The amazing 1969 prophecy that racial preferences would cause the exact grievances of protesters today

I’m going to be picking through the original article to highlight Judge Fleming’s more prescient remarks. I suggest reading the entire article if you have the time.

By Jonathan Haidt of Heterodox Academy

Universities are among the most progressive and anti-racist institutions in American society. Many Americans therefore found it confusing to see dozens of our top universities racked by racial protests since last September. To add to the puzzle, many of the most high-profile actions occurred at universities widely perceived to be the most devoted to social justice and racial equality -– schools such as Brown, Yale, Amherst, Wesleyan, and Oberlin. (Every one of these schools earned a red or yellow light from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, indicating schools that are not recommended for conservative students.) What is going on?

A simple resolution of the puzzle is the hypothesis that the anti-racist policies these schools pursue give rise, indirectly, to experiences of marginalization for black students. Lee Jussim and I suggested this hypothesis in an essay last Saturday in the Wall Street Journal.

As that essay was going to press, Heterodox Academy member Amy Wax sent us the text of an astonishing letter written in 1969, at the dawn of racial preferences, from Macklin Fleming, Justice of the California Court of Appeal. Judge Fleming had written a personal letter to Louis Pollak, the dean of Yale Law School. Fleming was concerned about the plan Dean Pollak had recently announced under which Yale would essentially implement a racial quota – 10% of each entering class would be composed of black students. To achieve this goal, Yale had just admitted 43 black students, only five of whom had qualified under their normal standards. (The exchange of letters was later made public with the consent of both parties; you can read the full text of both letters here.)

Judge Fleming explained why he believed this new policy was a dangerous experiment that was likely to cause harmful stereotypes, rather than reduce them. His argument is essentially the one that Jussim and I made 47 years later. Here is what he wrote:

“The immediate damage to the standards of Yale Law School needs no elaboration. But beyond this, it seems to me the admission policy adopted by the Law School faculty will serve to perpetuate the very ideas and prejudices it is designed to combat. If in a given class the great majority of the black students are at the bottom of the class, this factor is bound to instill, unconsciously at least, some sense of intellectual superiority among the white students and some sense of intellectual inferiority among the black students. Such a pairing in the same school of the brightest white students in the country with black students of mediocre academic qualifications is social experiment with loaded dice and a stacked deck. The faculty can talk around the clock about disadvantaged background, and it can excuse inferior performance because of poverty, environment, inadequate cultural tradition, lack of educational opportunity, etc. The fact remains that black and white students will be exposed to each other under circumstances in which demonstrated intellectual superiority rests with the whites.”

But Judge Fleming went much further. He made specific predictions about what the new policy would do to black students over the years, and how they would react. Here is his prophecy:

No one can be expected to accept an inferior status willingly. The black students, unable to compete on even terms in the study of law, inevitably will seek other means to achieve recognition and self-expression. This is likely to take two forms. First, agitation to change the environment from one in which they are unable to compete to one in which they can. Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training. Second, it seems probable that this group will seek personal satisfaction and public recognition by aggressive conduct, which, although ostensibly directed at external injustices and problems, will in fact be primarily motivated by the psychological needs of the members of the group to overcome feelings of inferiority caused by lack of success in their studies. Since the common denominator of the group of students with lower qualifications is one of race this aggressive expression will undoubtedly take the form of racial demands–the employment of faculty on the basis of race, a marking system based on race, the establishment of a black curriculum and a black law journal, an increase in black financial aid, and a rule against expulsion of black students who fail to satisfy minimum academic standards.

If you read Judge Fleming’s predictions after watching the videos of student protests, and then reading the lists of demands posted at TheDemands.org, the match is uncanny.

I close with two short excerpts from Judge Fleming’s extraordinary letter:

“The American creed, one that Yale has proudly espoused, holds that an American should be judged as an individual and not as a member of a group. To me it seems axiomatic that a system which ignores this creed and introduces the factor of race in the selection of students for a professional school is inherently malignant, no matter how high-minded the purpose nor how benign the motives of those making the selection….

The present policy of admitting students on two bases and thereafter purporting to judge their performance on one basis is a highly explosive sociological experiment almost certain to achieve undesirable results.”

Read the whole article at Heterodox Academy

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