The big affirmative action news for June was the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. Texas, which turned out less than momentous when the Court sent the case back for further proceedings. It remains unclear just how far affirmative action can go in the case of African Americans and other racial groups.
But what about affirmative action for Republicans? On June 20, the University of Colorado Board of Regents approved a motion to do a climate survey of all the system's campuses. Unlike most such surveys, this one will include issues of political diversity.
That raises some interesting questions. What if conservative faculty and students perceive themselves to be oppressed victims of a hostile liberal environment? What if Republicans are underrepresented? Will we end up with affirmative action for conservatives and Republicans?
Most liberals are not sympathetic to the alleged woes of conservatives on campus. Republicans, they maintain, are not an oppressed group. Affirmative action for Republicans is a perversion of what affirmative action is all about. And political minorities, in any event, are different from racial minorities.
But political minorities have rights too. Conservative students and faculty may indeed experience harassment, ridicule, and bias in some academic contexts. Republicans may indeed be underrepresented in some colleges and fields of study. Political and ideological diversity are no less important than racial diversity to the quality of education students receive.
Conservatives are happy to accuse liberals of hypocrisy for supporting affirmative action for African Americans but not Republicans. They argue that affirmative action for political minorities is no less justifiable in principle than affirmative action for racial or other minorities. They may even think affirmative action for Republicans is justified.
But conservatives have a problem of their own. Even if Republicans are indeed underrepresented and oppressed in large segments of academia, how can they support affirmative action for Republicans but not African Americans? Do they really want to argue that affirmative action is okay after all, but not for African Americans?
The solution for both liberals and conservatives, I suggest, is consistency. But this may require serious reconsideration of affirmative action by everyone.
Liberals may be horrified at the thought of giving special consideration to conservatives in faculty hiring or student admission. Maybe that's reason to limit such consideration by requiring that discriminatory policies meet a rigorous standard of strict scrutiny, as the Supreme Court has done with regard to race. But whatever limits we place on affirmative action should apply consistently.
Conservatives may be genuinely concerned about the marginalization of conservative views on campus. Maybe that's reason for considering some forms of affirmative action. But whatever we do to benefit Republicans and support conservative voices, we should do the same for other underrepresented and marginalized groups and viewpoints.
What should colleges do for underrepresented groups? They can seek out potential students and faculty associated with such groups who might not think to apply or might not expect their applications to be taken seriously. They can make sure everyone knows they are welcome regardless of race, political views, or other such characteristics or choices. They can devise and enforce nondiscrimination policies.
And more: They can provide an inclusive curriculum. They can ensure diverse extracurricular opportunities. They can endorse a multicultural academic community and advocate for intellectual freedom. They can even encourage debate about the nature, scope, and justification of affirmative action.
But colleges should generally admit students and hire faculty on the basis of academic merit and promise, not on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, ideological views, or other such factors. Deviations from this principle should be clearly acknowledged and convincingly justified, with due consideration for equity across groups.
Whatever the campus climate for Republicans, African Americans, or other groups, affirmative action programs should not divide us into fixed political, racial, or other categories competing for recognition. Affirmative action, properly conceived, enhances education for everyone without discriminating against anyone.