The Boston Globe reports this morning that in order to provoke a debate over racial preferences the Boston University College Republicans are offering a $250 scholarship that
requires the recipient to be at least one quarter white and to have at least a 3.2 grade point average. Applicants have to submit a photo of themselves and write two short essays about their race. The first question asks applicants to describe their ancestry and the other, what it means to be a Caucasian-American today.
Joseph Mroszczyk, the president of the group, stated that
We are trying to convey the absurdity of any race-based scholarship…. I don’t think race should be part of any scholarship. It should be based on merit or economic need.
A note in the three-page application says that
race-based scholarships and other affirmative action policies send a message to members of minority groups that they are inferior and require special accommodations to be raised to the same level as others.
Did we do this to give a scholarship to white kids? Of course not. Did we do it to trigger a discussion on what we believe to be a morally wrong practice of basing decisions in our schools and our jobs on racial preferences rather than merit? Absolutely.
The tactic is succeeding. Supporters of racial preferences, who claim that this tactic is a stunt that will do nothing to provoke discussion, are discussing it. For example, “in interviews last night,” reports a student paper at another college in the Boston area,
several Harvard students said that the Caucasian-only scholarship was divisive.
“An act such as this is probably not going to help people on the other side of the table understand where the BU Republicans are coming from,” said Jason C. B. Lee ’08, president of the Harvard Black Students Association. “We’re open to discussion, but we think it should be done in a less inflammatory way.”
Leaders of Harvard’s political community agreed, criticizing the means used by the BU Republicans.
“If they want to have a serious debate about affirmative action, that’s one thing,” said Eric P. Lesser ’07, former president of the Harvard College Democrats. “But if they want to resort to these gimmicks, then that’s despicable.”
“The statement they’re making is worthwhile,” said Mark A. Shepard ’08, the former vice president of the Harvard College Republicans, “but they are themselves engaging in discrimination to protest discrimination.”
“This idea is completely ridiculous,” Vijay G. Warrier ’09 said. “But if this scholarship is awarded, Indian-Americans should be allowed to apply because any reasonable usage of the term ‘Caucasian’ would include most Indians.”
Many anthropologists and biologists believe that those who live in present day India and Pakistan are genetically Caucasian, having emigrated from Western Eurasia centuries ago.
That article also reported that “Mroszczyk said in an interview that his organization was protesting the National Hispanic Recognition Program, the only scholarship offered at BU for which ethnicity is a prerequisite.” It did not report whether any of the interviewed Harvard students thought that scholarship was “divisive.”
Long-time readers, at least ones with good memories, will recall a similar flap over a conservative student group at Roger Williams University in Providence offering a $50 scholarship “for a student of non-color.” (See here and here to refresh your memories.)
UPDATE [23 Nov.]
Reader Fred Ray calls our attention to this heated editorial condemnation of the Boston University College Republicans in the student newspaper. For example, it claims that “BUCR’s claim that race-based scholarships send the message that minorities are ‘inferior and incapable of meeting us at our level,’ is absolutely obscene.”
When the editorial attempts to move beyond simple invective and provide a defense for racially restrictive scholarships (except to whites, etc.), however, it falls flat.
First, it says criticism of race-based benefits “ignores the very real academic achievement gap between whites and minorities.” One could make a relevant argument here, but oddly the evidence the editorial offers in support of this point is that “[m]inority enrollments increased by 50.7 percent to 4.7 million from 1993 to 2003, and the number of white students increased 3.4 percent, to 10.5 million….” And the point of this is?
Moving on, the editorial then argues that racially and ethnically restrictive scholarships “are celebrations of ethnic pride, not handouts from rich, white benefactors, as BUCR’s literature implies.”
Instead, minority organizations and community leaders often fund these scholarships, hoping to help a new generation of students succeed.
The United Negro College Fund, for example, has given more than $2 billion to help more than 350,000 students attend college. The organization — funded in part by black benefactors such as Bill Cosby, Sammy Davis Jr. and Oprah Winfey — says it offers scholarships because it believes “a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” not to make students feel “inferior.”
Let’s leave aside the fact that United Negro College Fund’s two billion dollars, or the great bulk of it, came from a rich, white benefactor, Bill Gates. The point the edit is attempting to make is that these restrictive scholarships, building or reflecting “ethnic pride” as they do, are a Good Thing. Making the same argument as a commenter below, the edit notes:
And race-based scholarships are not just designated to black and Hispanic students. Many heritage groups dish out money to needy students, including those that would fall under the Caucasian label. The National Italian American Foundation, for instance, offers money to Italian American student who do well in high school.
And, of course, there is also the old standby:
Also to imply that white students do not receive any sort of “racial preference” is ludicrous. While they may not be awarded “Caucasian scholarships,” thousands of white students enjoy the benefit of “legacy” status every year.
Let’s see if we can sort some of this out.
First, legacies. It’s not clear in this case whether the editors think “racial preference” for whites in the form of legacy preferences is wrong. If such preferences are discriminatory, they are so because they have a “disparate impact”; they are neutral on their face, but clearly and predictably favor and disfavor certain groups. But insofar as one’s goal is to eliminate all “disparate impact” discrimination, one would have to eliminate not only the SAT but also grades as components of college admission decisions.
But perhaps legacy preferences are like Italian-American scholarships to Italians, and thus aren’t wrong (though they could still be bad policy). I suspect that my own views on these privately endowed preferences, including the “ethnic pride” ones, are similar to those of most critics of official race preferences. (Commenters will let me know if I’m wrong.) And that view is: they’re O.K., as long as they stay in their place … and that place is private. If Bill Gates wants to give money to worthy minorities and the National Italian American Foundation wants to give money to worthy (or even unworthy) Italians, that, in my view, is their prerogative.
But whether foundations and others who attach racial or ethnic strings to their gifts should receive tax deductions as charities is another matter altogether, as I’ve argued here a number of times using the Bob Jones case as an example of liberal hypocrisy on this issue. (See here, here, and here, among many others.)
Most liberals regard tax deductions as indistinguishable from public subsidies. Such a view should logically lead to the conclusion that private discrimination, though tolerated except where specifically outlawed (as by the Civil Rights Act), should not be subsidized by tax dollars.
Many conservatives and most libertarians, by contrast, would emphasize the benefits of private charity and, so to speak, let a thousand flowers bloom, but on equal, non-discriminatory terms. On this view Bill Gates could have his tax deduction for giving race-restricted gifts to minorities, but so too could Bob Jones keep its tax deduction along with its racially discriminatory dance policy.
Finally, let me note that this editorial implicitly recognizes what we preference critics saw right off the bat: the “white scholarship” offered by the BUCR has had the great virtue of promoting discussion, to which the editorial, bad as it is in many ways, contributes.