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Meet Prop. X: Do Away With Public Colleges

With affirmative action gone, we can dump the ideal of higher education for the lowly.

September 02, 1997|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor. E-mail:

The success of anti-affirmative action initiatives and lawsuits has emboldened me to suggest that we privatize all higher education. Sounds bizarre, I know, particularly just as you're pushing the kid to check out the bargain rates at UCLA instead of paying four times as much at USC. But hear me out. Proposition X, which bans public universities, will vastly improve the moral fiber of our society.

The important thing is to break the vicious cycle that connects higher education with social engineering and the anti-affirmative action campaign has paved the way. The proponents of affirmative action claimed that we needed more minority professionals to be role models and better serve their own communities. And as long as we accepted that twisted logic, we were compelled to agree that the student bodies of public colleges ought to include at least some of those minorities that had been historically excluded.

Under affirmative action, black enrollment in the University of California had risen over a 15-year-period from 3.8% to an alarming 4% and there was no telling where it was headed. No wonder four out of every 100 middle managers in this country are black males and white men are an endangered species.

Well, we showed them. The campaign to end affirmative action in public institutions of higher education is succeeding beyond even Pete Wilson's wildest dreams. Boalt Hall, the famous law school at UC Berkeley, once a pioneer in increasing the number of minority lawyers, did not have one black 1997 admitee in the entering class. "How can you teach Brown vs. Board of Education with no African American students in the classroom?" a law professor whined last week. Simple; you don't. It's no longer relevant.

The University of Texas until recently graduated the largest number of black and Mexican American law students in the nation, which could really spell trouble. But that's all over, thanks to a successful anti-affirmative action lawsuit upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. This fall, of 1,092 students admitted, only 11 were black, as opposed to 65 the year before. Mexican American enrollees were down to 40 from 70, and while that may still seem like a lot, remember this is Texas we're talking about and it used to be their country.

Progress, yes. But it's only the first step. The same distorted reasoning that justifies affirmative action is basic to the very idea of public higher education. We only have those huge land grant colleges and state universities sucking up our taxpayer dollars because it was once a fashionable liberal notion to supply rural and poorer communities with trained professionals who would otherwise not be available.

Today's affirmative action proponents sound just like the bleeding hearts who dominated education back in the last century. They claimed back then that public universities would provide broad opportunity for those of more humble circumstance. Instead of focusing on elite scholars from the finest of prep schools, they threw open the gates to sprawling campuses permitting more ordinary folk to rise to the professions. The assumption was that publicly minted agronomists, dentists and teachers would stick around and serve the needs of their relatives and neighbors as well as be role models to inspire the pursuit of excellence in those who came after them.

Sound familiar? The affirmative action folks have been selling us that same malarkey as if a suburban white kid wouldn't be just too eager to hang his shingle in the black ghetto. The answer is that communities will get the professionals they can afford and it is racist to say that a rich white kid who becomes a lawyer can't be a great role model.

The best role model is someone whose parents paid their way in life, thereby proving the value of hard work. But as matters now stand, the public universities are sending the opposite message: Let big government pay your way. Parents of kids now at UCLA have a higher per capita income than their counterparts at USC, so which is the University of Spoiled Children?

Why should we taxpayers finance the education of some prelaw student who will only rip us off in the future? That only breeds dependence on the public dole. Government guaranteed bank loans, which finance most private education, are a much better route, because going deeply into debt is the very best preparation for life in the real world.

A totally free education at the City College of New York lowered my self-esteem and left me hustling a living with columns such as this one. Like Ward Connerly, that stalwart foe of affirmative action in California, I have the guts to propose a ban on the very breaks society once gave me.

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