If I hire professors for their race, their gender or their ethnic background, and not for their demonstrably superior professional and personal excellence, I devalue my students' tuition dollar. That I must never do. To hire professors on a basis other than demonstrable professional excellence is greatly to abuse the students, parents and taxpayers whose money helps pay academic salaries. To endorse or to practice this financial abuse no academic institution ought ever to consent.
For me knowingly to hire less than the best professors available at the time of hiring and to charge students full tuition to sit under that professor’s tutelage is like the pharmacist who sells his customers an inferior medicine while charging them top-of-the-line prices, or like charging them for 60 pills and delivering only 48.
I do not want professors who are merely qualified, or merely competent. I want the very best professors available. Excellent teachers are identified by their intellectual mastery and pedagogical brilliance, not by genitalia, not by surname, and not by pigmentation. To provide students with anything less than or other than the very best teacher money can buy is simply to injure the very persons our colleges and universities seek to serve, and for whom they primarily exist -- the students.
But affirmative action also deals unjustly with prospective faculty members, not only with students. Affirmative action is unjust to prospective faculty members because it punishes them for sins and crimes not their own. It makes them pay for racial bigotry and discrimination they neither perpetrated nor condoned, indeed that their fathers, their mothers, their grandparents and their great-grandparents neither perpetrated nor condoned. Yet some prospective faculty members are made to pay for these egregious sins and crimes solely because they were born to the wrong group, solely because they are white, or male, or both, which is bigotry, pure and simple. Perhaps this bigotry is well-intentioned, and perhaps it is legal as well. But it is not moral. Justice is getting what you deserve, not being punished for the racial crimes of the distant ancestors of persons you never met.
For current women faculty members to insist that women be hired to fill an academy position for which they are not the very best qualified candidate is to do injury to women, namely to the women who are the wives and daughters of the man denied the job he was best qualified to have, indeed would have had, were he not male. Thus, all the years of sacrifice, hard work, and poverty that those female spouses invested and endured -- the sacrifice, hard work, and poverty that characterize the lives of most graduate students -- get tossed lightly and cruelly aside, solely because Daddy is Daddy, not Mommy.
To put a different point on it, although slavery was legal, it was never good, never right. Likewise, although state-approved set asides (and the bigotry they inescapably entail) are now legal, they are not moral. They are immoral regardless of the intention behind them, immoral regardless of the identity or ancestry of either the intended benefactor or of the intended victim, and immoral regardless of such actions’ legal status. One’s bigotry is not made moral simply because it has either what the bigot believes is a good intention or else a legal sanction. Good intentions and legality do not mend the matter at all. Affirmative action is really bigotry under a more palatable name. Beware of every euphemism.
Affirmative action is immoral in part because it uncritically assumes that ends justify means and that two wrongs now make a right. They do not. Robbing banks is wrong, even if you intend to give the money to the poor. Preferential treatment (a euphemism for bigotry) based upon race, sex, or ethnicity, is wrong, regardless of whether or not it is used for you or against you, and regardless of whether or not the purpose for which you discriminate is one you think highly desirable. You are not entitled to be a bigot simply because others have been bigots in the past. Sending people to the back of the bus or to the back of the employment line because they are the wrong gender or the wrong color is evil.
Jim Crow has come back to college. This time he’s politically correct.