Affirmative Action For (White) Boys

When National Review Editor Fred Barnes was recently fulminating against Judge Sonia Sotomayor because she was, by his lights alone, "helped tremendously by affirmative action," it's curious that he didn't mention so was he. In his University of Virginia days in the late Fifties, Barnes benefited from white male preference, known in those days as "segregation" and gender discrimination. Nor did pundit Bill Bennett (Williams '65), in attacks on Judge Sotomayor, mention that he too was a beneficiary of a pre-shrunk applicant pool of white males. The irony of their silence is that this white male preference in college admissions is happening again under the guise of their most hated program: affirmative action.

"It's not the College of Mary and Mary; it's the College of William and Mary," said Henry Broaddus, Dean of Admissions at William and Mary, explaining the thumb on the admission scales for boys.

Conservatives have framed the debate around "reverse racism," "race programs," "race preference," and victims, always victims. Indeed, several of the right-wing foundations that use deceptive phrases like "equality" and "civil rights" actually solicit people who haven't gotten into their first college choice and/or didn't get a job or a promotion to which he or she deemed themselves worthy. This strategy of race victimhood has been played out since Bakke in the Seventies.

While the conservatives love to bathe in race, the fact is that women have always been the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action. Let us not forget, up until 1970, women were not admitted to the Ivy League and many other elite colleges, including the military academies. There were no female CEOs of public companies. Police and fire departments were all male. And colleges were predominantly male.

Affirmative action has worked wonders for women in every single sphere of our society over the last 40 years, but nowhere has it worked better than on the college campus. There are now more women than men on America's college campuses, and the gender imbalance is increasing at an alarming rate. This is salutary in a general sense, but it is a little dangerous in terms of diversity. Hence, the second tier elite colleges, those right under the Ivy League, have been giving preference to boys in admission for the past several years.

The conservatives would rather not have an affirmative action discussion about gender balancing. It dilutes their simple and simplistic arguments. Indeed, at William and Mary women are accepted at 26 percent and men at 44 percent.

Where is the conservative hue and cry over this usage of affirmative action? Where are the victims they can trot out to the media? Where are the lawsuits? There will be none because they do not care about an honest discussion of diversity. They only want to fuel and incite racial animus. By focusing affirmative action on race, and race alone, and by creating the fiction that there is some inherent unfairness in a quest for diversity, conservatives achieve their goal: preserving the primacy of white males. That is the reason for this silence over gender balancing, which has been going on for almost a decade as female numbers on college campuses increased dramatically as a result of affirmative action.

One can only imagine what the outcry would be if the above percentages were used for black students at white universities. But Barnes, Bennett, Pat Buchanan (Georgetown '61-no women; token number of blacks), Newt Gingrich (Emory '65-segregated), and the other elder statesmen of the right are revealed by their disinterest in pursuing the "victims" of this "discrimination." They're only interested when they can pit white against black.

One would think that young women, who have a much harder time now getting into elite colleges because of this white male preference, would be outraged, but clearly, they are not. They prefer to have a large percentage of males on the co-ed campuses as well, much the same as students polled about affirmative action. They overwhelmingly prefer to have a diverse campus. The students have accepted diversity and embraced it. These kids know something these old, white male dinosaurs don't: diversity is our strength; we learn from each other.

Affirmative action may have started 40 years ago to help black people integrate the institutions that Barnes and Bennett attended, but it has changed, matured and now exists to include the excluded. But this time the white male preference is not to discriminate, but to be inclusive. And in a pluralistic society, that is a laudable goal.

Gregory Allen Howard is an award-winning screenwriter.