The discussion over quality in higher education and maintaining standards of academic excellence in American colleges took an ugly turn March 2nd when Harvard law professor and former Clinton Administration lightning rod Lani Guinier declared that standardized testing is racist.
Guinier’s remarks were part of a televised forum on C-SPAN about the “state of the black union” in America, during which she told moderator Tavis Smiley that standardized testing, such as that used in the college admissions process, is a form of “modern scientific racism.”
For those of you who cannot quite recall Guinier’s brief appearance on the national political stage, she was Bill Clinton’s choice for assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1993. I recall some initial excitement over the fact that a black woman had been nominated for such high position but her nomination quickly unraveled as her record came to light.
Guinier’s agenda of pure racial quotas and proportional racial representation in local elections was so profoundly radical that Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, the only black woman in the U.S. Senate at the time, urged Clinton to withdraw the nomination, which he did.
Guinier is bringing the same incendiary brand of racial politics to higher education. In Guinier’s world, “when they talk about tests and they talk about metrics and they talk about looking at empirics, that is a way of making racism invisible.” Tell that to the millions of young black men and women who have successfully applied themselves to academic achievement and careers beyond it.
Guinier goes on to insult hard working students and diminish their academic success in explaining her rationale, saying, “the reason that I’m calling it racism is because it is a state of mind that is indifferent to the fact that these tests, whatever you think about them, are having a disparate impact on different populations and violating that first principal that talent is equally distributed among all groups.”
The audacity in this assertion is exceeded only in its staggering absurdity. Different people perform differently on standardized tests because people are, well, different. I may score high on tests involving history or language, but fear my expertise in higher mathematics is woefully lacking. The same holds true for those in vocational fields. An aptitude for auto mechanics doesn’t automatically translate into great skill in dental hygiene, welding, or any other trade. The facts are simple; talent is not, never has been and never will be “equally distributed among all groups,” as Guinier preposterously claims.
Guinier’s goal is simple and predicable. Agree with her and all is right with the world; disagree and you are a racist. The overwhelming bulk of data and research over many years prove the case for standardized testing for college admission, and Guinier turns to racial slander and political intimidation to advance a position that no serious person considers valid.
These tactics are reminiscent of how ideology was enforced in the Soviet Union. Russians who believed Soviet Communism to be anything other than an ideal social and political construct were deemed insane and exiled to the gulags. Similarly, Guinier seeks to marginalize those who disagree with her bizarre notions of educational excellence with accusations of racism.
The role of testing in college admissions deserves better than the race baiting duplicity we’re seeing from individuals like Guinier and political organizations like Fair Test, which shares Guinier’s desire to abolish standardized testing. They represent the new radical front in altering higher education in America and should be shunned or we risk the entire disassembly of the concepts of academic merit and excellence.