Do We Need Affirmative Action Engineers?

Most of the controversy over affirmative
action in higher education concerns undergraduate admissions, but the American Educational Research Association has just published
what it calls
“important findings on the impact of banning affirmative action” in six fields
of graduate study — natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, business,
education, and humanities –  in four
states that have enacted affirmative action bans: California, Florida,
Washington, and Texas (during the period when the Hopwood-imposed
ban was in place.

The author, Liliana Garces, an assistant
professor in the Graduate School of Education at George Washington University,
revealingly notes in her first paragraph that these bans were enacted “despite”
the Supreme Court’s Grutter decision, “which allows institutions to
practice affirmative action….” Since she also endorses the familiar if false
equation of “racial and ethnic diversity” with a “diversity of perspectives”
that fosters “the innovation necessary to tackle complex research problems” and
finds the “low representation” of minority graduate students “relative to their
representation” in the population “troubling,” she predictably laments the
effects of banning racial preferences.

These effects are most pronounced in the
sciences, “where the average standardized test scores of enrolled students is
higher than other fields” and the gap between “underrepresented” minorities and
others is correspondingly greater. Garces argues that lower GRE scores “are not
necessarily indicative” of potential for success in graduate school, citing
some critics of the test but not other studies that find a “substantial

I noted here
recently that defenders of racial preferences often praise their alleged
benefits while ignoring their cost or — the other side of the same devalued
analytical coin — they bemoan the supposed costs of eliminating affirmative
action while ignoring any possible benefits. Prof. Garces’s study, alas, is no
exception. Thus she ignores all the recent “mismatch” evidence indicating that
eliminating racial preferences for applicants interested in pursuing careers in
science would actually increase the number of minority scientists, not
to mention the substantial social benefit of ending discrimination based on

Finally, in Prof. Garces’s study, as in so many
the claimed benefits of producing more minority STEM graduates are often no
more than unsupported shibboleths that, say, more minority mathematicians are
essential to allow us to compete in “a globalized market.” Where, as I asked here,
is the evidence that the return on the large investment required to produce
more minority scientists will generate a higher return than the increased
number of Asians and Jews that we could get without discriminating against


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