The coverage of Students For Fair Admissions v. Harvard College reveals as much about the state of “diversity” in the press, especially the specialized education industry press, as the trial itself does about Harvard’s practices.
Inside Higher Ed
I have criticized the bias of Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed’s editor and one of its three founders, on several occasions, noting that it was “not the first time I’ve noticed Jaschik engaging in behavior that would, or should, make most professional journalists embarrassed.” And in “Egregious Media Bias At Inside Higher Ed,” I discussed Jaschik going “way, way beyond telling his audience” of higher education diversity officers to “tell me what I should write,” a pro forma invitation offered with what sounded like a verbal wink that he might not always accede to their wishes. Worse, he offered coaching sessions, “completely off the record,” on how to deal with the likes of Fox News.
On Monday, true to form, Jaschik had a long report on recent testimony in the Harvard trial that reads as though it was written by one of Harvard’s lawyers (or perhaps paralegals). He offers, for example, extensive criticism of Richard Kahlenberg’s testimony last week arguing that Harvard could reduce discrimination against Asians while still preserving racial diversity by using class instead of race-based preferences.
To pick one example, Jaschik quotes from one study of economic diversity whose author concluded that “[t]he forecasts for strictly disadvantaged admits … are not as encouraging. Their [grade point averages], graduation rates, and earned credit hours lag far behind the baseline.” Presumably, the predicted underperformance of those poor students would be regarded as a cost. Thus, Jaschik then quotes Harvard’s argument that it “is extremely difficult to generate diversity using race-neutral alternatives without inflicting costs in other dimensions a university may value.”
No mention, of course, is made here of the cost of distributing admission benefits and burdens based on race or of the mismatch effect of the significant underperformance of those admitted through racial and ethnic preference. Nor, of course, was any criticism of Harvard’s experts offered or even mentioned.
Bias is not Jaschik’s only problem since simple errors are not infrequent. Here, for example, Jaschik asserts that “Many of those who are champions of ending policies like Harvard’s argue for some sort of formula-based admissions system, regardless of the diversity (or lack of diversity) that might result.” Leave aside the fact that “diversity” as used here doesn’t mean diversity; it means nothing more than a sufficient representation of some favored races and ethnicities and a ceiling on others. I am more than passingly familiar with the arguments made by critics of racial preference, and I can’t recall one that is “formula-based.” Our only “formula” is to stop admitting and rejecting applicants based on race.
Another error: “The preference for alumni children and athletes increase [sic] the odds of admission of white applicants.” No, it does not. It probably increases the proportion of whites who are admitted, but it does not increase the odds of admission of all white applicants. It no doubt does increase the odds of admission of legacies and athletes who are white, in the same way (though to a smaller degree) that racial and ethnic preference increases the odds of admission of blacks and Latinos.
Chronicle of Higher Education
The Chronicle’s Monday report, like Inside Higher Ed’s, took the opportunity to repeat many of Harvard’s arguments. Guidelines were noted providing that readers of applications “may consider whether a student’s background, including his or her race or ethnicity, may contribute to the educational benefits of diversity at Harvard College. The consideration of race or ethnicity may be considered only as one factor among many.” The Chronicle added that “the word ‘only’ is boldfaced and underlined.”
Harvard officials, the Chronicle continued, “also agreed that they considered race when evaluating applications, but they said the practice can never hurt an application. They vehemently denied claims of discrimination against Asian-American applicants. Race can sometimes be a “tip” when officials are assigning the overall rating, they said.”
Of course, as has been pointed out many times, if race were really “only one factor among many,” then losing the ability to “consider” it would have little effect on the racial proportion of those admitted. Moreover, the argument that “considering” race, i.e., actually counting it very heavily, “can never hurt an application” can be true only if giving admissions a boost to some students based on their race imposes no disadvantage on others who do not receive that benefit based on their race.
It is often argued that if it is acceptable to give preferences to legacies and athletes, why is it unfair to play favorites based on race? Leaving aside the fact that race, unlike legacy status and athletic ability, is a legally protected category, note that this coin has another side. If racial favoritism does not hurt those not favored, then giving a boost to legacies and athletes does not disadvantage those who are not legacies or athletes. Defenders of Harvard’s racial and ethnic preferences seem to have only one-sided coins.
Wall Street Journal
Most of what appears in the Wall Street Journal, most of the time, is serious, but “Knowing the 13 Secret Steps into Harvard Doesn’t Make Admission Any Easier” is not.
The “13 Secret Steps” include such items as
- Move to Montana.
- Persuade your parents to become chefs or car mechanics.
- Be an all-star ice hockey player
- Be very rich. Or very poor. Or the child of an alum.
This is all good fun, and the 13 steps are in fact culled from the sorts of information about its formerly obscure admission practices that Harvard has been forced to release in its trial.
Missing, however, are what has become clear are the two most important steps:
- Be black or Latino
- Don’t be Asian.