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Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2001 /4 Teves 5762

Don Feder

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Race not at heart of Americanism -- AFTER Sept. 11, Americans should be asking what unites us as a people and why -- at this juncture -- unity is crucial.

Is it too much to hope that some of the judges of Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will have this in mind when they rule on the constitutionality of the University of Michigan's quota scheme?

Last week, in an unusual move, all nine judges of the court heard appeals from two decisions -- one upholding and the other reversing the admissions plan. Experts think the cases are headed for the Supreme Court, giving justices their first chance to rule on affirmative action in higher education in almost a quarter century.

The school has a point system for evaluating candidates. An applicant gets three points for submitting an excellent essay and 12 points for an SAT score between 1360 and 1600 (a perfect score).

But being an "underrepresented minority" gets you 20 points right off the bat. At the university, race counts for more than brains, hard work or creativity.

Over the years, colleges have concocted various strained rationales for quota admissions. First, there was the "effort-to-correct-historic-wrongs" argument, which held that since other blacks had suffered from slavery and segregation, the cosmic scales of justice had to be balanced by penalizing innocent bystanders of the wrong race.

This truly embarrassing assertion was almost self-refuting. Why not accept Jews over German-Americans to compensate for the Holocaust, or favor Chinese applicants over Japanese as atonement for the rape of Nanking and other World War II atrocities?

Then there was the "giving-back-to-the-community" contention, which held that minorities had to get favorable treatment so that eventually there would be more doctors and lawyers in the inner city.

But an upwardly mobile black professional is more apt to settle in Beverly Hills than South Central Los Angeles, so this line of unreasoning was also abandoned.

The reverse-discrimination excuse du jour, and the one the University of Michigan relies on, is "educational-diversity." It is seriously maintained that the entire student body will have a more fulfilling four years if their classes resemble the U.N. General Assembly.

We are asked to believe that Johnny's educational experience will be immeasurably enriched by taking classes with Jamal and Jose, because race is the most important component of personality, and nothing -- not upbringing, intellect or the content of our character -- makes a greater contribution to a diverse student body.

If the university really believed its students benefit by learning with kids from different backgrounds, it would be awarding points to applicants from Southern Baptist, Mormon or Hasidic families -- all of whom are at least as superficially different from the student from Grosse Pointe as blacks or Hispanics.

In his book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order," Samuel Huntington speculates on the future of America. Unlike other nations, ours rests on a set of ideals, what Huntington calls the "American Creed," including liberty, democracy, individualism and equality before the law.

Huntington notes multiculturalists are actively undermining these values, the foundation of our national existence, by seeking to substitute group rights (based on race, ethnicity and gender) for individual rights. This causes resentment on the one hand and a sense of entitlement on the other, both of which are moving us toward a balkanized republic -- in place of e pluribus unum (from many, one), us versus them-um.

The 100th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency came three days after the World Trade Center. Huntington wrote in the last decade of the 20th century. In the century's first decade, Roosevelt warned, "The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing as a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities."

The University of Michigan claims there's an overriding state interest in discriminating to achieve racial balance. But judging individuals on their merits is more than a matter of basic fairness. It goes to the heart of what it means to be an American.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate