The Cost of Affirmative Action

"The Cost of Affirmative Action," Harvard Crimson, 4 June 2008.


In the Government Department where I happily reside at Harvard, there are about 50 professors and about three conservatives. In a politics department, mind you. This is the result of affirmative action, a policy in effect for over three decades directed toward the goal of greater diversity. A policy intended to make Harvard more inclusive has rendered it more exclusive in political and intellectual diversity, the diversity that matters most.

These days, students can get more diversity by turning on the TV than by going to Harvard. Some of my colleagues might reply that their objectivity guarantees that both sides will get a hearing, but on TV, if not in their own minds, they would be quickly identified as experts on the liberal side. Liberals, to be fair, are not all the same: Some embrace the Left and others adjust to it. Rarely do any of them oppose the Left.

How did this state of affairs come about? In what follows I focus on the faculty and set aside the students, where affirmative action has not been so spectacular a failure.

Under affirmative action Harvard has gathered a respected group of Black faculty, an undoubted accomplishment. But, as far as I can tell, they do not include a single conservative and are no exception to the lack of diversity. They are treated well, and make their home in the first-class lounge at Harvard, now a privileged minority. Nobody begrudges them their status, but students could learn more about the Black experience from a course on Black thought, if one existed, reading great authors like Douglass, Washington, and Dubois, and taught by a professor of any color. Students would discover more diversity in these authors than is represented among Black professors (with one or two exceptions) at Harvard now.

Harvard Crimson