Ubiquitous Non Sequitur

In a post yesterday I complained about the argument that discrimination on the basis of race is no different from discrimination on the basis of athletic or musical ability, geographical background, or anything else. The implication is that anyone who is comfortable with preferences based on these factors has no business being uncomfortable with preferences based on race. As I’ve said, I find this argument not only wrong but actually offensive, trivializing as it does racial discrimination.

Unfortunately, you can’t turn around without hearing this argument. Thus I am hereby giving it a name: Ubiquitous Non Sequitur. Here’s a good example, from an editorial today in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot:

Let us hope that those who would dismantle the ability of colleges to consider race in fashioning a student body will next turn their sights to the back-scratching quotient.

If grades and test scores alone are worth considering, then certainly nobody ought to wind up on a school roster because Daddy Sam gave $1 million to the boosters club or Great Uncle Bob chaired the board of trustees.

If grades and test scores alone are the measure, then forget gender, geography, economic disparity, life experience, extra-curricular activities and creative genius on a college application form as well.

This example has the virtue of containing a non sequitur inside the non sequitur, since barring the consideration of race does not require the consideration only of grades and test scores. Just as allowing discrimination on some grounds (athletic ability, etc.) does not legitimize discrimination on all grounds (race, religion), so barring discrimination on some grounds does not bar it on all grounds. You’d think this would be elementary.

The eminent social scientist James Q. Wilson made what should have been the final comment on the UNS (Ubiquitous Non Sequitur, in case you’ve already forgotten):

we did not fight the Civil War to make sure the University of Mississippi would admit good quarterbacks, we fought it to make certain it would admit blacks. To say that racial and athletic classifications are similar or that one can reason from the latter to the former is foolish. No court has ever held, or is likely to hold, that being able to throw a football 60 yards (or to have a father who gave the school a million dollars) places you in a class whose rights are protected by the barrier of strict scrutiny. Of course, one could argue for making both race and athleticism the same, by getting the Court to say that race is no longer a suspect classification. But that would mean reversing 40 years of desegregation. [“Symposium: Is Affirmative Action on the Way Out? Should It Be?” COMMENTARY, March 1998]

Say What? (2)

  1. Jim C. December 15, 2002 at 11:41 pm | | Reply

    I don’t think it is a non sequitur. I think most objections to using race as a criterion are based on the idea that the best-qualified should get into college regardless of race (or gender, for that matter). Best-qualified usually means the people likely to do best in college. And I think the best way to determine this is by grades and standardized test scores (not necessarily SATs). But I’m sure this makes me a wild-eyed radical to many.

    Let’s consider sports. In my opinion, sports ability is irrelevant to doing well in college. Many good athletes also have good high school grades and test scores. They should get in. Poor students shouldn’t get in even if they’re terrific in sports.

    Of course, society has to decide what colleges should be doing. If they should be imparting learning, then again, grades and scores should be the only consideration. If, on the other extreme, they should just be giving pieces of paper to rich people or people society likes, other considerations should apply.

    Re music ability: it shouldn’t be considered unless, for instance, you’re a music major at Northwestern.

    Re geography: I read somewhere that this was instituted specifically to limit the number of Jews in East Coast universities. I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t have a cite.

    BTW I’m a registered Republican and not Jewish.

  2. Class War? August 18, 2019 at 10:49 pm |

    […] Merit is nice. Sometimes it’s very important. But sacrificing it for something else (often a different kind of merit, as when academic standards are lowered for athletes) does not violate what Gunnar Myrdal called “The American Creed.” As the eminent social scientist James Q. Wilson once wrote (quoted here): […]

Say What?