Why do liberals love diversity?


The United States Supreme Court is revisiting the issue of affirmative action through the University of Michigan affirmative action cases. I believe liberals like racial and ethnic diversity because they think it produces more liberals, but the evidence they rely on in this case does not support their belief.

To achieve diversity, the Law School provides dramatic preferences to blacks, chicanos, Indians and Puerto Ricans (why not Asians?). For example, plaintiff Barbara Grutter had a 3.8 GPA and an LSAT score of 161. Compared to other candidates, 17 out of 88 white applicants with Grutter’s scores (19 percent), one out of 13 Asian applicants (eight percent), and seven out of seven preferred minority applicants were admitted. This disparity extends across all ranges of GPA and LSAT composites. We now know part of the cost of affirmative action. What are its benefits?

The defendants in the cases rely heavily on a study by Prof. Patricia Gurin of the University of Michigan, purportedly showing that racial and ethnic diversity greatly benefits students. Gurin’s study begins from liberal premises and produces liberal results. Gurin’s study emphasizes that college and law school are times when young adults “experiment” with different “philosoph[ies] of life” until they find one that “feel[s] authentic.” In this way, by rejecting their prior mores and beliefs, the young adults can develop their own identities. The time at college is critical because the personal philosophies of adolescents are malleable and, once fixed, generally remain unchanged for life.

Notice the liberal presuppositions: We are all radically autonomous individuals who construct for ourselves our own moral identity. No mention is made of belief systems, such as Christianity, where one is part of a community and inaugurated into that community’s understanding of reality. Note also the underlying premise that there is no absolute normative baseline of truth or right and that everyone must do what he wants until he finds something that “feel[s]” good to him. The first great benefit of diversity, in effect, is the inculcation of moral relativism.

The other great benefit of racial diversity is what Gurin labels “democracy outcomes.” They are actually liberal outcomes. Besides the affirmance of pluralism, i.e., moral relativism, the touted results of diversity look like any number of liberal ideals: influencing the political structure, influencing social values, involvement in programs to clean the environment, participating in community action programs, promoting racial understanding, cultural awareness and appreciation, and acceptance of other cultures. While many of these values are laudable when taken in a way that affirms truth and recognizes error they are decidedly liberal in the sense used by Gurin. The second benefit of diversity, then, is political liberalism.

Even though liberals praise Gurin’s study because it seeks to establish that diversity makes good liberals, Gurin’s study was structurally flawed. Gurin, contrary to what one would think, did not study the effects of classroom diversity on students. Instead, she studied students who had taken racial/ethnic studies courses. Thus, Gurin’s conclusions are not that racial diversity produces all of the positive outcomes she claims but that taking certain classes produces those outcomes. Why not just have students take such classes and avoid the harm caused by affirmative action?

Gurin’s methodology was rigged from the beginning to produce results beneficial to the defendants’ position. For example, Gurin has stated that racial diversity increases “complex thinking.” The results of this variable are from a survey asking students themselves questions such as: Do you “prefer simple rather than complex explanations?” This method of testing the variable of complex thinking does no more than discern whether students think themselves capable of complex thinking. Thus, when Gurin claims that racial diversity promotes complex thinking what she is really saying is that proxies for racial diversity promote students thinking of themselves as complex thinkers.

Further, Gurin did not control for the variable that is most likely to account for the causal relationship she posits between racial diversity and its benefits: antecedent political liberalism. The questions Gurin asked contained no questions that one would label conservative and instead included questions inquiring about political activism and aiding the environment. Gurin asked no questions about beliefs concerning abortion, the Second Amendment, or other divisive issues that could exclude preexisting political liberalism as the explanatory variable for the “benefits” of diversity. Thus, she failed to show that the students who took the classes she studied were not already politically liberal.

Liberals love diversity because they believe that it makes more good liberals. There is, however, a great cost involved in terms of discrimination against equally or more qualified students. Gurin’s vaunted study fails to make the case that racial and ethnic diversity are beneficial and worth that cost.