Tag Archives: Texas

Why Size Matters in College Preferences

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By Stuart Taylor, Jr. and Richard Sander

Even for people who approve in
principle of some use of racial preferences in university admissions — notably
including Justice Anthony Kennedy — the size of the preferences, and of the
resulting racial gaps in academic performance in college and beyond, should
matter a great deal.
 

So it’s unfortunate (though
understandable, as explained below) that the size of the preferences at issue
in Fisher v. University of Texas was
not mentioned either during the Supreme Court’s October 10 oral argument or at
any other point in the discrimination lawsuit against UT by Abigail Fisher, a
disappointed white applicant.

But the Court could and should use
the
Fisher case to impose a
requirement — suggested in our new book,
Mismatch
— that from now on, a university’s burden of proving justification for its use
of racial preferences will include a requirement that it fully disclose the
size of its preferences (preferably including legacy and athletic preferences)
and of the mean gaps in college academic performance among students admitted on
the basis of preferences of various sizes.

Continue reading Why Size Matters in College Preferences

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

We Don’t Need a Different “Affirmative Action”

On
the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. Texas, a case challenging racial preferences in college
admissions, the Wall Street Journal published a piece purporting to give “A
Liberal Critique of Racial Preferences.”

Author
Richard Kahlenberg argued (as he almost always does) in favor of changing “affirmative
action” to a system based on socio-economic class. That is, rather than
colleges giving preference to students because of their ancestry, they would
instead give preferences to students from relatively poor families. Kahlenberg
thinks it better to selectively admit some applicants, no matter what their
race, from low-income and working-class families than to admit some from
affluent families on account of their race.

The
case for preferences based on socio-economic status (SES) is no better than
that for race. I will focus on the most central one: It accomplishes no good.

Kahlenberg’s
argument is that racial preferences made sense in the past, when doors were closed
to many Americans based on their skin color, but today “obstacles to
opportunity are more closely associated with economic disadvantage.”

I
strongly disagree. Today the “obstacles to opportunity” are overwhelmingly
creations of government: occupational licensure, minimum wage laws, red tape
that impedes business formation, and so on. Those obstacles affect everyone,
although they have their strongest impact on the poor. But being poor is not itself
an obstacle.

But
this is besides the point. Kahlenberg isn’t describing a generic plan to boost
up the poor and working-class. He wants elite colleges and universities to give
prefer to the children of poor and working-class families. Suppose that a
plumber’s daughter in North Carolina has grades and SAT scores that make her an
automatic admit at UNC-Charlotte and a fairly likely admit at NC State. She applies
to Duke on a whim and is accepted not for her academic prowess but Duke’s desire
for SES diversity.

As
a diligent student, she will succeed whether she goes to UNCC, NC State, or
Duke, although at the latter she might find herself competing with students who
have more academic ability. Even if going to Duke wouldn’t cost her more (and
it almost certainly will), how is it beneficial for her to go there? Her career
prospects depend on her own accomplishments, not the name of her alma mater.

There
are two hidden assumptions in Kahlenberg’s argument — that elite schools give
students elite education and that America will be a fairer country if children
from “lower” SES backgrounds attend elite schools. Neither assumption is correct.
The supposedly elite schools don’t necessarily provide a better education.
Moreover, shuffling a few students “up” into those schools — while
simultaneously shuffling an equal number of non-preferred students “down” —
won’t make America any fairer. 

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

The Ultimate Victory of Liberal Bias

The Daily Texan has reported that a conservative student group at University of Texas-Austin has inaugurated a “watch list” containing the names of professors who “politicize the classroom” and squash “dissenting opinion.”  The chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas describes the list as an information resource, providing information on wayward instructors before students sign up for their classes and regret being stuck in them for a semester of illiberal education.  

An earlier version of the Watch List that appeared in Spring 2007 cast a wider net and placed professors on the list without any hard evidence of abuse of students.  This time, the project focuses on tyrannical behavior.  As of two weeks ago, the head of the local chapter stated he had received “eight or nine names” but that he wouldn’t release them, perhaps because he hadn’t reviewed the validity of the claims.  The group is careful not to cite any professors who openly espouse a political position but allow opposition. 

The Huffington Post picked up the story a few days ago and hosted a forum on the issue, but it’s hard to find any other notice of the case.  Searches of “University of Texas Watch List” at the Chronicle of Higher Education and www.insidehighered.com produced no stories, and on the Texas campus there isn’t any evidence of subsequent discussions or events.   

Compare this to the vehement criticism David Horowitz faced ten years ago when he initiated concrete proposals to root out liberal bias.  Back then, critics hurled denunciation and indignation at Horowitz in many different fora. This time, however, the effort to monitor misbehaving instructors doesn’t even raise the quick and easy charge of McCarthyism.

Most professors realize that the liberal-bias movement doesn’t threaten them at all. In fact, many colleges have learned how to benefit from their right-wing students. Numerous campuses, such as Brown, UCLA, and Princeton, have allowed of the formation conservative or libertarian centers. As a result, development offices are finding that conservative alumni are more willing to donate. They will grant space to alternative viewpoints in order to let the dominant system proceed as before.  There’s no doubt the centers have benefited the students. But conservative faculty groups and conservative student activists barely touch left-leaning faculty and administrators.  

In other words, the liberal-bias movement succeeded and it failed.  It succeeded in overcoming the reflexive condemnation of biased professors, earning conservative and libertarian ideas some legitimacy in the academic square.  No longer can a faculty speak of conservative/libertarian thinkers and ideas as prima facie stupid.  But it failed to dent the prevailing left-liberal ideology of identity politics, diversity, and statism.  The worst tendencies continue, but in the administrative offices rather than the classroom. If the liberal-bias movement had really succeeded, the diversiphile network on campus would have shrunk, not expanded.

One wonders if the cannier left-liberals among the faculty and administration welcome scattered attacks on the professors for bias, as it gives them another reason to pay lip service to “academic freedom.”  Meanwhile, the real work of liberal-bias spreads in the bureaucracy, where students can’t see it happening.

Fisher and “Diversity”: The More Things Change…

Browsing through the collection of over
70 pro-“diversity” amicus briefs
submitted on behalf of the University of
Texas in the Fisher case, I am reminded, as I often am, of how eerily
the current defense of “taking race into account,” i.e., preferential treatment
based on race, resembles the old Southern arguments in defense of segregation.

As I have
pointed
out
on my blog a number
of times,
one of the oddest, saddest things about contemporary liberalism is the degree
to which it stands on the shoulders, and repeats the arguments, of dead
racists. Anyone, for example, who defends racial preferences must reject
Justice John Marshall Harlan’s stirring comment in Plessy that
“our Constitution is colorblind” and agree with the majority’s holding that the
14th Amendment does not require colorblindness and hence that racial
discrimination can in many circumstances be reasonable and hence
constitutional.

Opposing the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative
in 2006 (before he was convicted
and sent to prison
for fraud and corruption), Detroit Mayor Kwame
Kilpatrick declared
to applause in a speech to the NAACP, “We will affirm to the world that
affirmative action will be here today, it will be here tomorrow and there will
be affirmative action in the state forever.” Kilpatrick unwittingly channeled
George Wallace’s 1963 acceptance
speech
as Governor of Alabama: “I draw the line in the dust and toss the
gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say . . . segregation today . . .
segregation tomorrow . . .segregation forever!”

One of the most famous documents in the
South’s massive resistance to school integration was the “Southern
Manifesto
” of 1956, signed by 19 Senators and 77 Representatives, defending
states’ rights and criticizing the Supreme Court for overturning settled law.
To demonstrate how closely its arguments resemble current defenses of
preferential admissions I once posted a version of
that document
substituting “diversity” or “racial preferences” for
“segregation.” It is an uncanny fit. The Southerners argued, for example, that
“the ‘separate but equal’ principle [substitute: the amount of diversity and
the means of achieving it
] is within the discretion of the state in
regulating its public schools and does not conflict with the Fourteenth
Amendment.”

The Jackson Clarion Ledger quoted a spokesman for the Mississippi
Attorney General’s office explaining that representatives from that state had
“signed on … in the interest of fighting to allow our universities to set their
own admission policies without unnecessary interference or second-guessing by
federal courts.” In a closely related legal document  Mississippi joined
several other states in asserting that “states must have the freedom and
flexibility to create strong institutions tailored to the needs of each
particular State and its citizens” and urging the Court “to reject petitioner’s
invitation to … destabilize the careful judgments that each State has made in
light of the conditions and needs facing its own particular institutions of
higher learning.”
 

The petitioner referred to above is actually
Abigail Fisher, and the attorney general’s spokesman is actually referring to
the amicus
brief
Mississippi joined with New York, North Carolina and several other
states defending the University of Texas’s admitting some applicants and
rejecting others based on their race and ethnicity.
 

Mississippi, still defending racial
discrimination. The more things change….

Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

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The
ongoing controversy over University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus is a
textbook example of how a legitimate scholarly dispute can turn into a
political witch-hunt. Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at Texas’s
flagship campus in Austin, published a peer-reviewed paper in June in the
journal Social Science Research concluding that the adult children of
parents in same-sex relationships fare worse in a number of ways–alcoholism,
depression, drug use, and so forth–than the adult children of parents in
stable heterosexual marriages. Other sociologists have contested both
Regnerus’s findings and his methodology. But instead of challenging the results
of Regnerus’s research via normal scholarly channels–reviews, other scholarly
papers, or conference panels–Regnerus’s opponents have sought to delegitimize
him both personally and as a professional academic. They have attacked his
editors at Social Science Research, and they have goaded the UT-Austin
administration into investigating him for scientific misconduct. They have
fought their battle not in the journals but in the pages and web-pages of Mother
Jones
and the Huffington Post. Regnerus, a Catholic convert, has
even been aligned with the Catholic traditionalist group Opus Dei that is every
progressive’s favorite faith-based werewolf. Shades of The Da Vinci Code!

Continue reading Regnerus and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

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?

Texas Finds That Discrimination Isn’t Cheap

Inside Higher Ed reports this morning that the University of Texas has hired a big Los Angeles-based law firm, Latham and Watkins, to defend its race-based admission policy before the Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas, which the Supreme Court will hear next fall. “The law firm, with extensive Supreme Court expertise, will be paid a flat fee of $977,000, with up to another $10,000 for expenses.”

Continue reading Texas Finds That Discrimination Isn’t Cheap

Bad News for the University of Texas

On March 14, Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise, in his piece “Trying to assess learning gives colleges their own test anxiety,” reported that the University of Texas at Austin ranks very low in achievement of student learning. “For learning gains from freshman to senior year,” writes de Vise, “UT ranked in the 23rd percentile among like institutions. In other words, 77 percent of universities with similar students performed better.” The Post obtained this data through a public records request. The standardized test was conducted by the Collegiate Learning Assessment.

Continue reading Bad News for the University of Texas

“Diversity” Takes More Lumps

“Diversity,” as everyone surely knows by now, is the sole remaining justification for racial preference in higher education allowed by the Supreme Court. Defenders seem to regard it as even more essential to a good education than books in the library or professors behind the podium. But a funny thing has been happening on the way to the Supreme’s Court revisiting racial preference in the Fisher case next fall: an increasing array of academic studies has been demonstrating that the “diversity” emperor has no clothes.

Continue reading “Diversity” Takes More Lumps

What Will the Court Do About Affirmative Action?

As you probably know by now, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Fisher v. Texas, depending on your point of view a promising or threatening challenge to affirmative action. Major and minor media, blogs, whatever, are all filled with cries of hope or wails of fear that the racial preferences sanctified in Grutter will be overturned or at most/least seriously reined in.

Some of that discussion is inane, such as Jesse Jackson’s almost humorous charge quoted by Inside Higher Ed that critics of double standards in college admissions practice double standards themselves because they think racial preference is worse than athletic preference, a ridiculous argument I discussed a few days ago here. Also inane is a statement quoted in the same article by Michael A. Olivas, director of the Institute of Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston, “that there is no evidence that consideration of race is excluding anyone from higher education.” Of course, eliminating consideration of race wouldn’t deprive anyone of higher education either; those no longer preferentially admitted to selective institutions would simply go to less selective institutions. And some of the discussion is both inane and offensive, such as Olivas’s further comment “that aggrieved whites who bring these cases will not be pleased as long as there is a black or Mexican in college.”

The Top Ten Percent

Also by now the broad outline of the long-roiling conflict over the use of race in college admissions and hiring — is it necessary to produce educationally essential “diversity” or should it be prohibited like other forms of outright discrimination that distribute benefits and burdens based on race? — no longer needs to be rehearsed. There are, however, two distinguishing elements of Fisher that do merit discussion: the effect of the “Top 10%” admissions policy adopted at Texas after affirmative action was first outlawed there and still in effect; and what if any weight the Court will give to the growing body of scholarship — with which it will be confronted for the first time — summarized in briefs demonstrating that the “mismatch” effect of racial preferences actually harms those who receive the preferential treatment.

In order to ensure the admission of “a large well qualified pool of minority students,” in 1997 Texas enacted a law requiring the University of Texas (UT) to admit all Texas high school seniors ranking in the top 10% of their classes. By 2000 the enrollment levels of blacks and Hispanics had returned to the levels of 1996, the year before Hopwood outlawed race-based affirmative action. By 2004, “the entering freshman class was 21.4% African-American and Hispanic, thus significantly exceeding the minority enrollment rates achieved under UT’s pre-Hopwood race preference system.” Notwithstanding the success of the race-neutral program, UT re-instituted race-based affirmative action on the day Grutter gave the green light. (Petitioners Petition for Certiorari, pp. 6-7)

Grutter purported to require “serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives that will achieve the diversity the university seeks,” but most observers have read that ostensible requirement as little more than rhetorical window-dressing on the endorsement of racial preference. That is certainly how preference-granting institutions have read it. Thus one possible outcome of Fisher would be for the Court to say that it really meant what it said, engage in “strict scrutiny” that unlike in Grutter was in fact strict, hold that the Top 10% plan provides more than adequate “diversity,” and prohibit additional race preferences.

How Much  Diversity is Enough?

UT, no doubt anticipating this possibility, has come up with the radical rejoinder that, despite its success, the Top 10% plan is insufficient because it has not succeeded in bringing “diversity” to every classroom. You read that right: every classroom. In his Fifth Circuit opinion affirming the district court’s denial of Fisher’s discrimination complaint, Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote that while the Top 10% law “may have contributed to an increase in overall minority enrollment, those minority students remain clustered in certain programs, limiting the beneficial effects of educational diversity.” Relying on data provided by UT, Higginbotham noted that in Fall 2002 90% of smaller classes “had either one or zero African-American students, 46% had one or zero Asian-American students, and 43% had one or zero Hispanic students.” Thus, he concluded,

It is evident that if UT is to have diverse interactions, it needs more minority students who are interested in and meet the requirements for a greater variety of colleges, not more students disproportionately enrolled in certain programs. The holistic review endorsed by Grutter gives UT that discretion, but the Top Ten Percent Law, which accounts for nearly 90% of all Texas resident admissions, does not.

The Fifth Circuit voted 9-7 against an en banc review of Judge Higginbotham’s decision. In a blistering dissent for five of those seven, Judge Edith Jones wrote:

… in an entirely novel embroidering on Grutter, the panel repeatedly implies that an interest in “diversity” at the classroom level–in a university that offers thousands of courses in multiple undergraduate schools and majors–justifies enhanced race-conscious admissions….

The pernicious impact of aspiring to or measuring “diversity” at the classroom level seems obvious upon reflection. Will the University accept this “goal” as carte blanche to add minorities until a “critical mass” chooses nuclear physics as a major? Will classroom diversity “suffer” in areas like applied math, kinesiology, chemistry, Farsi, or hundreds of other subjects if, by chance, few or no students of a certain race are enrolled? The panel opinion opens the door to effective quotas in undergraduate majors in which certain minority students are perceived to be “underrepresented.” It offers no stopping point for racial preferences despite the logical absurdity of touting “diversity” as relevant to every subject taught at the University of Texas. In another extension of Grutter, the panel opinion’s approval of classroom “diversity” offers no ground for serious judicial review of a terminus of the racial preference policy.

Over the years on my blog I have joked a number of times — at least at the times I thought I was joking — that, as I put it here, “if ‘diversity’ is important enough to the education of non-minority students at selective institutions to justify sacrificing the right of applicants to be free from racial discrimination, it’s important enough to draft some minority students and require their attendance” where it’s needed. If by some fluke the Supremes uphold Judge Higginbotham’s decision, it would be downright irresponsible of UT and other institutions not to assign preferentially admitted minority students to classes that need the “diversity” they would provide, just as diversiphiles insisted on the desirability of assigning K-12 students to schools by race.

The Mismatch Theory 

Readers of Minding The Campus are no doubt familiar with the “mismatch” theory pioneered by UCLA law professor Richard Sander. Now, the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to consider the evidence supporting it. In two powerful briefs urging the Court to grant cert — one by Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. and the other by Gail Heriot, Peter Kirsanow, and Todd Gaziano (all members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) — and presumably in additional briefs they will file now that the Court has accepted the case, the Court will be presented with the scholarship demonstrating that minorities who receive preferential treatment in admissions cluster in the bottom 10% of their classes and have much lower grades, graduation rates, and bar passage rates than their non-preferred peers. In fact, Sander et al. conclude, there are actually fewer black lawyers, engineers, and other STEM professionals than there would have been absent the preferences. Read the briefs for the excruciating chapter and verse.

Justice O’Connor held in Grutter that the “educational benefits” that flow from “diversity” constitute a “compelling interest” that can justify racial preference, but it is clear from the evidence amassed here that those benefits, whatever they are, do not flow to those who receive the preferences. Sander and Taylor argue that the Court’s past decisions

make clear that racial preferences in higher education are tolerated under constitutional law — to the extent that they are tolerated — only on the assumption that they are benefits conferred upon relatively powerless minorities. If preferences turn out to have mostly harmful effects — or even if the effects are often harmful and on balance ambiguous — then the fundamental legal premise for permitting this type of racial classification is gone.

Those of us opposed to distributing benefits and burdens based on race owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Sander and the scholars he cites, many of whom were inspired by his own work, and I certainly hope the Court takes this evidence to heart, and mind, and reverses Grutter or at least severely constrains its effects. I do, however, perhaps confirming that no good work goes uncriticized, want to offer one quibbling clarification and conclude with a more serious concern.

First the quibble: it may well be true that the courts have tolerated racial preferences only on the assumption that they benefit, and are intended to benefit, the preferentially admitted minorities, but if so they (like virtually everyone else) do not believe the justification offered by the institutions granting them. That justification, more like a mantra — that “diversity” is essential to a good education — in practice means that it is necessary to lower the bar for the preferred minorities so that the un-preferred Asians and whites can receive the benefit of being exposed to them. The preferentially admitted do not, after all, provide “diversity” to themselves. They would receive that benefit even if, in the absence of preferences, they attended less selective institutions. In practice, some Asians and whites are excluded from selective institutions because of their race so that other more fortunate Asians and whites can be exposed to the preferentially admitted minorities. Interestingly, if the Court were to recognize this reality, it might not care that preferential treatment is bad for the preferred since “diversity” doesn’t exist for them in the first place and they would still provide it from the bottom of their classes, etc.

More seriously: Sander and Taylor make a virtue of basing their conclusions on confirmable facts regarding the effects of preferences on the preferred, not on morality or principle. Their leading argument is that

Social Science Research Has Undermined The Central Assumption Underlying All Racial Preference Programs In University Admissions: That They Are Good For The Intended Beneficiaries

Aside from the quibble discussed above regarding who the intended or real beneficiaries are, there is a troubling question here: does resting the rejection of racial preference on social science findings imply that the discrimination required to produce the desired “diversity” would or should be acceptable if only it were good for the preferred? Social science findings, no matter how impressive, are often not timeless and can provide a weak foundation on which to rest a right that many think of as flowing from the fundamental American value that everyone should be judged without regard to race, creed, or color. Kenneth Clark’s famous doll study used in Brown v. Board of Education, for example, does not look as impressive now as it did to many observers in 1954.

This is not the place, and I am not the person, for a long disquisition on the proper relationship between facts and law in Supreme Court jurisprudence, but mention of one non-Fisher example may be in order. Criticizing Rick Santorum on Huffington Post recently for suggesting that recognition of a fundamental individual right to same sex marriage might lead to recognition of polygamy, Eliyahu Federman cited the 2008 California Supreme Court decision affirming same-sex marriage but also asserting that “polygamous or incestuous relationships” are not protected because they are “inimical to the mutually supportive and healthy family relationships promoted by the constitutional right to marry.”

That, of course, sounds just like those who criticize same sex marriage, but according to Federman “[t]here isn’t a shred of modern sociological evidence to support the claim that gay marriage is harmful to society, whereas there is a plethora of historical and contemporary evidence to illustrate the dangers associated with polygamy.”

I offer no opinion about the persuasiveness of the “sociological evidence” used in California and on Huffington Post to deny rights to those individuals who want to marry more than one person and to affirm the right of individuals of the same sex to marry, but I do believe that both the affirmation and denial of fundamental rights need to rest on something more substantial than sociological evidence.

A Dubious Move by the University of Texas

If college and university officials finally want to solve
the longstanding problems ofmediocre
retention rates and pitiful graduation rates, then a magic, off-the-shelf
solution awaits them.

It’s called MyEdu, a private company that claims its website
will help colleges solve the problem of disappearing students. How? By
allowing students to see such titillating facts as professors’ official student
evaluations and the grade distributions for courses they teach.

Continue reading A Dubious Move by the University of Texas

Are Professors Productive Enough?–The Issue Won’t Die

Remember the furor last spring over the release of “productivity” figures at Texas public universities? The figures displayed for all to see how much money every instructor in the University of Texas (UT) system was being paid, along with numbers of students taught and research dollars generated. The furor spread to other universities and hasn’t died down. On Nov. 11 a UT-Austin sociology professor, Marc Musick, who is also associate dean for student affairs at UT-Austin’s College of Liberal Arts, released a study of his own, based on data from the 2009-2010 academic year. It concluded that–guess what?–contrary to the interpretations that conservative gadflies had made of the UT data, namely that some professors were highly productive while many others cost taxpayers far more than they were worth, UT-Austin faculty members have been perpetual motion machines of productivity. When Musick balanced the “weighted” (I’ll explain that one later) credit-hours of teaching by tenured and tenure-track professors against their salaries and the research funds they acquired from external sources, he found that “UT Austin professors generated over twice their compensation from those revenue sources.”

Continue reading Are Professors Productive Enough?–The Issue Won’t Die

A Major Brief Against Preferences

Stuart Taylor, my colleague from the lacrosse case, and UCLA Law School professor Richard Sander, have filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to hear Fisher v. University of Texas, the University of Texas racial preferences case. Hopefully the brief will achieve its purpose; it certainly presents a compelling indictment of the racial preferences structure that governs most admissions policies in higher education.

Taylor and Sander urge the Court to look beyond the deeply misleading, even deceptive, rhetoric provided by defenders of the academic status quo. They note that while pro-preferences administrators and their allies often frame the use of preferences as tiebreakers, this claim is simply not true. At Texas, for instance, among those students admitted outside of the university’s top-10% admissions scheme, “Asians scored at the 93rd percentile of 2009 SAT takers nationwide, whites at the 89th percentile, Hispanics at the 80th percentile, and blacks at the 52nd percentile.”

Continue reading A Major Brief Against Preferences

Campus Diversity: Taking Allport Seriously

Gordon Allport.jpg

Some key questions are rarely asked about the success or failure of affirmative action programs on college campuses.  Among them are: Does ignorance foster negative racial stereotyping?  Does the greater opportunity for contact between people of diverse races and ethnicities brought about by “race-sensitive admissions” help prejudiced whites overcome their prejudice against blacks and other “people of color”?

Unfortunately, not many good studies out there address these issues in any systematic or candid manner.  Most high-level college administrators and college presidents, however, are quick to assure us that the racial mix they strive to achieve on campus through their affirmative action initiatives promotes greater interracial understanding and good will.  This is certainly what we hear from the leading champions of greater “diversity” on university campuses.  It is the line we get, for instance, from Lee Bollinger, former president of the University of Michigan and now president of Columbia; from William Chace, former president of Emory; and from both Derek Bok and William Bowen, former presidents, respectively, of Harvard and Princeton, who in their influential study, The Shape of the River, tried to convince doubters that preference policies at elite universities have none of the harmful effects critics have long ascribed to them.

Continue reading Campus Diversity: Taking Allport Seriously

The Mirage of Accountability at the University of Texas

University-of-Texas-Austin.jpgThe Chancellor of the University of Texas system has issued a disappointing response to pressure from the public and Governor Rick Perry for greater accountability on the system’s nine campuses. Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa”s “Framework for Advancing Excellence,” although approved unanimously by the Regents and praised even by some conservative activists, represents the same educational administrative mindset that has produced decades of spiraling costs and falling standards.

The Plan is packed with words like “action items”, “goals”, “metrics”, and “responsible parties”, all designed to give the casual reader the impression that UT is serious about producing real results. However, when we dig down to the details, we find that all that is being demanded of the System’s bureaucrats is that they go on doing bureaucratic things, like “completing action plans”, “approving tuition policies”, “hiring experts”, “identify strategies,” and so on. The Plan reads like something written, not only by a committee, but by an entire panoply of committees–which is actually the case.

Continue reading The Mirage of Accountability at the University of Texas

Professors Who Respond with Contempt

One of the less inspiring features of academia over the years has been the tendency of the professorate (or at least a vocal portion of them) to respond to certain ideas with contempt.  Twenty years ago it was “political correctness” that earned their scorn–that is, denying there was any such thing–and ten years ago it was “liberal bias.”

Today’s target, it seems, is “faculty productivity.”  In the last few years, especially in the state of Texas, a several politicians, conservative think tanks, journalists, and some academics, too, have reviewed the working conditions and performances of faculty members and called for changes.  They have questioned the number of undergraduates they teach, the research dollars they have generated, and the value of the research they have produced.

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When Texas College Reforms Come to Florida

It’s hard to tell whether it’s a news story or a media meme: Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a fan of Texas Republican Gov. (and current GOP presidential candidate) Rick Perry, is reportedly considering foisting on Florida’s public universities the same much-criticized reform proposals that Perry has been trying to foist on public universities in Texas. Behind the scenes in all of this–or so the news reports imply–is the looming presence of Jeff Sandefer, Voldemort to the Texas higher-education establishment. Sandefer, a Texas oil entrepreneur, disgruntled former business professor at the University of Texas-Austin, and major contributor to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns, authored the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” a 2008 document mostly calling for public universities to abandon their research missions and focus on undergraduate teaching. The “Solutions,” which formed the centerpiece of  a 2008 conference involving Perry and the regents of the University of Texas (UT) system, reputedly underlay recent efforts by Perry to assess and reward teaching productivity at UT-Austin and Texas A&M–and now they’re said to underlie similar efforts under consideration by Scott in Florida.

Trouble is–it’s hard to find the story in this story of Sandefer’s tentacles stretching across the Gulf of Mexico to entangle Tallahassee. On July 26 an article by Lilly Rockwell of the News Service of Florida appeared on the WCTV website. It was titled “Scott Promotes Controversial Education Reforms: Controversial changes that have rocked Texas higher education system may be coming to Florida.” Rockwell had interviewed Scott.

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‘Yes, Some Teachers Do Very Little’

A huge brouhaha has erupted over the release and interpretation of data about the faculty of the University of Texas, centering on whether a relatively few individuals are doing most of the teaching at the system’s flagship institution, UT-Austin. Two reports drew most of the fire, one by my organization, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), the other by Rick O’Donnell, a recently fired aide to the system.

The CCAP bottom line: it seems like a relatively small portion of the over 4,000 persons teaching on the Austin campus shoulder a huge percent of teaching burden (especially in relation to the costs they incur to the University) and an even smaller group garners the bulk of the outside research funds viewed as critical to the maintenance of the research mission. This means a large group of faculty members do moderate amounts of teaching and not much funded-research.

Our report said preliminary data “strongly suggest that the state of Texas could move towards making college more affordable by moderately increasing faculty emphasis on teaching. Looking only at the UT Austin campus, if the 80 percent of the faculty with the lowest teaching loads were to teach just half as much as the 20 percent with the highest loads, and if the savings were dedicated to tuition reduction, tuition could be cut by more than half ….”

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How Productive Do Professors Have to Be?

800px-Professors.JPGThe firing of a controversial aide to the University of Texas system has triggered a full-blown debate over the productivity of teachers and whether “star” professors who teach few classes are really worth the cost to the public. Rick O’Donnell, dismissed on April 19 after only 49 days on the job as special adviser to the public university system’s regents, had argued forcefully that public universities should devote their resources to teaching undergraduates rather than academic research. On May 5, in response to a request by the UT board of regents, the University of Texas-Austin, the flagship of the 15-campus UT system, released an 821-page spreadsheet listing the names, tenure status, total compensation, and course enrollment of each of the 4,200 people with teaching responsibilities on the UT-Austin payroll.

The university cautioned that the data were preliminary and likely contained some errors. Nonetheless, acting on the presumption that the spreadsheet was generally accurate, Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University, who heads the Washington-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity, quickly issued an analysis of the spreadsheet from which he drew some startling conclusions: measured by student credit hours taught (the credit value of courses multiplied by the number of students enrolled in them), the top 20 percent of faculty shoulder 50 percent of the teaching load, while the bottom 20 percent teach only 2 percent of student credit hours.

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Unaffordable Universities: The High Cost of Chasing “Prestige”

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity has published an important report, “Faculty Productivity and Costs at the University of Texas at Austin,” based on data recently made available to the public, thanks to the efforts of reform-supporting regents at the UT system. Co-authored by Richard Vedder (the Ohio University economist), Christopher Matgouranis and Jonathan Robe, the report uses hard facts to document the real costs of skewing higher education toward prestige and “research” and away from its historic mission of teaching. In fact, Vedder et al. seriously understate the problem, pointing to the need for further analysis of this treasure trove of data.

Some highlights of the study:• The top 20 percent (measured by teaching load) of instructors teach 57 percent of student credit hours. These same faculty members also generate 18 percent of the campus’s research funding.
• The bottom 20 percent of faculty teach only 2 percent of all student credit hours and generate a disproportionately smaller percentage of external research funding.
• Research grant funds go almost entirely (99.8 percent) to a small minority (20 percent) of the faculty; in fact, only 2 percent of the faculty members conduct 57 percent of funded research.
• Non-tenured track faculty teach a majority of undergraduate student hours and a surprising 31 percent of graduate student hours.
• The top quintile (840 instructors out of a total faculty of 4200) teaches an average of 318 students per year. If the entire faculty were to teach at the same rate, UT Austin could teach an astonishing 133,560 students, more than 260% of its present size. If the current tuition burden were spread among such a number, the rate could be dropped by 63%, from $9816 per year (for residents) to only $3632.

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Is “Productivity” a Dirty Word on Campus?

If the 80 percent of faculty at the University of Texas-Austin with the lowest teaching loads were pushed to teach just half as much as the 20 percent of faculty who do most of the teaching, tuition could be cut by more than half. That’s the stark conclusion of a preliminary report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and it is understandably causing a stir in the academic world.

Here are some of the findings:

One, the “productivity” of professors ranges widely in terms of teaching and research.   One fifth of UT Austin faculty handle more than half (57 percent) of the total student credit hours.  At the same time, the “least productive 20 percent teach only 2 percent of all student credit hours.”

Two, the 20 percent who do most of the teaching also bring in 18 percent of the campus’s research funding, a fact that leads the authors, Richard Vedder, Christopher Matgouranis and Jonathan Robe, to state that heavy teaching duties do not “jeopardize their status as researchers.”

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Judge Garza’s Insights

Below, my colleague Charlotte Allen appropriately laments the recent 5th Circuit decision upholding the University of Texas’ racial preferences scheme, in the process expanding the scope of Grutter. She also praises the de facto dissent of Judge Emilio Garza.
Garza’s opinion is worth reading in full, if only because it represents a rare instance of a federal judge who seems to have a clear, real-world understanding of how higher education functions. And Garza’s analysis makes for a depressing read of how Grutter has actually operated.
In one respect, Garza’s opinion represents a transparent call for the Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutionality of racial preferences. As he observes, “Grutter sought to have it both ways. The Court held that racial diversity was necessary to eradicate the notion that minority students think and behave, not as individuals, but as a race. At the same time, the Court approved a policy granting race-based preferences on the assumption that racial status correlates with greater diversity of viewpoints.”

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The Fifth Circuit Broadens Racial Preferences

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit not only upheld racial preferences in college admissions decisions on Jan. 18 but upheld them with a vengeance. The Fifth Circuit’s three-judge panel unanimously agreed, in Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin, that UT’s flagship campus in Austin could consider an applicant’s race and ethnicity in awarding coveted slots in its incoming freshman classes. The judges declared that this policy was consistent with a 2003 Supreme Court decision, involving racial preference at the University of Michigan’s law school, holding that the goal of achieving “diversity” in classrooms justified admissions policies aimed at ensuring a “critical mass” on campus of historically under-represented minority groups.
Furthermore, the court deemed inadequate a 1997 law, race-neutral on its face but specifically aimed at boosting black and Hispanic enrollment at UT campuses by granting automatic admission to applicants in the top 10 percent of their high school classes—even though the Top Ten Percent Law had been highly successful, increasing the number of black incoming freshman at the UT-Austin campus by 50 percent and substantially increasing Hispanic enrollment.

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