Soundings

Roger Kimball
Affirmative Reaction?
College kids say no to the shibboleths of their left-wing profs.
Summer 2000

If only George Orwell had lived long enough to encounter the phrase "affirmative action." What a splendid piece of Newspeak: love is hate, war is peace, and preferential treatment is an agent of equality—for of course "affirmative action" really means preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, or some other duly certified badge of alleged victimhood. By thus re-christening preferential treatment, liberals have been able to ignore equality, merit, and other inconveniences as they attempt to remake the world; they can practice racial and sexual discrimination while posing as apostles of fairness.

But there are hopeful signs that the culture of affirmative action may be cracking, and where one might least expect it: on campus. A recent poll shows that more than 90 percent of U.S. college students oppose racial preferences in admissions. The poll, conducted by John Zogby for the Foundation for Academic Standards & Tradition, reveals that while a large majority (84.3 percent) of students say that ethnic diversity is important, "92.7 percent oppose giving preferences to blacks and Hispanics, favoring fair enrollment instead." Further, four out of five students hold that lowering entrance standards for some students—regardless of the reason—is unfair to other students.

Commenting on the survey, Marc Levin, founder of Students for a Colorblind Society at the University of Texas, Austin, notes that student supporters of racial quotas tend to be more vocal than opponents. "At UT, students backing racial preferences and radical multicultural curricula have occupied buildings and shouted down equal-rights leaders Ward Connerly and David Horowitz," he says. Now, Levin adds, "it is simply no longer possible to pretend that the racial-preference agenda of the loudest and most disruptive students reflects the convictions of the vast majority of their counterparts."

Zogby's poll suggests that new breezes are blowing on American campuses, not only with respect to biased admissions policies but also regarding the nebulous subject of political correctness. Almost 60 percent of the 1,000-odd students surveyed said that there was "too much politics in the classroom and colleges need to rededicate themselves to objectivity and intellectual freedom," while an almost equal percentage said that "there is too much political propaganda, both left-wing and right-wing, in the classroom."

These portents don't mean that affirmative action or political correctness is a thing of the past. Far from it, especially since, according to a recent national survey conducted by the American Council on Education, the left continues to dominate the professorate: only 7 percent of professors in top universities described themselves as conservatives. The results do suggest, however, that a new candor is beginning to make itself felt on campus.

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