Wall Street Journal op-ed: Why Aren’t There More Black Scientists?, by Gail Heriot (San Diego):
The evidence suggests that one reason is the perverse impact of university racial preferences.
Remember when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor predicted in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) that universities would no longer need race-preferential admissions policies in 25 years? By the end of this year, that period will be half over. Yet the level of preferential treatment given to minority students has, if anything, increased.
Meanwhile, numerous studies—as I explain in a recent report for the Heritage Foundation [A "Dubious Expediency": How Race-Preferential Admissions Policies on Campus Hurt Minority Students]—show that the supposed beneficiaries of affirmative action are less likely to go on to high-prestige careers than otherwise-identical students who attend schools where their entering academic credentials put them in the middle of the class or higher. In other words, encouraging black students to attend schools where their entering credentials place them near the bottom of the class has resulted in fewer black physicians, engineers, scientists, lawyers and professors than would otherwise be the case.
But university administrators don’t want to hear that their support for affirmative action has left many intended beneficiaries worse off, and they refuse to take the evidence seriously.
The mainstream media support them on this. The Washington Post, for instance, recently featured a story lamenting that black students are less likely to major in science and engineering than their Asian or white counterparts. Left unstated was why. As my report shows, while black students tend to be a little more interested in majoring in science and engineering than whites when they first enter college, they transfer into softer majors in much larger numbers and so end up with fewer science or engineering degrees.
This is not because they don’t have the right stuff. Many do—as demonstrated by the fact that students with identical entering academic credentials attending somewhat less competitive schools persevere in their quest for a science or engineering degree and ultimately succeed. Rather, for many, it is because they took on too much, too soon given their level of academic preparation.
It is no fluke that historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, have an excellent record of graduating future scientists and engineers. In 2006 HBCUs accounted for 21% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded to black students. Yet 33% of the black students awarded Ph.D.s in science or engineering had received their bachelor’s degree at an HBCU. Probably the single most important reason is that at HBCUs half the black students have entering credentials in the top half of the class. At competitive colleges elsewhere, given race-preferential admissions, black student credentials cluster at the bottom. ...
About 50% of the public medical schools I recently surveyed have since been warned by their official accreditor—the Liaison Committee on Medical Education—that they need to pay more attention to racially diversifying their classes. At least one law school, George Mason University, had its re-accreditation seriously threatened for failure to toe the diversity line.
This is where Congress can help, by prohibiting accreditors from wading into student-body diversity issues. This proposal is modest, since it will not prevent any school from pursuing its own preferred diversity policy. But it is a first step toward bringing race-preferential policies under control—something that Justice O’Connor mistakenly believed would happen on its own.