic leaders are one byproduct of education, but about the last thing I wanted to be was a civic leader. And President Bush is living proof that you can become a civic leader even if you spend most of your college years at beer parties.

Nothing against beer parties, mind you, but a stroll across any college campus should quickly cure anyone of the notion that a university is a sort of stud farm for civic leaders. No doubt some college students harbor such dark ambitions (Bill Clinton comes to mind), but most kids have more modest purposes, such as making money after they graduate. They don’t view college as a steppingstone to the throne. That sort of agenda is extraneous to education. It isn’t what propels the average youngster to study Plato, computer science, or remedial English, as the case may be.

All this wrangling would be unnecessary if education were private. Every college could set its own standards for its own reasons. It would enjoy the fruits of both private property and freedom of association, without the state telling it what to do. The result could be summed up in a single word: diversity.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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