Why the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative Was Needed

This week Arizonans overwhelmingly enacted the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, which bans state and local discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex in contracting, employment, and education – including racial preferences in university admissions. Opponents of such initiatives frequently claim that they are a solution in search of a problem, that the presence of preferential treatment is greatly exaggerated, that quotas are already illegal, and so forth.
Not so.
Admissions data obtained a couple of years ago from the University of Arizona and Arizona State University law schools show that race and ethnicity play a huge role in determining who gets in.
Studies based on that data and released by the Center for Equal Opportunity document evidence of severe discrimination based on race and ethnicity in admissions there. At both schools, African Americans and, to a lesser extent, Latinos are admitted with significantly lower undergraduate grade-point averages and LSAT scores than whites and, again to a lesser extent, Asians.

The studies were based on data supplied by the universities themselves. They were prepared by Dr. Althea Nagai, a resident fellow at CEO, and can be viewed on the organization’s website. And they were part of the evidence that was put before Arizona voters.
Racial discrimination in university admissions is always appalling. But the degree of discrimination we found here, at both schools but especially at Arizona State, is off the charts.
The odds ratio favoring African Americans over whites was 250 to 1 at the University of Arizona and 1115 to 1 at Arizona State (the worst we’ve ever found). Odds ratios are a common statistical device; to put things in perspective, the odds ratio for a nonsmoker versus a smoker dying from lung cancer is a mere 14 to 1.
As a result of the law schools’ policies, nearly a thousand white students have been denied admission in the years examined even though they had higher undergraduate GPAs and LSATs than the average African American student who was admitted–and over a hundred Asian and Latino students were in the same boat with them.
Not only was race weighed, but it was weighed much more heavily than, for example, state residency. Accordingly, a white Arizonan in 2007 with the same LSAT score and undergraduate GPA as the average black admittee was about eight times less likely to be admitted to the University of Arizona than a black out-of-state applicant (a 9 percent chance of admission versus a 71 percent chance), and at Arizona State he would be twelve times less likely to be admitted (an 8 percent chance versus a 98 percent chance).
Obviously this policy is not a good thing for the students who are discriminated against. How about for the students who are admitted?
Well, it may not be so great for them either. If you are African American or Latino, your classmates, professors, and future employers and clients will all assume that you aren’t as qualified as your fellow students whose color and national origin did not receive preferential treatment. That will often be true–but not always. You have affirmative action to thank for the stereotyping.
It hurts African Americans in another way, too. A liberal UCLA law professor, Richard Sander, has collected a vast amount of data from law schools across the country, analyzed it carefully, and concluded that–because mismatching students and law schools results in more classroom failures, dropouts, and bar-exam flunking–there are actually fewer African American lawyers today than there would have been without racial preferences in law-school admissions.
Unfortunately, those running American universities prefer not to be confused by the facts. It was very unlikely that the discrimination at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University would have ended if the schools had been left to their own devices.
So the voters in Arizona did the right thing—as the voters in California, Washington State, Michigan, and Nebraska had done earlier. And here’s hoping that voters in other states follow suit.


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