Few high-profile figures who involved themselves in the lacrosse case embarrassed themselves more than did William Bowen. The former Princeton president, invited with the NAACP’s Julius Chambers to review the Duke administration’s response to the case by Duke President Richard Brodhead, produced a report that could have passed as a parody of political correctness. Bowen, a longtime defender of racial preferences and colleges promoting “diversity,” chastised Brodhead for having an insufficient number of minorities and women in his employ. The Bowen/Chambers report also contended that the administration should have heeded more the viewpoints of faculty extremists such as Houston Baker, the English professor who, in a March 29, 2006 “open letter,” had stated unequivocally that the accuser had been “harmed” and mentioned ten times in fifteen paragraphs the race of the lacrosse players.
Of course, we now know that the administration’s failures were not derived from insufficient fealty to concerns of race, class, and gender—indeed, Brodhead all but prostrated himself before faculty advocates of the agenda. The University, nonetheless, has already shelled out a reported $25 million in legal fees and settlement costs, and Duke still faces two massive federal suits filed by most of the unindicted lacrosse players and their families.
What caused such legal exposure? Among other things: (1) The administration’s failure to enforce the university’s own anti-harassment policies; (2) The administration’s failure to enforce the Faculty Handbook; (3) The administration’s disregard of student FERPA rights; (4) The administration’s allegedly one-sided public statements; (5) The president’s failure to properly supervise one of his employees, former SANE-nurse-in-training Tara Levicy, who offered unsubstantiated and varying versions of events to local law enforcement; (6) The firing without due process or cause of former lacrosse coach Mike Pressler.
Earlier this year, I asked Bowen why his report failed to address any of these issues. He responded that “no part of our charge involved the conduct of the local prosecutor, the merits of the case, etc.” But none of the above issues involved either the conduct of Mike Nifong or the merits of the case—Duke, after all, didn’t pay out settlement money because of mistakes that Nifong made.
Despite his stated charge—reviewing what the administration did wrong and recommending changes—Bowen appeared to have no curiosity as exactly what the administration did that has cost the University $25 million. All that mattered to him was viewing the lacrosse case through the ideologically comfortable prism of his “diversity” agenda.
I was reminded of this closed-minded obsession with “diversity” in reading Bowen’s recent remarks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who attended Princeton during Bowen’s tenure as president. Bowen described Sotomayor in glowing terms, noting her “exceptional” record of “excellent academics” and “being a responsible citizen of the university community.”
So why, the former president was asked, would higher education need a system of racial preferences, given that a student of Sotomayor’s seeming brilliance would have been admitted to Princeton in any case? Bowen parried the question, noting that “the whole purpose of affirmative-action programs isn’t to find the one-in-a-thousand Sonia Sotomayor, but to diversify campus communities and to identify people of promise who would do well, but who didn’t necessarily have all the qualities and characteristics that she had. I think the book that Derek Bok and I wrote demonstrates empirically how well the minority students who were recruited to these selective universities performed.” (In fact, recently released figures from Duke show exactly the opposite—that African-American students entered Duke with a lower average SAT than their colleagues, and graduated from Duke with a lower average GPA.)
In some ways, Sotomayor’s experience (as described by Bowen, at least) would seem to bolster more the Clarence Thomas critique of affirmative action than the defense offered by establishment figures such as Bowen or Bok—namely, that the existence of racial preferences creates a burden for otherwise qualified minorities, who are presumed to have benefited from differing, and lower, standards.
That’s not a line of argument, of course, Bowen desired to engage.
Bowen also seemed disinclined to acknowledge the reality of some aspects of Sotomayor’s Princeton record. He dismissed those—such as Stuart Taylor, my colleague for Until Proven Innocent—who have noted that Sotomayor seemed to harbor a great deal of resentment toward an institution from which she benefited enormously. Bowen’s reply? “I don’t think she resented the university at all. I think she saw the university as an excellent university, but she thought it could be better! And it needed to be better. So did I.”
Stuart tracked down a 1974 complaint filed by a student group that included Sotomayor, which asserted, “The facts imply and reflect the total absence of regard, concern and respect for an entire people and their culture. In effect, they reflect an attempt -- a successful attempt so far -- to relegate an important cultural sector of the population to oblivion.”
Can Bowen seriously contend that the sentiments expressed above didn’t constitute resentment toward the university?
Bowen closed out his interview with New Yorker with a ringing defense of the racial preferences scheme he has so aggressively promoted throughout his career—and which, given her conduct in the Ricci case, a Justice Sotomayor almost certainly would endorse on the Supreme Court.
Asked why racial preferences remain needed, Bowen responded, “You might find interesting the last speech that Lyndon Johnson ever gave, right before he died. I won’t get the quotation exactly right, but it’s worth getting right, because it’s a great quotation.
“He said, ‘Yes, today blacks and whites do stand more or less on a level playing field, but they’re not in the same place. Whites see the world from the mountain place, blacks see the world from the hollow of history.’ It’s a great phrase: ‘from the hollow of history.’ It affects the way the world works today. You can’t just be ahistorical and forget all of that, and think that you’re going to get the best outcomes.”
But, of course, Lyndon Johnson died in 1973, one year after Sonia Sotomayor entered Princeton. Even if Bowen doesn’t quite want to admit it, racial conditions in the United States have significantly changed in the last 36 years. Among the most significant changes: as debates over racial references in California have revealed (and as Duke’s admissions figures show), Asian-Americans are the prime victims of the racial preferences scheme that dominates contemporary university admissions processes. It’s hard to see how LBJ’s binary racial analysis helps us deal with this problem.
Bowen also dismissed the possibility of class-based affirmative action substituting for racial preferences, contending, “It’s not a substitute for race-sensitive admissions because, again, if you look at the data, you find that if you focus just on socio-economic status you’re not going to begin to address the disparities in outcomes [emphasis added] by race that we see in America today.” And challenging those who ask why we still need racial preferences in an age when a black man can be elected President, Bowen reasoned, “The fact that you have one success story is terrific, wonderful. But it doesn’t mean that the same outcomes or the same opportunities are going to be there for everyone else. They’re not.”
But there’s an enormous difference between “the same opportunities” and “the same outcomes.” That Bowen seems to view equality of outcomes and equality of opportunities as interchangeable concepts provides considerable insight into the basic philosophy behind racial preferences.