Jewish World Review August 30, 2002/ 22 Elul, 5762

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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The Shakespearean tragedy of affirmative action | Dr. Patrick Chavis, 50, was fatally shot by foiled carjackers as he returned to his auto following a stop for ice cream in Hawthorne, California. Dr. Chavis was infamous, having been admitted to UC Davis medical school in 1973 under a special program that enrolled 5 black applicants who had lower scores than Allan Bakke, a white male denied admission. Bakke challenged the admissions program and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bakke's favor; Davis had committed a constitutional no-no. Dr. Bakke is now a respected anesthesiologist in Rochester, Minnesota

Dr. Chavis's life was a Shakespearean tragedy because of affirmative action. While Senator Ted Kennedy, the New York Times, The Nation, and all network news programs profiled Dr. Chavis as an example of what affirmative action can do, there are some data discrepancies. Dr. Chavis had no business being a doctor. Upon completion of his residency in 1981 at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, he was hired there at a low level. He shouted racism and was promoted to associate staff physician.

But by 1988, hospital staffers monitored his work after a panel of physicians and administrators reprimanded him for a forceps delivery. Dr. Chavis cried racism again through a discrimination suit. A jury awarded him $1.1 million (later overturned).

Chavis then undertook the noble arts of abortions and liposuctions, or "body sculpting," as he called it. He was sued for malpractice 27 times, had medical board complaints filed in 7 liposuction cases, and was accused of causing the death of one liposuction patient who he left in his office as her incisions oozed red fluid. The patient died there of "massive blood loss." A tape made during his liposuction procedures finds "horrific screaming" by his patients as Chavis offers this bedside banter, "Don't talk to the doctor while he is working," and "Liar, liar, pants on fire."

A judge suspended his license in 1997, writing in an 11-page opinion that Chavis "demonstrates an inability to perform some of the most basic duties required of a physician." The Medical Board of California revoked his license in 1998 for "gross negligence, incompetence and repeated negligent acts." Dr. Chavis blamed racist "white male" physicians for his problems.

Sen. Kennedy called him a "successful ob-gyn in central Los Angeles." Sure, if "successful" means death and dismemberment. Dr. Chavis was a disgrace to the medical profession. But, his disgrace is a byproduct of affirmative action. When professional programs admit the less qualified or unqualified, they wreak havoc. Yet 25 years after the Bakke case, universities still use these 2-track admissions programs that offer special treatment for minorities. The U.S. Supreme Court's October term finds another appeal on Michigan's law school's admissions program, by Jennifer Gratz, who points out that 46 minorities with scores equal to or less than hers were admitted while she was rejected. Women suing because minorities are given more affirmative action?

The data are irrefutable that minority law school graduates fail bar exams at a significantly higher rate. Special admissions give them the right to flunk the bar exam. But affirmative action carries more insidious harms. When race is the deciding factor in admissions, it becomes the deciding factor in all subsequent decisions. Chavis had a long history of botched doctoring but continued practicing medicine because each time someone threw down the penalty flag, he cried, "Racist!"

I have taught both white and minority students who had no business being in graduate school. I trounce the white students but hold only whispered conversations about marginal minority students. Minority students survive because to call them unqualified or fail them is to risk charges of racism.

The failure to fail brands those minority students who earned their slots. We diminish their stature, just as Dr. Chaviz, with his very public declarations about race and the glories of affirmative action, diminished competent minority physicians. In our candid subliminal minds, affirmative action makes us look at minority physicians and lawyers thinking, "Got in under special admissions, huh?" The beauty of affirmative action for the incompetent, inept and unqualified is that our misgivings remain unspoken.

Affirmative action deepens the racial divide because it eliminates merit. In colleges, a white with a 1200-1248 SAT score has a 19.3% chance of admission while a minority candidate with that score has a 60% chance. Enter arbitrariness and the rage of injustice whites feel but will not express owing to political correctness. Repression builds resentment. That racial divide grows. The strongest and the swiftest win the slots only in the NFL and NBA.

Affirmative action's underlying assumption insults every minority. To say that minority candidates require special admissions presumes that these candidates cannot compete on their own. Such an assumption is wrong, racist, and, as Dr. Chavis's life showed, deadly.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings