In Response to: Affirmative Reaction

The words of Princeton student Zach Garner ’26 and Professor Robert P. George in Christopher Connell ’71’s article entitled “Affirmative Reaction” in the October issue are reason for concern. When Professor George maintains that even though affirmative action now has been discontinued he does “not believe [ending affirmative action] will ‘prevent Princeton or other colleges from having diverse student bodies,’” he is guilty of the same self-deception Mr. Garner is guilty of when the latter says that ending affirmative action means that “students from all walks of life can be assured that they will be evaluated … as unique individuals.” Until affirmative action came along, that was not even close to being true, which was a big reason the policy was developed and implemented in the first place. When we see how much racism still permeates our society and its institutions, there simply is no reason to be confident that what both men assert so blithely will become the case in the days and years ahead. That “students from all walks of life” are treated “as unique individuals” wasn’t true before affirmative action, and there is little reason to think that it will be now that we again do not have a law like it.

It seems that Professor George not only ignores the data on the demographics of students who have benefited from affirmative action (see his assertion that “children of upper-class Black people” were among the groups that benefited the most), he goes further by being Orwellian to the extreme when he says, that without affirmative action, “There could be a broader mix of political, moral, religious, and cultural viewpoints than we currently have.” Really? Take a policy meant to address inequities, watch it succeed in doing so for an extended period, then remove it and claim we will get the same results? I suppose he’s correct if his words mean a mix of views and appearances that are all still similar to his and Mr. Garner’s. His unsupported pronouncement collapses even if all one does is glance at the article’s bar graph, “Changes in Princeton’s undergraduate population since 2002-03,” which shows rather clearly the beneficial effects of affirmative action (even if the graph alone does not prove causation, it shows a very powerful correlation). It is extremely naïve and myopic to think that these changes at Princeton took place under 20 years of affirmative action and yet affirmative action played no part in them. Affirmative action has mattered in a positive way, and I imagine that it is heartening to anyone that this is so, except perhaps to those who shed tears for privileged white children in the admissions process who may have, for the first time in their lives, not gotten exactly what they wanted. Please forgive me if I am among those who do not weep for them.

The kind of Orwellian speciousness that appears in the remarks these two men made in the article — as opposed to the persuasive words of professors Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. *97 and Randall Kennedy ’77 — should be beneath a Princeton student (though we must compassionately remember that students are still learning) but even more beneath a Princeton professor. It is very demoralizing to see wording like theirs that seems designed stealthily to assure that Princeton’s student body in the future looks as much like the two of them as possible. In the process, it becomes a perfect example of what economist John Kenneth Galbraith meant when he described such sophistry as engaging “in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Peter J. Greenhill ’81
Honolulu, Hawaii