Tag Archives: Affirmative action

Why affirmative action was necessary

It is likely that the  Supreme Court will strike down Affirmative Action.  Since I’m far older than most of the readership, I’m republishing part of an old post which describes just how necessary affirmative action was.  That’s not to say it is necessary now (about which more in a future post).

Fall 1956:  Enter Princeton along with 725+ others.  The cast of characters included about 5 Asians, 1 Indian Asian, no hispanics and/or latinos as I recall, and all of 2 blacks.  I was the first to attend from a small (212 kids in 4 grades) NJ High School. I’d never been west of Philly, and immediately appreciated what passed for diversity back then — a roommate from Florida, and 2 guys next door from Wisconsin and Tennessee, the four of us packed like sardines into two miniscule rooms (each of which is now a single).

Although my High School was above the Mason Dixon line, there was only 1 black student in all 4 classes when I was there.  A 2nd cousin who graduated 6 years before I entered, noted that there were NO blacks when she was there and asked why, and was told “we don’t encourage them to attend”.   To be fair, there were very few black families in the area.

So, because we were musicians, and in the marching band, I got to know one of the blacks.  At away games there were postgame parties  (what’s the point of having games after all?).  Girls would come up to Harvey and tell him that he must meet Virginia, she’s wonderful. etc. etc.  Virginia being the black girl at their school, as Harvey was the black boy at ours.  There was no condescension involved, and I never saw anyone at Princeton give Harvey a hard time, and we had plenty of southerners.  It was the way things were, and we had no idea that things could be different.

Sad addendum 19 November:  A classmate responded to the above paragraph — “We did have two Black students in our class, who were openly harassed on the campus; one  left early. The second was in Bicker and was offered a bid to Elm club, which according to reports led to the Elm club president punching out one of the Bicker committee members.

Spring 1958: Back at the H. S.  The one black girl in the class 2 years behind me was very smart.  She graduated as the Salutatorian.  However, she should have been the Valedictorian, the powers that be having decided that it wouldn’t do to have a black in that position.  That didn’t stop her of course. The high school was so small that it was folded into a regional H. S. the next year.  So our little high school has reunions every 5 years or so for anyone who ever went there, and I saw her 40 – 50 years later.  She’d become a very high powered R. N. with a very responsible position.

Fall 1960: Harvard Chemistry department.  Not a black, not a latino, not an Asian to be found in the grad school (there was one Sikh).  I don’t recall seeing any as undergraduates.  There were a fair number of Japanese, and Asian Indian postdocs however.  Fast forward to the present for what it looks like now — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-harvard-chemistry-department-reunion-part-i/.

Fall 1962: Entering Penn Med school — 125 students, one black (a Nigerian) no latinos/hispanics, no asians of any sort, under 10 women.  They really can’t be blamed for this, the pipeline was empty.

Summer 1963: Visiting my wife to be at her home in Alexandria Virginia.  A drive perhaps 10 – 20 miles south toward Richmond finds restaurants with Colored entrances.

2008:  My wife has a cardiac problem, and the cardiologists want her to be on coumadin forever, to prevent stroke.  As a neurologist having seen the disasters that coumadin and heparin could cause when given for the flimsiest of indications (TIAs etc. etc.), I was extremely resistant to the idea, and started reading the literature references the cardiologist gave me, along with where the references led.   The definitive study on her condition had been done by a black cardiologist from Kentucky.  We had a long and very helpful talk about what to do.

Diversity is not an end in itself, although some would like it to be.  I’ve certainly benefitted from knowing people from all over.  That’s not the point.  Like it or not, intelligence is hereditary to some extent (people argue about just how much, but few think that intelligence is entirely environmental).  The parents (and grandparents) of today’s blacks , are likely just intelligent as their MD, Attorney, teacher etc. etc. offspring today.  This country certainly pissed away an awful lot of brains of these generations.   So clearly, I’m all for letting the best into our elite institutions whatever they look like.

The Harvard Chemistry Department Reunion — Part IV — setting the record straight

While waiting for my copy of the new edition of Clayden to arrive, it’s time to apologize to Harvard for the first post in the series, which mostly blamed them for the total absence of blacks in the 150+ attendees at the reunion. For details see –https://luysii.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-harvard-chemistry-department-reunion-part-i/.

Well, silly me, I didn’t realize blacks were there all the time.  My problem was not counting them the way Harvard people do.  Consider Harvard Law Professor and senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, listing herself as a minority (native American variety) because she is 1/32nd Cherokee thanks to her great great great grandmother who was (perhaps).  The Law School celebrated her appointment in ’95 as one of the few women in the Law School, and then a year or so later celebrated her native American heritage. ““Of 71 current Law School professors and assistant professors, 11 are women, five are black, one is Native American and one is Hispanic,” The Harvard Crimson quotes then-Law School spokesman Mike Chmura as saying in a 1996 article.

Given those criteria for blackness, I’m sure blacks were well represented at the chemistry reunion.  Apologies to all.

Professor Warren doesn’t look native American, but then neither did one of my late father’s clients, a nice lady from Staten Island who was of the Sally Hemings family, and very proud of it.

I’m well aware of people attempting to glom on to an Indian heritage.  It happened all the time in Montana when I lived there.    The people wanting to get such recognition were after the (fairly minimal) benefits of tribal membership.  They weren’t something you’d want to be related to.  Neither did the Crows or the Cheyenne’s (the two tribes I knew best).  They drew the line at 1/32; just where Ms. Warren claims to be presently — I don’t remember if 1/32 meant acceptance or rejection.  Suffice it to say, it was harder to bluff your way in to those tribes than it was to get into Burke’s peerage.

I doubt that Warren used this to get into any of the places she’s taught.  But the places she’s taught have certainly used it, which shows you how even the best ideas (making sure minorities with brains aren’t arbitrarily excluded) can be ruined.  This sort of thing can’t help the cause, and frankly it stinks.  For just how minority free the Ivy league was 50+  years ago see the link above.

One more example.  One of my son’s Cornell friends (Asian) used her minority status to get a job in D. C. after graduation.  She certainly wasn’t disadvantaged, having been exposed to some of the country’s (and the world’s) finest intellectual capital for 4 years.

P. S. Having lived in Montana from ’72 to ’87 and taken care of perhaps 1,000 Indians,  you would have received some rather strange looks from a Crow or a Cheyenne if you called them a ‘native American’.  They called themselves Indians back then.  Perhaps they still do. I don’t know. I haven’t been back.