Tag Archives: admissions

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover, But…

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or its title, but how about from an extended interview with the authors?

On November 2, Inside Higher Ed carried such an interview with the three authors of a new book entitled Occupying the Academy. The authors, Christine Clark (a professor of multicultural education at UNLV), Kenneth Fasching-Varner (a professor of elementary education at LSU), and Mark Brimhall-Vargas (associate director of the Office of Diversity Education and Compliance at the University of Maryland), want people to know, as their subtitle puts it, just how important diversity work is in higher education.

Reading through the interview, we never find out exactly what “diversity work” is. Once the admissions people have done their best to engineer a student body that has the right quotas of students of certain ancestries, what more is there to do for the “diversity workers” to do? I have ordered the book and will read it to find out, but I think that the honest answer is that they pretend to keep busy by obsessing over student differences. Diversity work entails a constant search for issues of “insensitivity” that can be used to pry money out of administrators.

That money is very important to these diversiphiles becomes clear in the interview. Diversity offices, we read, “face problems that are largely invisible and hard to understand. They are often starved of resources or are constantly made to scramble for declining resources. This climate of instability makes it hard so that the workers dedicated to equity and diversity are always unsure of whether they will be around.”

Apparently it does not occur to those diversity workers that almost every part of every university now has to scramble for resources and that if they don’t get all the funding they want, it could be because departments that actually do some educating are regarded as more important.

An idea as to the inflated sense of self-importance of these diversity workers comes from Professor Clark’s statement that following Obama’s election, she expected that “our work would get easier, become more respected, be more well-funded, and be able to penetrate further in more substantive ways into the fabric of the academy.” You can probably guess why those dreams didn’t come true – racism.

Furthermore, we learn that diversity workers, displaying the victim mentality that Bruce Bawer brilliantly describes in his book The Victims’ Revolution, believe that they are “under assault.”

Now, I doubt very much that there has ever been a single assault – much less a battery – against any diversity worker. The alleged assault consists of not having a “guarantee that they will have access to the places where meaningful change can happen.” What that means is that the guilt-ridden academic officials who get mau-maued into creating “diversity offices” don’t actually take them seriously, so they can’t “have a real chance at changing the campus composition and climate.” Don’t the diversity workers understand that they’re nothing more than politically correct ornamentation on campus? It’s as if the guards at Buckingham Palace complained that they don’t get to play any role in preparing the defense of the nation.

Again, I will read Occupying the Academy when I get it. If the authors make a persuasive case that all of this “diversity work” is something other than a sheer waste of money, I will be glad to say so.

UCLA’s Latest Display of Outrage

Cross-posted from Can These Bones Live 

UCLA
law professor Richard Sander has been the target of student protests at his
university this week. Sander, a critic of affirmative action, published a
report that argued UCLA’s supposedly “holistic” admissions process was quietly
including race as a prominent factor in deciding who would be admitted to the
university. Based on his analysis of admissions data, Sander argued that while
UCLA’s holistic process, which included factors such as socioeconomic
disadvantage in deciding who would be accepted, was not racially discriminatory
by itself, admissions officers did not strictly follow the process and made
offers to students who not only had relatively weak academic backgrounds, but
even low scores in the holistic ranking. These offers, according to Sander,
went disproportionately to black students. If Sander is correct, then UCLA’s
admissions office has been surreptitiously violating California law, which
prohibits the state’s universities from considering race in admissions or
hiring.

The
report, according to Inside Higher Ed, “infuriated minority student
leaders at UCLA (not to mention administrators).” The students perceived it as
“offensive” and described themselves as being “under attack.” UCLA Associate
Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Youlanda Copeland-Morgan had not
reviewed the statistics in the report and therefore could not judge the
report’s accuracy, but nevertheless described Professor Sander’s analysis as
“hurtful and unequivocal attacks.”

As
I read through the Sander report, I could see no attempts to “attack” or “hurt”
anyone. He makes an argument, based on evidence. One may disagree with his
argument or, after having reviewed his evidence, conclude that the facts do not
support it. But other than making vague claims that somehow the holistic
process includes considerations that cannot be measured statistically,
apparently no one has made any serious efforts to rebut Professor Sander’s
reasoning. In an interview excerpted by Inside Higher Ed, Sander, who had
attended the protest against his report (brave man), observed that “Some
fairly cynical leaders saw an opportunity to create a cause … and they are
milking it to the full. There was no rational discussion. There was no
identification of any mistakes in my report, and no concern about what it would
mean if the analysis were correct.”

I
have no argument with the right to peaceful assembly and it would be perfectly
legal for people to gather to protest the laws of physics, if they should
choose to do so. Still, I find the events at UCLA appalling. A university
should be a place where we encourage careful, dispassionate reasoning. Shouting
slogans and shaking fists in the air do not lend themselves to the cultivation
of rational analysis. While Professor Sander does not appear to be intimidated
by outraged crowds, this kind of emotional display does make it more unpleasant
to express unpopular views and therefore undermines the openness to
intellectual diversity that should be the essence of university life.

Intellectual Standards = a Politics of Exclusion?

Universities today have lowered their standards of admission and
accepted more students regardless of their level of preparation. For example,
at the University of South Carolina, where I am presently employed, the number
of undergraduates has gone up from about 18,000 in 2006 to 22,000 in 2011. As a
result of the increased number of undergraduates, pressures are placed on
teaching faculty to accommodate students regardless of intellectual skills. For
one, political correctness has brought about that holding a student to an
intellectual standard may be perceived to imply a political act as part of a politics
of exclusion. This problem is further exacerbated by an increase in the integrative
aspirations attributed to higher education and the increasing diversity of the
student population, with all due ironic consequences.

On a purely educational level, the masses of students that are to
be taught despite their sometimes relatively low intellectual skills place a
rather distinct pressure on teachers to maintain standards in the face of
resistance. Even for the best teacher it is not an easy job, under these
circumstances, to not lower academic standards to accommodate students and avoid
trouble. Most tragically, there are pressures exerted by university
administrators towards departments to maintain enrollment or, in other words,
to keep students in college and have them pass their courses, whether they
earned it or not. Students of lesser skill-levels are not only admitted, they are
also given degrees, and that is the most worrisome trend. Obtaining a college
degree has become a matter of justice. The notion that prevails today is not
only that access to education is a right, but so is the successful exit
thereof. Under these conditions, the very notion of an earned degree has become
a mockery….


University
administrators have reconfigured universities as businesses and have abandoned
any idea of the university as a special institution with a calling. Under these
circumstances of an entrepreneurial university, it is a lack of morality, not a
particular political or ethical direction, but an absence of any moral
guidance, that has brought about many of the peculiar problems educators in
higher learning are facing today.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mathieu Deflem is a
sociologist at the University of South Carolina. This is an excerpt from a
paper presented October 25 in New York City at a conference, “Changes in Higher
Education Since the 1960s,” sponsored by Manhattan Institute and the journal
Society. Full texts of all papers will be published in Society next spring and
summer.

A ‘Magisterial’ Work on Affirmative Action

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“Mend it, don’t end it” was the famous advice
on affirmative action from Bill Clinton, who did neither. There are, of course,
other useful slogans, such as “Muddle it,” which the Supreme Court essentially did
in the 2003 Gratz and Grutter cases. The Court held that the University
of Michigan could not give a fixed number of points to minority applicants but
that its law school could give even more substantial preferences based on race
so long as it sufficiently disguised what it was doing under the smokescreen of
individualized, “holistic” review.

Now under new leadership and with a few new
members, the Court will see if it can do better when it decides, after hearing
oral arguments this week, whether the University of Texas is allowed to
supplement its successful, facially race-neutral diversity-producing “top 10%”
admissions policy by taking race into account in the admission of other
students. 

Continue reading A ‘Magisterial’ Work on Affirmative Action

Justice Kennedy and Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court holds oral arguments tomorrow in Fisher v. Texas, possibly the most consequential case in years involving affirmative action. Many of us critics of racial preferences are optimistic that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, will agree to modify if not overrule Justice O’Connor’s ruling in the 2003 Grutter case, which, in the name of diversity, allowed state-run colleges and universities to grant racial preferences.

Part of the reason for our optimism derives from the fact that the conservative justices decided to take this case in the first place. Abigail Fisher, who was denied entry to the University of Texas, wound up matriculating at an out-of-state institution and no longer seeks Texas admission. The Court could have declared the issue moot (as a majority of the Court did in a parallel affirmative action case in 1974 regarding preferential admissions to the University of Washington law school) and refused to hear it. It could have refused to hear the case without further explanation.

The fact that the four conservative justices agreed to take the case indicates to many court watchers both that a) they intend to issue a decision that will reverberate well beyond Abigail Fisher and Texas, and that b) they probably have Anthony Kennedy on board as a fifth vote to make some serious modifications in, if not the outright overruling of, the Grutter standard.

Continue reading Justice Kennedy and Affirmative Action

Left-Right Agreement on Affirmative Action?

Perhaps anticipating a defeat for affirmative
action in the Fisher v. University of Texas case about to be argued
before the Supreme Court, Columbia University political philosophy professor
and former
Dean of the College
Michele Moody-Adams has just suggested
moving away from a fixation on affirmative action and “Toward
Real Equality in Higher Education
.” Whatever happens in Fisher,
she argues, “we must recognize that controversies about race-conscious
admissions have unhelpfully narrowed the debate about equality of educational
opportunity and diverted attention from the extraordinary inequalities that
continue to exist.”

As “an African-American alumna of a selective
college” and high-level administrator at Cornell and Columbia, Prof. and former
Dean MM-A acknowledges that “diversity” (her quotes) is “unquestionably
valuable,” but unlike nearly all diversiphiles she recognizes that “it can lead
institutions to view minority students as mere means to an end: essential
embodiments of “diverse perspectives” whose greatest value to the
institution lies in their capacity to help fulfill institutional goals.” (Can?
How could it not, since the official rationale for admitting some minorities who would not have been admitted
but for their race or ethnicity is so that non-minority students could be
exposed to them?)
 

Since most colleges are not selective, her
criticism continues, “the percentage of minorities at selective institutions
has little to do with the educational opportunities available” to anyone. Nor
is she persuaded by the “trickle-down effect” defense of affirmative action, a
prediction that minority students would devote their careers to expanding
opportunity in their communities. “Not surprisingly,” she writes, “minority
students have turned out to be like students in general: By and large, college
students do not feel obligated to define their personal goals in the context of
broader social goods.” (Not surprisingly? If it is not surprising that
minority students are just “like students in general,” what is the point of
lowering admissions standards for them so they can provide “diversity” to
others?)

Prof. and former Dean MM-A is clearly no
conservative. She has no use for “familiar criticisms that affirmative action
undermines a system that is otherwise based wholly on merit,” and she rejects
the view that selective institutions do or even should “reward only those
applicants with the right combination of talent, hard work, and ambition — who
really ‘deserve’ a place in those institutions.” In suggesting that the pursuit
of “diversity” should be subordinated to efforts that  promote “real equality of educational
opportunity,” she echoes a long line of leftist criticism of affirmative action
(see a good example here)
as little more than a tattered bandage, or worse, on the open wound of American
racism.

Interestingly, many conservatives agree that
affirmative action is and has been a generation-long diversion from
confronting  the real problems afflicting
blacks in American society. In the long last chapter of his recent book, Wounds That Will Not Heal: Affirmative Action and Our Continuing Racial
Dilemma
(watch this space for a forthcoming
review), Russell Nieli argues that affirmative action was born as a response to
the urban riots of the 1960s but the plight of those who had provided the
initial impetus was lost “in the ensuing decades in the never ending
controversy over racial preferences.” What Nieli calls “the sorry plight of the
black underclass” disappeared from the national radar screen. “The ‘affirmative
action response,’  focused mainly on the
black middle class,” he concludes, “has diverted our gaze from the place it
really belongs and done much to undermine interracial sympathy and goodwill.”
 

Who said left and right never agree?

Shirley Tilghman Leaving Princeton

Shirley Tilghman, who has just announced that she will step down as president of Princeton at the end of the academic year,  was chosen as the successor to former president Harold Shapiro in part because the powers that be thought it about time that the university had a female in that office.  She was the first president of Princeton not to have been a former student (graduate or undergraduate) and she didn’t come with extensive administrative experience.

Among her accomplishments is the increased financial aid package that Princeton now offers to students from lower and middle income circumstances.  Undergraduates at Princeton overwhelmingly come from upper-middle-class and affluent families, and there has been a push under Tilghman’s watch to bring in students (including whites) from less affluent backgrounds student body. The idea is a good one and Princeton has enough money in scholarship aid to pull it off.

And under her presidency the undergraduate student body expanded by over 500 through the addition of Whitman College (named after benefactor and Princeton grad Meg Whitman).  The big advantage of this is that the ratio of recruited athletes to other students goes down.  While racial affirmative action still prevails, in keeping the number of athletes constant while increasing the total number of students admitted, a higher proportion of students who get into Princeton now make it on their brains, not athletic ability.

One of her biggest mistakes: Her claim in the face of the Larry Summers affair that “the data that would suggest there are innate differences in the abilities of men and women to succeed in the natural sciences is nonexistent.”  This is ludicrous.  Textbooks (e.g. Diana Halpern’s Sex Differences in Cognition, and Doreen Kimura’s Sex and Cognition) have provided exhaustive data. Only the wilfully blind could ignore the facts.

Another dubious decision: her refusal to allow the student Love and Chastity group to set up a center on campus that would be comparable to the feminist-oriented Women’s Center and the LGBT center.  The purpose of the center would be to present a haven from the campus hook-up culture and a place for students of traditional values regarding sex and marriage to have a place where they could share ideas and feel comfortable talking with students of the opposite sex.  The students even offered to pay for the center with donations from supportive alumni but Tilghman nixed the idea.  Her response, an open letter printed in the student newspaper, seemed remarkably weak. Shirley Tilghman is a nice person without a strong political or ideological compass. In academia, this indicates someone who will almost automatically absorb the secular leftism of the dominant campus ethos and the New York Times editorial page.

Why Are There Still Preferences for Women?

Using federal statistics, Laura Norén has prepared a series of graphics showing gender distribution among recent recipients of undergraduate, M.A., and Ph.D./professional degrees. The charts are visually striking, especially since all three sets of charts show movement in an identical direction. According to Norén, by 2020, women are projected to earn 61 percent of all M.A. degrees and 58 percent of all B.A. degrees—figures far above the percentage of women in the total population. There’s no indication that this trend will reverse anytime soon.

The Norén chart reminded me of figures revealed in CUNY’s recent faculty “diversity” report. As I previously noted at Minding the Campus, the demographic breakdown of CUNY’s faculty (and there’s no reason to believe that CUNY’s figures differ from those at most major public institutions) has shown a similar progression.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of women increased from 42 to 47 percent of the all CUNY faculty. (The total had risen five percent in the previous decade, as well.) Because of the nature of tenure—only a small percentage of faculty positions come open every year—a five percent overall gain in a decade suggests disproportionate figures in hiring. And, indeed, that was the case—while the CUNY diversity report only broke down gender-hiring patterns for a couple of years in the decade, in 2005, the most recent year for which data was available, 55.5 percent of the new hires were women. If current patterns hold, women will be the majority of CUNY faculty in 2020 and be nearing the 60 percent mark by 2030.

There’s nothing necessarily troubling with these patterns in and of themselves. Undoubtedly the growing numbers of female students—and female faculty members—in part reflect the broader opening of higher education toward women that has occurred since the 1960s. And in a nation where women form 50.8 percent of the population, a fair-minded campus admissions and hiring process could easily yield majority-female enrollment or hires.

Yet these statistics do raise profound, and troubling questions about the nature of campus race/ethnicity/gender “diversity” programs. If women are the substantial majority of students at all levels, and increasingly emerge as the majority of faculty members, what possible rationale could exist for programs, of any type, that grant gender-based preferences to women? Regarding the student population, at least, and the faculty population in the near future, women are no longer an underrepresented minority. To my knowledge, however, no university anywhere in the country has modified either its admissions or its personnel policies to take into account statistics such as those graphed by Norén.

Take, for instance, the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies. The policies include such banalities as a requirement that “university publications relating to employment . . . include articles covering the University’s affirmative action programs, including progress reports and employment data on minorities and women. Pictures will include minorities and women.”

But other requirements are more direct. “Special attention will be given,” according the guidelines,“to extending and strengthening efforts to increase the number of women” in faculty positions. “Recruitment practices will focus on creating a feeling[emphasis added] conducive to attracting minorities and women.” And faculty search committees “will utilize methods which are most likely to result in the inclusion of qualified minorities and women in the applicant pool.” Such requirements might once have been needed. But in an academy in which women are moving toward majority status?

Despite all of these policies, moreover, the university preposterously maintains that “Applicants for employment are considered and placed without regard to . . . sex.” And with federal courts clearly in mind, the guidelines add that goals and timetables for hiring more women at Michigan “are not to be construed or used as a quota system.”

There’s nothing particularly unusual about Michigan’s policies, just as there was nothing unusual about CUNY’s faculty hiring data; such patterns are common throughout higher education. And there’s no reason to believe that any statistics will lead to these policies being repealed.

Norén’s chart unintentionally highlights a point made in several of the Fisher briefs: that it’s entirely possible that even outright quotas might lead to a fairer higher education system than our ever-shifting “goals and timetables,” which can easily be shielded from transparency.

Wesleyan Abandons Need-Blind Admissions

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The
vast majority of American colleges and universities make admission decisions
without considering the financial need of applicants. Only a handful of private
institutions admit their entire first-year class need-blind and then fully meet
the financial need of all of their admitted students through a combination of
grants, loans and employment opportunities. These institutions tend to be our
nation’s most selective, in terms of entrance test scores, and wealthiest, in
terms of their endowment per student levels and their flows of annual giving.
 

Why
do these selective private institutions pursue such policies?  In part it is because as nonprofits they are
major beneficiaries of federal and state tax policies that reduce the federal
and state income tax liabilities of donors who make contributions to them, thereby
increasing the contributions they receive. These policies also exempt them from
having to pay federal and state income taxes on their endowment earnings,
exempt their property that is used for educational purposes from local property
taxes, and allow them to borrow funds for educational facilities at lower
tax-exempt interest rates.  Because of
all of these tax benefits, the public at large is subsidizing these
institutions to the tune of literally billions of dollars of lost tax revenue a
year and the willingness to do so is based upon the belief that the selective
private academic institutions are yielding benefits to society as a whole.  Because many of the leaders of society are
graduates of these institutions and a well-functioning democratic society
requires that leaders come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, these
institutions have long understood that they have a special obligation to admit
and enroll students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Continue reading Wesleyan Abandons Need-Blind Admissions

Can We or Can’t We ‘Target’ Women and Minorities?

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Why is it admirable to “target” women and minorities for some educational programs but a violation of federal civil right laws to “target” them in others?          

That’s the question that must be asked about a federal lawsuit filed by seven Mississippi women, five of them African-American, against for-profit Virginia College, a chain of 25 for-profit campuses in the Southeast.  All seven women used federal student loans at the college’s Jackson, Mississippi, campus to obtain degrees in such fields as medical assisting and phlebotomy. Their complaint against Virginia and its parent company, Educational Corp. of America, says those degrees are now worthless. It charges fraud and breach of contract along with other wrongdoing, and faults the college for pitching its advertising and recruitment to blacks and women.

Continue reading Can We or Can’t We ‘Target’ Women and Minorities?

Could “Diversity” Become Mandatory?

diversity mandate.jpgThose of us who were disappointed when a divided Supreme Court upheld the distribution of burdens and benefits based on race in Grutter are hopeful that decision might be overturned — or that at least its most deleterious effects might be reined in — when the Court revisits affirmative action next fall in Fisher v. University of Texas. It would be a mistake to assume, however, as many do, that the worst-case scenario is the possibility that racial preferences in admissions and hiring might remain legal. If this administration’s arguments about the unprecedented and virtually (or even actually) unrestrained power the government possesses are upheld — either in currently pending litigation or by a future Supreme Court with new justices appointed by a re-elected President Obama– then “diversity”-justified discrimination could actually become mandatory.

Consider, first, the administration’s view of government power.
Twelve Catholic bishops, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington,
Notre Dame, Catholic University, Catholic Charities and the Consortium
of Catholic Academies — all told, 43 plaintiffs in 12 concurrently
filed lawsuits — have charged the Obama administration with trampling
their religious liberty by requiring them to finance or enable behavior
that violates their religion. Both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal covered the lawsuit on their May 22 front pages; the New York Times
buried it on p. A17. They charge, both implicitly and explicitly, that
the government now refuses to recognize any limits to its power, that
it does not have to follow the rules that formerly restrained it.

Continue reading Could “Diversity” Become Mandatory?

Elizabeth Warren: A Native American Now and Then

From what has been revealed so far, it appears that Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and likely Democratic candidate against Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, gave herself status as a Native American in the past, which led Harvard and a leading legal directory to identify her as such, but recently she has claimed that she forgot all about it, never used her self-defined minority status to advance her career, and that her minority status was in fact irrelevant to her being hired by several law schools.

Continue reading Elizabeth Warren: A Native American Now and Then

Diversity Training: Useless but Mandatory

Cross-posted from Open Market.

Diversity training doesn’t work, according to an article in Psychology Today. In it, Peter Bregman notes, “Diversity training doesn’t extinguish prejudice. It promotes it.”

But don’t expect it to stop. Government regulations often require that a school be accredited, a condition that accreditors like the American Bar Association use to force law schools to use racial preferences in admissions or run costly diversity and sensitivity-training programs (despite the dubious legality of some such diversity programs and admissions preferences). Such mandates have contributed to the growth of a vast and costly “diversity machine” in college administrations. (And as a condition of practicing law in California, I had to take continuing legal education on the topic of “elimination of bias in the legal profession.”)

Continue reading Diversity Training: Useless but Mandatory

Just as We Thought: “Holistic” = Hokum

Inside Higher Ed reports this morning (April 9) about a new study of “holistic” admissions at selective institutions by Rachel Rubin, a doctoral student at the Harvard School of Education, that will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association later this week. Her study confirms, albeit reluctantly, what you already suspected: that “holistic review,” at least where race is concerned, is mainly hokum.

Continue reading Just as We Thought: “Holistic” = Hokum

Let’s Be Frank about Anti-Asian Admission Policies

Asian students.jpgOn February 2 Daniel Golden, former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of a highly regarded book on college admissions, reported in Bloomberg’s Business Week that Harvard and Princeton are being investigated by the Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for discrimination against Asians.

It’s not the first time. In fact, for the past decade or so there has been a rising tide of accusations that the Ivies and other selective institutions treat Asians as the “new Jews” (referring to quotas on Jews in the Ivies and elsewhere early in the 20th Century, and often beyond), holding them to much higher admission standards than applicants from other groups in order to prevent their “over representation” and thus make room for the “under-represented” blacks and Hispanics admitted under much lower affirmative action standards. Harvard and Princeton, of course, deny the accusation.

Harvard “does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants,” spokesman Jeff Neal told Business Week. “Our review of every applicant’s file is highly individualized and holistic, as we give serious consideration to all of the information we receive and all of the ways in which the candidate might contribute to our vibrant educational environment and community.” Princeton read from the same script: The college “doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race or national origin,” claimed spokesman Martin Mbugua. “We make admissions decisions on a case-by-case basis in our efforts to build a well-rounded, diverse class.”

Do Admissions Officers Really Believe What They Say?

Of course, despite all the smoke they blow (and, it would appear, inhale) about “holistic,” “highly individualized,” “case by case” evaluations, if admissions offices did not allow race to be the determining factor in many cases, how would they know whether any particular applicant would contribute to the pigmentary “diversity” they so diligently seek? It is simply a fact, as Roger Clegg has cogently pointed out, “if you consider race, then in some instances it’s going to make a difference in whether a person is admitted (otherwise, why bother to consider it?), and when that happens, you have racial discrimination.”

Extensive evidence that Asian American applicants must jump a much higher bar to gain admission to elite universities than applicants from other groups and that they have been the big gainers where affirmative action has been dropped has long been available and should no longer surprise anyone. For example, in a widely discussed Wall Street Journal article back in 2006, Is Admissions Bar Higher for Asians At Elite Schools? Daniel Golden (the author of last week’s Business Week article linked above) noted a Center for Equal Opportunity study finding that Asian applicants to the University of Michigan in 2005 had a median SAT score that was “50 points higher than the median score of white students who were accepted, 140 points higher than that of Hispanics and 240 points higher than that of blacks.” That study also found that “among applicants with a 1240 SAT score and 3.2 grade point average in 2005, the university admitted 10% of Asian-Americans, 14% of whites, 88% of Hispanics and 92% of blacks.” Golden also reported that after California abolished racial preference the percentage of Asian-Americans accepted at Berkeley increased from 34.6% in 1997, the last year of legal affirmative action, to 42% entering in fall 2006.

Although it is widely thought, especially by defenders of affirmative action, that whites benefit when racial preferences are eliminated (indeed, those defenders frequently accuse critics of being racists whose purpose is to benefit whites), that is not the case. As I noted here, citing this data, the proportion of white freshmen entering the University of California system “fell from 40% in 1997 to 34% in 2005.”

A 140-Point SAT Disadvantage for Asians

Similar data abound. In 2005, for example, Thomas Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist (more on him below), and a colleague published an article demonstrating that if affirmative action were eliminated across the nation “Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class not taken by African-American and Hispanic students, with an acceptance rate rising from nearly 18 percent to more than 23 percent.” In a 2009 Inside Higher Ed article based on his book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, Espenshade and another colleague wrote that

[c]ompared to white applicants at selective private colleges and universities, black applicants receive an admission boost that is equivalent to 310 SAT points, measured on an all-other-things-equal basis. The boost for Hispanic candidates is equal on average to 130 SAT points. Asian applicants face a 140 point SAT disadvantage.

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Summarizing Espenshade’s findings, Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, gingerly concluded that “[s]ignificant advantages and disadvantages exist for members of some racial and ethnic groups with regard to the SAT or ACT scores they need to have the same odds of admission as members of other groups.” Since Espenshade concludes that black applicants to selective universities receive a 450 point “boost” compared to otherwise similarly qualified Asian applicants, I’d say that Jaschik’s statement oozes with obfuscatory politically correct understatement. That same tone suffuses Jaschik’s long article last week on the recent charge of anti-Asian discrimination at Harvard and Princeton. Because affirmative action is grounded (notwithstanding all the transparent claptrap about “diversity”) in a desire to help minorities, evidence that it significantly harms an ethnic minority makes its academic supporters as uncomfortable as a skunk at a garden party. Since they can’t refute the evidence, they try to argue that it doesn’t mean what it obviously means. Perhaps the Asians, they insinuate, are overly sensitive, imagining discrimination where it doesn’t exist. Here’s how Jaschik frames the issue (emphasis added):

What does it say about college admissions that a group achieving considerable academic success believes it is being held to unfair standards? Is there really proof to back up the widespread perception of bias? Are those who are convinced of bias relying solely on certain numeric measures? Are colleges hiding behind codes (such as the desire for someone who is “well-rounded” or concerns about “grinds”) to discriminate against Asian applicants?

Real Bias or Just ‘Belief in Bias’?

Jaschik’s article is characterized by this trope of a “belief in bias.” A few examples:

– Admissions counselors and advocates for Asian-American students say that belief in bias is widespread — and that the belief alone should be cause for concern…. – David Hawkins, director of public policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said “he is aware of (and concerned about) the way many applicants see this issue … ‘but I suspect it’s much more complicated.'” – “In some cases, colleges have adopted policies that some see as hurting Asian-American applicants — without necessarily violating the law.” – “Debates over the relative merits of standardized tests also tend to be viewed by many through their impact on different applicant groups.” – “Many advocates for Asian-American students believe that some elite college admissions officers use phrases like “well-rounded” to favor white applicants of lesser academic quality over Asian-American applicants.”

In addition to implying that the “belief” in discrimination reflects little more than overheated Asian-American imaginations, Jaschik’s article also argues through its quotations of various defenders of affirmative action — and, as we shall see, through misleading summarizing by Jaschik himself — that treating Asian-American applicants significantly worse than other applicants does not amount to discriminating against them and should not be used to discredit affirmative action. Robert Teranishi, associate professor of higher education at New York University and author of Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education, is “worried about efforts to link alleged bias against Asian-American applicants to broader debates over affirmative action.” According to Teranishi, “many Asian-American students in the United States” — such as poor recent immigrants — “deserve and benefit from affirmative action.” Really? That sounds doubtful to me, but perhaps Prof. Teranishi’s book presents data on vasts numbers of Asian-American applicants who are given preferential treatment in admission. The most dramatic, and unconvincing, denials that the data of Prof. Espenshade and others demonstrating the significantly higher hurdles faced by Asian-Americans amounts to discrimination against them comes from … Prof. Espenshade himself, who combines the mistaken Asian “beliefs” discussed above with outright denials of discrimination. In an interview last week with Jaschik,

Espenshade said that “all other things equal, Asian-American students are at a disadvantage relative to white students, and at an even bigger disadvantage relative to black and Latino students.” But he was quick to add that “this doesn’t mean there is discrimination.”

He noted that the modeling he has done is based on quantifiable measures such as grades and test scores. “We don’t have access to all the information an admissions dean does,” he said. “We don’t have extracurriculars. We don’t have personal statements or guidance counselors’ recommendations. We’re missing some stuff.” Those who assume that average scores indicate bias may not understand the many factors that go into college admissions at elite private colleges, he said. “The fact that these institutions are looking for a multiplicity of talent is more understood in some communities than others,” he said. “There might be a tendency of many Asian-American students to think that academic credentials are going to carry not only the most weight, but all the weight, in who gets admitted, and that isn’t so.”

The Ever-Handy Excuse of ‘Soft Variables’

asian students walking.jpgProf. Espenshade has been running from the implications of his research findings for years, as I argued here on Minding The Campus nearly two years ago. In a 2009 interview, for example, he told the Daily Princetonian that he did not use the word “discrimination” in discussing his study because “he did not have access to what he called ‘soft variables,’ like extracurriculars and teacher recommendations.

“The data we had is only part of the data that admission deans have access to,” Espenshade said. “If we had access to the full range of info, it could put Asian candidates in a different light. This so-called ‘Asian disadvantage’ does not necessarily mean that Asian applicants are being discriminated against.”

Leaving aside the awkward assertion that Asians have “a tendency” to “think” or “assume” or “believe” things that are not true and “may not understand” the complexity of the admissions process that is “more understood” in other “communities,” Prof. Espenshade doesn’t seem to recognize the clear implication of his reference to “soft variables” to deny discrimination: if there’s no discrimination, it’s because blacks and Hispanics are so much better at writing personal statements and performing extracurricular activities and securing outstanding letters of recommendation that their superior performance in these areas, compared to the hapless Asians, balances out their deficits in grades and test scores. Prof. Espenshade leans over so far backwards in attempting to deny discrimination against Asians that he stumbles well past lame or silly into territory, as I wrote on this site back in 2010, that “is almost humorously dumb, and offensive.”

The only person in Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik’s article who tries even harder than Prof. Espenshade to escape to the implications of Prof. Espenshade’s data is … Scott Jaschik. Referring to Prof. Espenshade’s book, Jaschik writes that “Asian-American applicants need SAT scores of about 140 points higher than students from other groups with equivalent academic qualifications to get admitted to competitive private institutions.” But that’s not at all what’s in Prof. Espenshade’s book or even what Prof. Espenshade wrote on Inside Higher Ed back in 2009. As we saw above, Espenshade wrote there that Asians must score 140 higher on the SAT than similarly qualified whites, not “students from other groups,” and that they must score 450 points higher than similarly qualified blacks.

Sometimes in the defense of affirmative action simple obfuscation isn’t sufficient. Those times call for outright denial, and editor Jaschik proves he is up to the task.

The Cheating and Fraud at Claremont McKenna

Claremont McKenna College, a private liberal arts school nestled in the foothills on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles County,
dishonored itself and defrauded the public in a cheap effort to bolster its national rankings in U.S. News and World Report. But if that weren’t bad enough, Claremont’s deception calls into question the very worth of its students, faculty, and graduates.

Richard Vos, Claremont’s dean of admissions for 25 years, resigned in disgrace this week after admitting to systematically manipulating the college’s SAT scores since 2005. Vos evidently altered the mean, median, and range of SAT scores to boost the college’s position on the influential list of college rankings.

Continue reading The Cheating and Fraud at Claremont McKenna

Look Who’s Endorsing a Race-Based View of Knowledge

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The campus diversity warriors are once again pounding at the gates. This time the pounding comes from on high–the American Political Science Association (APSA) itself. It is a serious clamor: a 76 page report called Political Science in the 21st Century authored by fourteen professors, many from elite research-oriented schools such as Berkeley and UCLA. The report received National Science Foundation money plus ample professional funding.

It is a curious document since nearly every university, top to bottom, has for decades sought diversity, and has even been willing to over-pay and compromise traditional academic standards. The Task Force includes Diane Pinderhuges, past president of the APSA and my former colleague (and friend) for 20-plus years. The two of us regularly sat in the same room discussing how our department could be more inclusive and heard all the administration entreatments to hire yet more blacks and Hispanics.

The obvious question, then, is why yet one more plea is necessary, given that scores of university bureaucrats are already striving to admit more minority graduate students and hire more black and Hispanic professors, and once hired, help them get tenure. Moreover, since many those currently admitted to graduate school or hired are barely qualified, the additional recruits will bring even more problems (many of these potential recruits will also have ample better-paying private sector opportunities). What can possibly necessitate yet more inclusionary vigor? Have these fourteen academics discovered a better solution to a seemingly intractable problem?

Nothing in the real world justifies the report, but that said, Political Science in the 21st Century is still worth scrutinizing for informing us about the latest wrinkle in what might be called, “The Life of the Diversity Mind.” Most important, for those uncomfortable with incessant demands for inclusion uber alles, the report provides advance warning in what seems to be a long war of attrition.

Why should any department double or even triple its efforts to hire more blacks and Hispanics when demand already outstrips supply? Might the reason be that newly emerging problems requiring expertise are currently in short supply, for example, hiring Middle Eastern experts in the wake of 9/11? The report’s justification is remarkably vacuous: demography is altering the political landscape, and the profession must adjust. In their words, “Is political science positioned to embrace and incorporate the changing demographics, increasing multicultural diversity, and ever-growing disparities in the concentration of wealth present in many nation-states? Can political science do so within its research, teaching, and professional development.”  A bit further on, “Task Force assessed the practice of political science to determine whether it is living up to its full potential as a scholarly discipline to enrich the discourse, broaden the understanding, and model the behavior necessary to build strong nation-states in a rapidly changing world where population shifts and related issues regarding race, ethnicity, immigration, and equal opportunity structure some of the most significant conflicts affecting politics and policymaking.”

Professional sounding verbiage aside, this is an unmitigated race-based view of knowledge. In effect, the world is increasingly dominated by people of color, and only people of color can understand the transformation. Let there be no misunderstanding, whites are inherently unable to grapple with this altered new world order, the scholarly equivalent of saying that since whites lack “soul” they cannot relate to Hip Hop or Rap. Again, in their own words, “Moreover, who does political science does not currently include scholars with backgrounds from the full range of positionalities (sic) including race, class, gender, and sexual orientation that are often the most marginalized in societies.” So forget about whites becoming experts on black politics as home-grown Americans once mastered Soviet politics. Race may be socially constructed but not when it comes to employment. Whites are disqualified since they lack the “positionalities.”

To appreciate the absurdity of this view, imagine if black or Latino/a political scientists were told that they could not, say, study Swedish politics since only Nordic types could relate to fellow Norsepeople? Might a single homosexual experience qualify one to study gay politics? We are not being sarcastic–this is intellectual biology-based apartheid.

It gets worse. Not only are whites, males and heterosexuals unqualified to understand blacks, women and gays, but not even science can overcome this limitation. Yet again, in their own words, “The tendency to accept its approaches as ‘objective’ science, for example, tend to inhibit the development of a more critical debate about the potential phenomenological bases of much empirical social science.” In the search for truth the researcher’s genes (or for gays, just preference) trump the scientific method. Truth is a matter of authenticity, something that comes with certain chromosomes and enzymes, not something  uncovered by experiments and statistical analysis. To paraphrase Descartes, “I know because of who I am.”

But, obstacles arise in today’s intellectual climate–top graduate schools demand rigorous training in the scientific approach, including statistics, and these requirements can be barriers to black and Hispanic students despite their otherwise vital inborn abilities. The report’s solution is to expand the definition of “training” to include approaches seldom found in research-oriented Ph.D. programs. “Methodological training must also be much more inclusive of critical analytical approaches and more self-reflective of potential biases in the use of accepted methodological categories.” In practice this new training will resemble Critical Race Theory–the endless search and destroy missions to expose unearned “white privilege” everywhere. Now while white graduate students master Intermediate Statistics, students from historically disadvantaged groups pass the methodology requirement by learning about the inherent racism of the SAT.

And what happens when the freshly minted faculty are hired and must compete with “privileged” professors skilled in the latest scientific skills? This is especially troublesome since top journals use anonymous reviews and accepting race/ethnic screeds will inevitably lower the journal’s prestige. Again, no problem: “Departments should also be more inclusive of the types of journals valued in the assessment of scholarly productivity.” And these alternative approaches should also be amply funded–“Faculties must receive substantial technical, institutional, and departmental support if alternative strategies are to be widely developed, implemented, and assessed.” As an academic lifer, let me translate: the MasterCard approach to research funding–you cannot be turned down.

Let me be blunt. More than access is involved here. The report is an attack on the very essence of the modern university, at least those precincts committed to the pursuit of objective scientific truth. These academics are putting jobs for fellow tribe members ahead of the search for truth. The Rev. Al Sharpton in a tweed sport coat. Perhaps a decade-long frustration of receiving what appears to be only crumbs from the table has instilled a smoldering tribe-based hatred for those who have succeeded in ways that these self-defined outsiders do not grasp. They want to replace “The data show….” with “I feel this to be the truth and don’t contradict me since my genes tell me that….”

That the American Political Science Association legitimizes this profoundly anti-scientific and racialist (“white knowledge, black knowledge”) view, and the National Science Foundation funds it, is remarkable. Alas, this is not one more crackpot idea destined to fade once the adults catch wind of it. Those committed to biology diversity hardly need much encouragement. In fact, almost immediately after the report’s release, Wheelock College, in Boston, Mass., announced a new Political Science major based on the report to put “the voices, experiences, and struggles of marginalized groups at the center of scholarly inquiry.”  According to the Chair of the Political Science Department,  “For us, the major will take the issues they say are ignored — race, inequality, gender, marginalization — and make them front and center.”

Needless to say, Wheelock will not set the standard for Yale or Harvard. Traditional political science will be safe at top schools. But, far more likely will be the spread of this new approach to third- and fourth-tier schools, schools that often attract large numbers of black and Hispanic students. Now, rather than learn traditional political science, even a bit of the scientific method, they will just have their victimhood certified and legitimized. Replacing “How a bill becomes a law” will be, “How white-dominated institution pass laws to sustain institutional racism and inequality.” Yet one more time, the substitution of ideological claptrap will further debilitate youngsters who need real knowledge, not just empty slogans.

It’s Not the Test’s Fault

Cross-posted from National Association of Scholars.

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Cross-posted from National Association of Scholars.

Fall 2011 has seen some major milestones for the SAT/ACT optional movement. DePaul University, for instance, initiated its first admission cycle sans test requirement. Clark University announced last month that it will offer test-optional admissions for the incoming class of 2013.

In his new book released this fall titled SAT Wars, sociologist Joseph A. Soares of Wake Forest University hails the success of test-optional admission policies. Wake Forest was the first of the top 30 U.S. News schools to go test-optional and is one of the most vocal cheerleaders of the movement through its blog Rethinking Admissions.  According to Soares, adopting policies that allow applicants to opt out of reporting their scores has successfully resulted in diversifying these campuses by race, gender, ethnicity, and class (groups he claims are excluded unfairly for underperforming on standardized tests) without compromising overall academic quality.

By all appearances, requirements for standardized testing in higher ed admissions is on the long and ragged road out the door.  To date nearly 850 colleges and universities (40% of all accredited, bachelor-degree granting schools in the country) have already bidden farewell to the test requirement in some form or another. 53 of these institutions are currently listed in the top tier on the “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” list published by U.S. News and World Report including Bowdoin, Smith, Bates, Holy Cross, and Mount Holyoke Colleges. Even some of U.S. News’ high ranking national universities, such as Wake Forest University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and American University, are categorized as test-optional.  It now seems likely that this trend will only gain in popularity and momentum in the coming years.

So is the SAT-optional movement a good thing?I have always loathed standardized tests myself, once conferring with my second grade teacher because I was certain that my scores were insufficient and that I was falling behind my peers.  It turned out that to be in the 94th percentile really was a good thing even if it was less than 100 – my eight-year-old mind just couldn’t comprehend this at the time.

Yet even after my elementary school pep talk on the nature of scaled grading, I always had this lingering feeling that standardized test scores were somehow an unfair representation of what I could do.  Perhaps I simply fell into the category of being a “poor” test taker, getting easily muddled by my own bubble filling perfectionism and the time constraints required by these acronymic tests.  Or maybe it was because I could never wrangle up enough motivation to spend my free time studying methods for optimizing my score.  And most of all, like any “free-thinking” member of my generation educated by the New Jersey public school curriculum of the 90s, it may have been because I was contentedly assured of being so much more than a number.

One would think given these facts that I would be all for the enforced disappearance of the SAT in favor of the new “holistic” entrance requirements offered by test optional schools. But like a wised-up adult now grateful that her mom made her eat vegetables as a child, I find myself in the curious position of lending support to this once bemoaned exam.

My reason for this change of heart is simple.  We need basic universal testing methods to separate out the prepared prospective students from the unprepared.

In his 2011 work, Uneducated Guesses: Using Evidence to Uncover Misguided Education Policies, Howard Wainer uses the available statistical data to conclude that institutions considering SAT-optional policies should proceed with caution.

Making the SAT optional seems to guarantee that it will be the lower scoring students who withhold scores.  And these lower scoring students will also perform more poorly, on average, in their first-year college courses, even though the admissions office has found other evidence on which to offer them a spot.

For example, Wainer found that at Bowdoin College, a school at the forefront of test-optional admissions, students in the entering class of 1999 who chose not to report their SAT scores tested 120 points lower, on average, than those students who submitted scores with their application.  This gap does sound large at first glance, but when considering students who typically have combined scores of 1250 and above in the traditional math and verbal categories, does that 100-120 point spread really matter when deciding whether a student is college-ready?

Clearly, admissions administrators at schools like Bowdoin and Wake Forest don’t consider it to be a problem.  And they might be somewhat justified in this assessment, even if – as Wainer found – the non test reporting students tend to have lower college GPAs then their test reporting peers.  Not everyone should be getting As in college and there are plenty of middling students in solid programs who can still benefit from a college education.

But would these higher ranked institutions really want to admit students who score 200 or 300 points below the institutions’ averages?  Likely not, as the continued penchant for test-optional schools to purchase the names of high-test scorers indicates.  The test-optional philosophy of admissions might sound warm and fuzzy on the surface, but for many of these schools this still appears to be a numbers game; one that perpetuates the value of high scorers and high rankings, now precariously balanced with a goal of attaining the oh-so-necessary badges of inclusion and diversity (yet more statistics to tout).

Most of the students profiled by these SAT-optional schools to prove the success of their new admissions policies are ones who were already at the top of their high school classes and who would have been accepted to any number of decent schools, even with their horrifyingly “low” test scores.  Often colleges are willing to overlook mediocre scores if an applicant is salutatorian, captain of the volleyball team, or editor of the newspaper–achievements indicative of a certain level of discipline and focus.  And if what these test-optional schools claim is true–that there are students out there who are great fits for their campuses and who have everything in their applications except for a specific score range–the schools should have had the courage to admit (and maybe even recruit) them anyway, bad scores included.

It takes courage to admit low scoring applicants because doing so all but guarantees lowering the SAT averages of these institutions and thereby risks knocking them down a few pegs on many of the popular college ranking lists that use test scores of incoming freshman as a major factor in their rank calculations.  Now, with these new non-reporting admissions options, some schools do not consider themselves obligated to factor in the scores of their test-optional applicants, thus allowing their middle 50% SAT range to represent only test reporting students (presumably the best of their enrollment pool).  Just look at what the oft reoccurring footnote No. 9 on the U.S. News “Best Colleges List” has to say:

SAT and/or ACT may not be required by school for some or all applicants, and in some cases, data may not have been submitted in form requested by U.S. News. SAT and/or ACT information displayed is for fewer than 67 percent of enrolled freshmen.

If these schools truly believe that the tests are biased or inaccurate representations of student preparedness, then why should they care how their test medians rank or if they recruit the highest scorers for their incoming classes?

Apparent hypocrisy aside, my suspicion is that the schools profiled most frequently on this issue, and the debates surrounding their choice to step away from standardized tests, cover up the true harm the test-optional movement has on academe as a whole.  For it seems to pose the most danger not to its leaders, many of whom still selectively accept students over the 80th percentile, but to the large number of other schools who are realistically following suit to lower their admissions standards and raise enrollment to make ends meet.  A 100-point spread might not mean all that much to students with scores of 1250+, but it can definitely make a world of difference in schools whose means are already well below that threshold.  The hard truth is that at some point being a well-rounded person ceases to compensate for not possessing quantifiably provable verbal and math skills.

And unlike what Soares and his cohort claim, I think most would agree that high school GPA does not ensure the same universality of assessment offered by tests such as the SAT because high school curricula are not created equal.  Although I grew up in a school district where we started learning how to write research papers in the third grade, some of my college classmates never had to write more than a single double spaced page at a time, and some were never required to read a book cover to cover in the course of their entire K-12 educations.

On the larger trend, we are not talking about straight A students at challenging high schools who happened to have the flu on test day, or who can’t afford to take test prep classes, or who don’t work well under pressure, as much as the test-optional proponents want us to believe this to be the case.  For the majority of those nearly 850 accredited institutions, this movement is about admitting students who are not prepared and quite possibly not capable of benefiting from a college level education.

Accepting students to college when they are not ready for college level course work is irresponsible and inexcusable.  It is time to get beyond the top schools in this discussion and consider the havoc test optional policies may wreak on the vast majority of higher ed institutions.  What seems like only a minor performance disparity outweighed by the benefits of “diversity” at schools like Wake Forest could spell the end to professional academic standards at lower ranking but still respectable institutions.

It also might be time for the proponents of test-optional admissions to stop and consider that maybe it really isn’t the test’s fault after all.  Low-scoring but worthy students ready to tackle college coursework are probably the exception rather than the rule. Admissions officers should use individual discernment and admit such students, when deserved, with full knowledge of how they scored. This is exactly why we have people, not mathematic algorithms, make admissions decisions in the first place.

More broadly, if certain groups are genuinely disadvantaged by these tests and underperform as researchers such as Soares and organizations like The National Center for Fair and Open Testing claim, we should continue to place emphasis on innovative solutions for K-12 reform instead of dispensing with standardized testing altogether.  The chances are that the most notable demographic gaps in the test results reflect a deficiency in education quality or testing support, both areas we can improve over time through reform, more than any inherent flaw with the objective test itself.  Not to mention that one of the primary methods used, including by the test skeptics listed above, to identify policy weaknesses and demographic disparities is the analysis of standardized test scores.  Without any form of universal achievement testing we risk missing demographic weaknesses altogether and could neglect the urgency to find solutions where legitimate problems exist.

The tests will never be perfect or comprehensive, but they continue to offer the most assured universal assessment of college preparedness, especially when considered alongside the many other factors traditionally used in admissions decisions.  To say that it is the test’s fault is both a juvenile and a nearsighted excuse. We do need to rethink college admissions, but implementing policies that let in more, not fewer, unprepared students is heading in the wrong direction – one that has no future in mind.

The Days of Legacy Admissions May Be Numbered

StudentsCampusFall.jpgIn a recent
essay
in Minding the Campus, blogger John S. Rosenberg argued that I was
too tough on legacy preferences and not tough enough on affirmative action in
college admissions.  In my support for
class-based affirmative action, he says, I’m not sufficiently outraged about
racial preferences.  And in arguing that
legacy preferences are illegal not only in public but also in private
universities, he says, I make an “odd” set of arguments that “add up to less
than nothing.”

On the issue of racial preferences, I am, as Rosenberg suggests,
somewhat ambivalent, as are many Americans. 
Polls suggest that Americans want universities that produce our
country’s leadership class to be racially and ethnically diverse yet they don’t
like using race in admissions.  I agree
with both sets of views and one of the reasons I have been attracted to writing
about the issue
over the years is that I see compelling arguments on both
sides.

On the one hand, I am deeply troubled by the casual way in
which many of my fellow liberals embrace the use of race in deciding who gets
ahead in education and employment, ignoring the deep moral problems associated
with judging people by skin color.  On
the other hand, I think it is clear that our nation’s horrendous history of
slavery and Jim Crow segregation has left a legacy that helps explain why
African Americans are today disproportionately poor and less educated – a
situation that demands affirmative steps to counteract.  Ultimately, I back class-based rather than
race-based preferences because I think they can indirectly address our history
without resorting to the disease as cure. 
I also support considering the socioeconomic obstacles overcome as an
element of merit, because today those impediments are seven times as significant
as racial barriers to doing well on the SAT.

Continue reading The Days of Legacy Admissions May Be Numbered

Are Legacy Preferences Illegal?

Father and son.jpgRichard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation is well known for his relentless, articulate, well-researched arguments that affirmative action should be based on class, not race. My reaction to these arguments is usually rather tepid. I find Kahlenberg’s arguments compelling only insofar as he also criticizes race-based preferences, and his criticism of them usually doesn’t go very far. His objection to distributing burdens and benefits based on race is typically understated, if stated at all, limited to criticizing race preferences because they help some who don’t need it (well off minorities) and don’t help many who do (poor whites and Asians). If he’s ever argued that helping some individuals and hurting others because of their race is wrong, that courts should strike down race-based preferences as violations of both the Constitution and civil rights laws, I don’t recall it.

Continue reading Are Legacy Preferences Illegal?

Attitudes in the Admissions Office

A recent survey of college admissions officers, sponsored by insidehighered.com, has attracted some attention in the press, such as this story in the New York Times and, of course, this account at Insidehighered.com (there is a link to a pdf of the full survey report).  It’s a valuable document that reveals attitudes and policies among admissions officers at a time of financial strain and fierce competition among institutions.

Indeed, the main finding in the survey is that admissions personnel are increasingly seeking out students who can pay full tuition.  Public institutions want more out-of-state and international students (who pay a much higher fee than in-state students).  About one-in-ten four-year colleges, the survey found, even practice affirmative action for full-pay applicants, lowering academic standards in order to admit them.

Continue reading Attitudes in the Admissions Office

From the Sixth Circuit: Good News, Bad News

There’s good news out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit: On Friday, the full court agreed to rehear a now infamous decision in which a three-judge panel had earlier struck down the state of Michigan’s Proposal 2.  Proposal 2, in turn, is a ban on government discrimination and preference on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex, passed by Michigan voters in 2006 in large measure because the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 had upheld the state universities’ use of racial preferences in admissions.  The Sixth Circuit panel reasoned that this ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

You can’t make this stuff up, folks.  That’s right: The people of Michigan, according to this court, violated the Equal Protection Clause when they demanded that their state treat all citizens equally–without regard to race, ethnicity, or sex–in government contracting, employment, and education, including university admissions.  Unbelievable.

Continue reading From the Sixth Circuit: Good News, Bad News

Why Harvard and Yale Had to Merge

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May 28, 2020, was a good day for the American economy and a momentous one for traditional colleges and universities.  President Jodie Foster, the sixth Yale graduate to reach the White House, announced that the congressional agreement on Medicare and Social Security had finally begun to reduce the country’s debt, and the disastrous bout of inflation was subsiding, as the consumer price index inflation rate had fallen to 12.3 percent for the first four months of the year.

For Harvard and Yale, the news was not so good. Although they continued to reject 93 percent of their applicants, actual enrollment was falling, and inflation had made their endowments almost worthless. A few days earlier, Shanghai University had announced it was purchasing Princeton, and rumors circulated that Stanford would close its undergraduate school, reconfiguring itself as a professional school in law, medicine, and business. As a result of the changes engulfing traditional education, Harvard and Yale announced a merger.

On the brighter side, the president of  BGU, the online Bill Gates University, crowed that the school had produced six Rhodes scholars, and there were reports that Stephen Blackwood, the founder of Ralston College back in late 2011, would start his sixth “Great Books” college, this one in Florida.

That same day, faculty members at the University of Phoenix issued a report analyzing the cataclysmic changes that had occurred in higher education over the past ten years. They traced the history back to a New York Times columnist, Ron Lieber, and two articles he wrote in 2010 and 2011. They dubbed him the “short seller” of higher education.

Continue reading Why Harvard and Yale Had to Merge

A Desperate Defense of Affirmative Action

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The American Scholar is the official journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society — the college honorary society– and like The New York Times and The New York Review of Books, its focus is highbrow and its writing quality generally of a high order.  Also like the Times and the NYRB, when dealing with current political controversies it leans predictably to the left.

This is prominently on display in its Winter 2011 issue, which features a cover story titled “Affirmative Action’s Last Chance,” written by former Wesleyan University and Emory president William M. Chace. The article is an impassioned call for private universities, in the face of the increasingly successful ballot initiatives restricting race preferences at public colleges and universities, to step up to the plate and continue or expand their own programs of special admissions for blacks and other targeted minorities.  Affirmative action’s “last chance,” Chace says, is for private institutions like Wesleyan and Emory to ignore opinion polls and ballot initiatives and do what is right by aggressively enrolling underrepresented minorities, who, it is said, now find it much harder to gain admission to state universities in places like California, Michigan, Florida and a growing number of other states.  “Opposition to affirmative action has drastically reduced minority enrollment at public universities,” the article’s introductory blurb begins. “Private institutions have the power and the responsibility to reverse the trend.”
 
Chace’s article is worth considering at some length. It reflects better than anything else I have read in recent years the troubled state in which racial preference supporters find themselves as they desperately try to hang on to policies that continue to face great public opposition and which they have reason to suspect have led to many of the serious difficulties and unintended consequences that their critics always predicted.  Chace begins his article with the oft-quoted line from the commencement address President Johnson delivered at Howard University in June of 1965: “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others.'”

Continue reading A Desperate Defense of Affirmative Action

Crazy U: Scenes from the System

There is a remarkable moment in Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His Kid into College, which just came out this week.  (The New York Times has an excerpt from the book here).  Ferguson and his son are in the middle of the application process, both of them dismayed and discomfited by the whole system.

They make a trip up to Cambridge for college night at Harvard, even though his son declares, “I’m not going to Harvard.”  (It’s ambiguous as to whether he doesn’t want to go there or doesn’t believe Harvard would ever be interested in him.)  They enter the admissions office and join a standing-room-only crowd of parents eager to hear from the deciders.  First, a video is shown announcing, “A mosaic of faces all call Harvard home.”  Young faces identify their home towns: “from Addis Ababa to Omaha,” Ferguson notes, “Baghdad to Boise, Manhattan to Moosepie, Montana.”  The point: Harvard students are just “ordinary folk.”
Tommy Lee Jones appears (roommate at Harvard: Al Gore), encouraging everyone to apply.  A nameless youth brushes his teach and the narrator says, “When FDR went to Harvard, he used the same sink.  Whose sink will you use?”

Continue reading Crazy U: Scenes from the System