According to a new report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “A group of Asian-American, African-American, and Latin American students and alumni has asked to be allowed to make opening and closing statements and to cross-examine” expert witnesses in the pending case of Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard, which I discussed here and here.
The Chronicle begins its article by asserting that “students are at the center of a lawsuit accusing Harvard University of bias against Asian and Asian-American applicants in its admissions process,” all but explicitly arguing they should thus be allowed to testify. Although this argument is common, even ubiquitous, it always strikes me as odd, because all the justifications for racial and ethnic preferences stress the necessity of non-“diverse” students being exposed to those who are “different” from themselves. Those “diverse” students who would not have been admitted but for their “diversity,” after all, would have received whatever benefits “diversity” has to offer at less selective institutions where they could have earned admission on their own, individual (as opposed to racial or ethnic) qualifications.
In order to conform to the standard defense of “diversity,” in short, these witness wannabes should be accompanied by non-“diverse” Harvard students who presumably would assert how their education would have been ruined by not being exposed to these worthy witnesses.
The eight students and alums who want to testify argue that Harvard needs more students like, well, themselves. Caroline Zheng, a Chinese-American senior, “said she would like to testify that more racial diversity is needed at Harvard to improve the campus climate for all students of color, including Asian-Americans.” The “diverse” students, that is, need more “diversity” in order to feel included. In another odd argument, Sally Chen, another Chinese-American senior, said she would like to testify about “how ethno-racial diversity on Harvard’s campus has benefited her by providing a foundation for her student activism.” That helped her, she claims, in her “effort to secure an ethnic-studies program that includes Asian-American studies.” Thus, it is claimed, one of the benefits of “diversity” is that it enables “diverse” students to demand departments of “diversity.”
One common argument that “diverse” beneficiaries often put forward as a justification for the preference they received is missing here, or at least not reported in the Chronicle summary. I have described this argument as the C’est Moi! defense, which I summarized here, giving a number of examples:
I never would have been admitted to [insert selective college name here] or [insert law, graduate, or professional school here], but I was given an opportunity because of my race and now look how successful I am. Thus, others should also be given opportunities because of their race.
For example, in Justification For Preferences? C’est Moi! I discussed the typical argument of Theodore Shaw, formerly Director-Counsel and President) of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, that without racial preferences he would not have been admitted to Wesleyan University or Columbia Law School:
One can readily understand why Mr. Shaw regards his own success as compelling justification for the racial discrimination against someone else required to achieve it, but there may be some benefit in those of us without his interest examining the argument. Let us begin by assuming, with him, that he would not have been accepted at Wesleyan or Columbia without the racial preference he received, although in fact that may not be true. (In the absence of preferences, after all, some minorites are still admitted into even the most selective schools.) Still, there is no reason to assume that it was Wesleyan and Columbia or nowhere. Since Wesleyan found him “qualified,” he presumably would have been accepted elsewhere, and since it sounds as though he was poor he would have qualifed for financial aid. Indeed, he might have wound up exactly where he is, for even the NAACP LDF doesn’t require graduation from elite colleges and Ivy League law schools of its employees. Nor is there any reason to assume that the white’s, Asian’s, or other non-preferred minority’s place Mr.Shaw took would have led a life of sloth and indulgence, contributing nothing comparable to Mr. Shaw’s contribution to the national well-being. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Shaw when I say that, placing his success and contributions on one side of the scale and the principle of non-discrimination on the other, there seems to be no compelling national interest in sacrificing the latter for the former.
Mr. Shaw posted a comment on my post, to which I responded at length here.
Returning now to the current case concerning the complaint that Harvard discriminates against Asian applicants, the most eloquent unheard voices are the students who are in fact at the center of this case: the apparently legion numbers of Asian students who are not at Harvard, who were refused admission but would have been admitted if they were not Asian. That there are many such students is not really in dispute, since even Harvard has admitted that its proportion of Asian students would jump from about 20% now to over 40% if race and ethnicity were not taken into account.
If the court allows the testimony of a few “diverse” students who tout the benefit “diversity,” it should also allow the appearance of a few who could testify eloquently about its cost.