Victor Davis Hanson claims that “university presidents have lost their dignity” in Ivory Cower:
Finally, there is Robert J. Birgeneau, the new chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. Upon arriving in the Bay Area, he quickly vowed to solve the problems he had found. Surprisingly, these had nothing to do with a decline in academic standards, deterioration in the quality of Berkeley’s key departments, or a state funding crisis. Instead, the chancellor complained that Berkeley has fewer Native American, Hispanic, and African-American students enrolled than it should — the campus was only 3% black, 9.5% Hispanic, and 0.4% Native American, in contrast with about 45% Asian-American and about 33% white. (The California population comprises 6.5% blacks, 33% Hispanics, 0.92% Native Americans, 11% Asian-Americans, and 45% whites.) Mr. Birgeneau is obsessed with racial diversity, as determined by percentages and quotas. But as we shall see, the numbers, under closer examination, may make him regret pandering to the diversity industry.
Chancellor Birgeneau blames the apparent statistical injustices on Proposition 209, the 1996 California ballot initiative that forbids the use of racial criteria in state hiring; it passed with the support of 55% of the electorate. In his view, however, democracy ought to defer to elite opinion; thus, to this Canadian academic the state’s voters were obviously misguided: ‘I personally don’t believe that most of the people who voted for 209 intended this consequence.’
One can learn a lot about the pathologies of the contemporary university from what its presidents say — and don’t say. A close look at the data suggests a different picture from the one implied by Mr. Birgeneau’s gratuitous lamentations about the lack of diversity. Whites, for instance, are underenrolled at Berkeley: They amount to around 35% of undergraduates versus 45% of the state’s population. Given this fact, why doesn’t the Chancellor complain about the shortage of whites on campus?
He is oddly quiet, too, about the more explosive issue of the Asian-American presence. This group constitutes almost half the Berkeley student population, even though Asians make up only about 11% of California residents and 4% of the general U.S. population. Why doesn’t Mr. Birgeneau admit that achieving his racial utopia would require deliberately reducing the enrollment of Asian-American students mdash; presumably by discounting meritocratic criteria and test scores and instead emphasizing ‘community service’ or other nebulous standards designed to circumvent Proposition 209? But because the new chancellor is obviously a sensitive sort, he cannot say what he apparently means: something like, ‘We have too many Asians, almost five times too many, and I am here to impose a quota on them and other suspect races.’ Instead, he worries about ‘underrepresentation’ of some, while denying the logical corollary of ‘overrepresentation’ of others. The same logic applies to gender, by the way. UC campuses enroll thousands more women than men, very much out of proportion to the general population, and yet Mr. Birgeneau does not decry the ‘overabundance’ of women.
Remember, too, that Asians have suffered a particularly long history of discrimination in California. Despite everything from immigration quotas to forced internment during World War II, they have the highest high-school graduation rates in the state, while blacks and Hispanics suffer the lowest. What, then, could we learn from the Asian-American experience that seems to render past hurdles to achievement irrelevant to present academic performance? Don’t expect Chancellor Birgeneau to take the lead in asking this question.