Tag Archives: quota

Why Size Matters in College Preferences

mismatch.jpg

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

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. 

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.

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….

The Affirmative Action Zealots Have Won: Time to Surrender

white flag.jpg

For a half century
I’ve vehemently opposed racial preferences in higher education. Opposition was
partially ideological–I believe in merit–and partly based on sorrowful
firsthand experience with affirmative action students and faculty. Though my
principles remain unchanged I am now ready to concede defeat, throw in the
towel and raise the white flag. Abolishing racial preferences is the academic
equivalent of trying to win a land war in Asia: the enemy is just too strong,
too tenacious and willing to use whatever means necessary. Our side may win a
few battles, e.g., California’s Proposition 209, Hopwood, but at the end of the day, hoards of faceless
bureaucrats and left-wing faculty soldier on. If it takes a village to uncover
special abilities that justify admitting the academically marginal, rest
assured, the village will be recruited, trained and then celebrated as
champions of social justice. Our side just lacks the stomach to outlast zealots
who shamelessly use every ruse imaginable.

Continue reading The Affirmative Action Zealots Have Won: Time to Surrender

Stereotype Threat Coming to the Supreme Court

studying.jpgGet ready for a brand new defense of affirmative action that you’ve never heard before: preferences are necessary to assure selection by merit. How can that be? Simple. Just rework Claude Steele’s theory of stereotype threat–that minorities do less well on tests than their abilities warrant out of fear that their performance will confirm negative stereotypes about their race or ethnicity. Greg Walton, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford, and several co-authors have just dressed it up in a new study currently in press at the journal Social Issues and Policy Review. They plan to include their findings in an amicus brief supporting affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas.

According to a celebration of their work just published in Stanford News Today,
the authors believe they have come up with a gold-plated defense of
racial, ethnic, and even gender preferences that does not rely on the
promotion of diversity. The conflict between diversity and merit, Walton
et al. believe, is bogus. “Our argument is that you need affirmative
action to make meritocratic decisions – to get the best candidates.”

Continue reading Stereotype Threat Coming to the Supreme Court

“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

The “Mismatch Thesis,” Eye-Opening Research, and the Fisher Case

As the most important higher-education case in a decade makes its way to the Supreme Court–the Fisher case on racial preferences–UCLA law professor Richard Sander had an excellent series of posts at the Volokh Conspiracy summarizing one critical argument that his research has helped to highlight: that even the ostensible beneficiaries often are harmed (or at the very least, not helped) by racial preferences in admissions. I strongly recommend Sander’s three-part series, and thought it would be useful to summarize its main points.

Continue reading The “Mismatch Thesis,” Eye-Opening Research, and the Fisher Case

The Obama Video: Fuss and Obfuscation

The 1990 Harvard Law School video of Barack Obama endorsing a quota-hire protest unearthed by Buzzfeed has generated widespread comment in both the blogosphere and the conservative media. Much of the commentary from the right was overheated and wide of the mark; representative commentary on the left, however, was deliberately deceptive.

Continue reading The Obama Video: Fuss and Obfuscation

Admission Standards and How to Lower Them Legally

Surprise, surprise. Affirmation action for college admissions is yet one more time in the hands of the Supreme Court (Fisher v. Texas). Given the Court’s changed personnel from the last go around (Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 2003), race-based preferences may soon be history. But, would this judicial outcome finally doom preferences? Opponents of affirmative might wish to hold off celebrating.

Continue reading Admission Standards and How to Lower Them Legally

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.

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.

asian-student.jpg

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.

Four College Buzzwords and a Shameless Plug

These days, the agenda of the academic elite can be boiled down to a few liberal buzzwords. The most important buzzword is “diversity,” which is usually nothing more than a code word for reverse discrimination and skin-deep identity politics. Recently, at Northwestern, they held a “race caucus” where 150 people gathered to discuss their experiences with discrimination on campus. Students then gathered at the school’s House of African-American Affairs to form a new group called “The Collective.” It was an ironic venue for the first meeting since the purpose of the group is to encourage “desegregation” on campus. In keeping with this ironic approach to fighting racial injustice, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger recently celebrated Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality by promoting institutionalized racism in the form of racial preferences in college admissions.

The second item on the left’s checklist is “activism,” by which they mean recruiting your kids for various left-wing political causes. For example, professor Joel Rogers at the University of Wisconsin sent an email asking his students to work on his private political project called ALICE, where volunteers could aid him in “identifying, supporting and assisting 10,000 progressive local elected officials.” Over at Penn, they are hosting an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction conference this month with an address by Noura Erakat–a woman who refers to suicide bombers as those “fighting for their freedom and liberation.”

A third buzzword on the left’s checklist is “tolerance,” a value paradoxically enforced by silencing those who disagree with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. Robert Klein Engler–a conservative professor at Roosevelt University–was fired after telling a politically incorrect joke that offended someone in his class. The university called him to appear before an investigatory committee, but refused to even inform him what the charges against him were. Meanwhile the University of Michigan was busy planning an alumni field trip to the communist dictatorship of Cuba, where, presumably, sophisticated alumni, who swear by the principle of academic freedom, could gain appreciation for authentic Cuban culture by interacting with locals pre-screened by the Cuban government. They could then move on to relax on sunny beaches pre-selected for American visitors by Fidel and Co. Nothing signals a support for tolerance like vacationing in a land where even leaving the country is a privilege forbidden to everyday citizens.

A fourth buzzword on the list is “open-mindedness,” which means embracing moral relativism and occasionally submitting to weird sexual agendas in the classroom. At Western Nevada College, students were instructed to masturbate twice as often as normal, and to report detailed accounts of their sexual lives. Female students were told, write down “your views of your breasts and vulva,” and were given the instruction: “Your orgasms. Draw them!” At the University of Winchester in England, professor Eric Anderson claims that it is natural for men to cheat on their partners. Those who practice monogamy, he says, are subjecting themselves to “socially-compelled sexual incarceration.” After studying these stimulating topics, and learning to embrace the total liberation of the libido, students may find it informative to contemplate social factors behind a recent study by Dr. Maura L. Gillison of Ohio State University, in which she reports that 7% of U.S. teens and adults now carry the sexually-transmitted, cancer-causing HPV virus in their mouths.

Here Comes the Plug

The above stories might seem alarming, but as editor of The College Fix (you are now passing the shameless plug)–a campus news site that features original, student-reported news from around the nation–these are the kinds of stories I encounter every day. In fact, all of these stories were culled from just the last few weeks’ worth of articles on our site. It’s no secret that the left dominates academia. But it’s only by reading the details that one realizes how bad things really are.

Students come to us to share their stories. They tell us about the latest wacky diversity agenda on campus, or the latest scheme to demonize capitalism. They report when college administrators try to suppress free speech or undermine student groups whose beliefs don’t mesh with the prevailing liberal groupthink. Their stories confirm that those entrusted with training up the leaders of tomorrow are, oftentimes, doing a lousy job.

When we debate the value of a college education, we often speak in terms of high tuition costs, escalating levels of college debt, and uncertain unemployment prospects. But no debate about the value of college is complete without a discussion of values. What colleges are teaching is at least as important is how much we are paying them to teach.

The political indoctrination and moral assault that students are subjected to at most schools–that’s the real rip-off. It’s bad enough that you may have to pay a small fortune to send your kids to college. Worse yet when you consider that the ideology pounded into their brains for four years may well contradict all the principles you hold most dear.

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Update: This article originally attributed a quote to Penn BDS speaker Ali Abunimah, which should have been attributed to another scheduled speaker at the Penn conference, Noura Erakat. We regret the mistake.

What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

student protesters.jpgMost observers have framed the recent disruption by backers of racial and ethnic preferences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a free-speech conflict. Free speech is clearly involved but lying below the surface are three issues that warrant close attention, specifically how Wisconsin once handled “inclusion;” how the protest reflects the transformation of the idea of “opportunity;” and how the university’s policies to help select minorities breeds dependency.

I attended UW-Madison from 1965 to 1969 as a graduate student and back then, at least for in-state residents, the University was highly inclusive. It simply admitted the top three-quarters of all Wisconsin high school graduates (non-residents faced tougher standards) and pretty much left them to survive on their own. I recall seeing only a few blacks on campus, but this undoubtedly reflected the state’s then largely white demography. Surely, if this generous admission standard were applied today, the affirmative action issue would be moot.

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A Desperate Defense of Affirmative Action

image001 (6).jpg

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.'”

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“Bake Sales” Still Cooking On Campus

affirm.pngWhen the history of the decline and fall of the regime of racial preference is written, recognition will of course be given to the power of the moral, philosophical, historical, legal, and political arguments arrayed against the repugnant notion that benefits and burdens should be distributed on the basis of race. But it seems to me that a prominent place in the story must also be reserved for the devastating, pomposity-puncturing impact of wickedly effective satire in the form of “anti-affirmative action bake sales” that spontaneously erupted on campuses around the country.

For some reason liberals — a shorthand here for university administrators, students, faculty, and their supporters in the mainstream media and Democratic Party — who defend as a matter of principle lowering standards for approved minorities in hiring, college admissions, etc., become sputteringly apoplectic when students, parroting and parodying affirmative action, stage satirical mock sales of cakes and cookies with higher prices for Asians and whites and lower prices for blacks and Hispanics and, sometimes, women. Requiring Asians, for example, to score 200 points higher than other minorities on the SAT strikes liberals as entirely fair and just, but a mock sale ostensibly requiring them to pay fifty cents more for a cupcake is somehow offensively discriminatory. Adding irony to insult, they don’t even seem to recognize that by calling the differential pricing discriminatory they are simply confirming the point of the affirmative action protesters whose satire, as I argued on this site last April, “merely mimicked the actual practices of the admissions offices.”

There have been several dozen of these spontaneous, un-coordinated bake sales on campuses over the past several years, and the controversy at Bucknell is still raging. John Stossel of Fox News held his own bake sale to focus attention on Bucknell’s suppression of political speech, and has had several on air discussions of it. “This week,” he wrote two weeks ago,

I held a bake sale — a racist bake sale. I stood in midtown Manhattan shouting, “Cupcakes for sale.” My price list read:

Asians — $1.50

Whites — $1.00

Blacks/Latinos — 50 cents

People stared. One yelled, “What is funny to you about people who are less privileged?” A black woman said, angrily, “It’s very offensive, very demeaning!” One black man accused me of poisoning the cupcakes.

I understand why people got angry. What I did was hurtful to some. My bake sale mimicked what some conservative college students did at Bucknell University. The students wanted to satirize their school’s affirmative action policy, which makes it easier for blacks and Hispanics to get admitted…..

All the Bucknell students wanted was a campus discussion about that. Why not? A university is supposed to be a place for open discussion, but some topics are apparently off-limits.

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The Quiet Preference for Men in Admissions

It’s a well-known fact that there’s a severe gender imbalance in undergraduate college populations: about 57 percent of undergrads these days are female and only 43 percent male, the culmination of a trend over the past few decades in which significantly fewer young men than young women either graduate from high school or enroll in college. It’s also a well-known fact—at least among college admissions officers—that many private institutions have tried to close the gender gap by quietly relaxing admissions standards for male applicants, essentially practicing affirmative action for young men. What they’re doing is perfectly legal, even under Title IX, the 1972 federal law that bans sex discrimination by institutions of higher learning receiving federal funds. Title IX contains an exemption that specifically allows private colleges that aren’t professional or technical institutions to prefer one sex over the other in undergraduate admissions. Militant feminists and principled opponents of affirmative action might complain about the discrimination against women that Title IX permits, but for many second- and third-tier liberal arts colleges lacking male educational magnets such as engineering and business programs, the exemption may be a lifesaver, preventing those smaller and less prestigious schools from turning into de facto women’s colleges that few young people of either sex might want to attend.
Now, however, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has decided to turn over this rock carefully set in place by admissions committees. The commission launched an investigation last fall into the extent of male preferences in admissions decisions at 19 various institutions of higher learning. These include public universities (where such preferences are illegal under Title IX); elite private institutions such as Georgetown and Johns Hopkins; smaller liberal arts schools (Gettysburg College, with 2,600 undergraduates, is on the list); religious schools (the Jesuit-run University of Richmond and Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.); and historically black Virginia Union University, also in Richmond. On May 14 the commission’s general counsel, David P. Blackwood, announced that four of the 19 schools–Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg, and Messiah—had raised legal issues concerning compliance with the commission’s subpoenas, and that Virginia Union, while responding politely, had not complied in any way. Blackwood said that the commission might have to ask the Justice Department for help in obtaining admissions data from Virginia Union.

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More Subterfuge at UCal

Although my years of service on the University of California (UC) Board of Regents were the most tumultuous years of my life, my pride in the Board and the university that it serves has, until now, never wavered. But, a recent meeting and action by the Board has caused that feeling of pride to diminish.
At several UC campuses, a variety of incidents occurred several weeks ago that were characterized as creating a “toxic” racial climate for black students. The source of the “toxicity” came in the form of an off-campus party called the “Compton Cookout” and a noose found hanging inside the library at the UCSD campus.
In a little over a three-week period, racial epithets were allegedly directed at black students at UCSD; and, at other UC campuses, a swastika was carved into a Jewish student’s door and derogatory graffiti was found at the gay and lesbian students’ center.
These alleged incidents resulted in a delegation of students, faculty members and UC staff attending a meeting of the Board of Regents in late March to complain that the Regents weren’t doing enough to create a climate that nurtures “inclusiveness,” for minorities, such as blacks and gays/lesbians. With no effort to validate the assertions, several regents gushed into a state of apologia, as is customary for university governing board members in such circumstances.

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The End Of Merit-Based Admission

Students applying for college admission now face a new reality—the SAT is increasingly optional at our colleges and universities. The test-optional movement, pioneered by FairTest, a political advocacy group supported by George Soros and the Woods Fund—now list 815 schools that do not require SAT scores. That number may seem impressive, but it includes institutions that arguably should not be dependent on SAT scores at all, such as culinary institutes, seminaries and art schools.
Surprisingly, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) has joined the critics of the SAT. Its September 2008 report, lauded by the New York Times and Inside Higher Education, encouraged “institutions to consider dropping the admission test requirements if it is determined that the predictive utility of the test or the admission policies of the institution (such as open access) support that decision and if the institution believes that standardized test results would not be necessary for other reasons such as course placement, advising, or research” (italics in original).
If that sounds like a less than full-throated endorsement of the anti-testers, the reluctance to speak plainly is understandable. The SAT and ACT, the group now says, had been “interpreted by some as indications of the mental capacity of the individual test-taker as well as of the innate capabilities of ethnic groups.” Yet, when referring back to the SAT’s early years, they acknowledged its value as a tool for measuring the “academic potential of seniors at public high schools from all over the country who had not been specifically prepared” for admission to the nation’s top colleges.

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The Noble Lies Of PC

“..the one aspect of American culture and society most in need of improvement and investment–education–has been greeted by deafening silence on the part of all candidates.”
Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in his “charge” to the Class of 2008. Leon forgets to mention that all of today’s presidential candidates, including also-rans, offer detailed prescriptions for fixing education and US spending on education has for decades out-paced inflation and even government health care spending. In other words, class of 2008, when it comes to saving the world, just make it up. Why bother with inconvenient truths.
Universities, it would seem, are committed to uncovering truth. Exceptions occasionally occur, and a small contingent insists that there is no such thing as objective truth, but for the most part, professors who make up data or plagiarize are usually caught and punished. Recall that Ward Churchill was fired for research misconduct and fraud, not his loathsome views, and even fellow travelers could not justify deception. Professors may exaggerate a bit, disregard awkward findings or even tilt research towards pre-conceived outcomes, but it would be professional suicide to insist that 2+2=5.
Unfortunately, a major exception exists, and this might be called the “Grand Noble Lie” whose purpose is not to deceive (the usual aim of a lie) but to reassure listeners so as to advance a career. Whereas conventional liars seek to cover their tracks (e.g., what is “is”), the effectiveness of the Grand Noble Lie depends on its blatant, plain-to-see falseness. It is insufficient to claim that 2+2=5 or for the timid 2=2=4.01; rather 2+2=100. This is an incredibly upside down world whereby those saying 2+2=100 may go on to glory while Professor Joe Average dreads being humiliated for citing a book he never read. That Grand Liars are more likely to be distinguished university presidents, or at least Deans, not under-the-gun junior faculty concocting data to get published, only makes the phenomena even more remarkable.

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Fuzzy Admissions At UCLA

If you like “whodunit” books and “perfect crime” plots, I heartily recommend the Tim Groseclose experience of trying to obtain the data to evaluate the “holistic” admissions process of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Groseclose is the political science professor who blew the whistle on what he considers to be UCLA’s violation of the California Constitution with regard to the use of race preferences in admissions to his campus.

As a regent of the University of California (UC), I supported the use of what we called “comprehensive review” as an alternative to over-reliance on standardized test scores. Yet, at the time of approval, I and others expressed concern that allowing UC campuses the discretion to view applicants for admission “comprehensively” opened the door to the use of subjective factors that could not be detected or proven; however, it was my belief then that UC administrators would resist the temptation to cheat and violate the California Constitution and that they would administer this new process with integrity. In the case of UCLA, I am now strongly convinced that my faith in the institution’s honor has been misplaced.
Why the perfect crime?

Originally, UCLA reviewed applications for admission by determining the academic competitiveness of those in the applicant pool solely on the basis of academic performance. Nonacademic factors were reviewed separately. This approach was a fail-safe method of ensuring that the constitutionally prohibited factors of race, color, ethnicity, sex and national origin would not be factors in admissions decisions.

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Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story

Book Review:
Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story by Carol M. Allen (Lexington Books, 2008, 422 pp.)

I like this book, but fairness to the prospective reader requires disclosure of three facts: (a) it is an odd book, (b) I am an odd reader, and (c) it costs ninety dollars, for Pete’s sake.

The last point speaks for itself, and the book is a mere 422 pages long, with no elaborate photos or foldouts or anything like that and not even a book jacket, so go figure. The reason I describe myself as an odd reader is that my lot in life is to write, speak, and debate against racial preferences, so all of the book’s variegated parts are of interest and value to me.

The variegation is the reason I say the book is odd. The author is Carol M. Allen, who is secretary of Toward A Fair Michigan (TAFM), which was created when the movement in Michigan led by Ward Connerly and Jennifer Gratz to ban racial, ethnic, and gender preferences by state programs there was launched in 2003. Probably the most valuable part of the book is its impressively documented and on-the-ground account of how the resulting ballot initiative came to be passed by voters in 2006, despite opposition from every part of the state establishment–business, labor unions, educators and academics, both political parties, the media, and even the clergy. The TAFM folks did their best to lend some civility and thoughtfulness to a campaign in which the initiative’s opponents frequently lived up to the name of their most notorious organization, By Any Means Necessary–whose national chairman threatened Jennifer Gratz with a switchblade, just to give you some idea of the level of discourse it preferred. (BAMN carries on, by the way, in its opposition to similar ballot initiatives this year in Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska, harassing those collecting signatures and attempting to buy the signatures once collected, presumably so that they can be destroyed.)

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The ABA’s Diversity Agenda

The ABA is very big on diversity. To satisfy its standards, nearly all law schools must seriously relax their admissions standards for minority students. But how many of so-called beneficiaries of affirmative action are graduating and passing the bar? And how many are winding up with nothing to show for their trouble but students loans? The evidence is not encouraging.

For years, the ABA has used its clout to demand that law schools toe the affirmative action line. In the 1990s, fully 31% of law schools admitted to political scientists Susan Welch and John Gruhl that they “felt pressure” “to take race into account in making admissions decisions” from “accreditation agencies.”

Law schools must take pressure from the ABA seriously. As the U.S. Department of Education’s designated law school accreditation agency, the ABA, through its Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, has the power to decide whether a law school will be eligible for federal funding. Unless the ABA approves, for example, a law school’s students will be ineligible for student loans. And that is just the beginning. Most states do not allow the graduates of non-ABA-accredited law schools even to sit for the bar examination. A law school that is not in the good graces of the ABA is thus not a law school at all.

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Is There An Asian Ceiling?

Several years ago a Korean-American student in one of my politics classes at Princeton described the reaction of his Asian classmates in the California private school he attended when the college acceptance and rejection letters arrived in the mail the spring of their senior year. A female Black student, he explained, had applied to more than half a dozen of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the nation and got accepted to all of them, deciding eventually to enroll at Stanford. Many of his Asian friends, he said, along with many Whites, reacted bitterly to the Black student’s success, some in open disbelief that this student could be so phenomenally successful in her college search. Why was there such bitterness among his classmates, I wanted to know. “Were there better qualified Asian and White students with higher SAT scores than the Black student?” I asked. “Better qualified?!” he said, “there were loads of Asian and White students who were much better qualified, with much higher SAT scores, much higher grade point averages, and who were much more active in student government and a host of other extra-curricular activities than this Black student.” To add further fuel to his classmates’ anger, he went on, this particular Black student had a cold, off-putting, self-centered personality which hardly endeared her to her classmates. “She didn’t make it on charm” was the gist of his further remarks here.

This Korean student’s story was in the back of my mind as I read the newspaper accounts about the racial discrimination complaint lodged not long ago with the Department of Education against Princeton University by Jian Li, the Chinese-American student at Yale who had a perfect 2400 (i.e. three 800s) on the newer version of the SAT. Li was a stellar student in high school, who in addition to his perfect SAT score achieved near-perfect scores on several of the College Board achievement tests (SAT IIs), took nine Advanced Placement courses, and had a near-perfect grade-point-average that placed him in the 99th percentile of his graduating class in a competitive suburban high school. In addition to his top-of-the line academic performance, Li was active in a number of extracurricular activities, and was a delegate to the prestigious Boys State. All of this would be an impressive achievement for anyone, but Li was the son of Chinese immigrants, his first language was Chinese, and English was not spoken in his home. Li’s academic achievement was a truly remarkable and inspiring story of talent, persistence, and the immigrant work ethic in pursuit of the American Dream.

Li was happy at Yale and lodged his complaint not because of any animus against Princeton — Princeton was only one of five elite universities that rejected his application (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Penn were the others) — but because of a general sense that Asian applicants to elite colleges were being unjustly disfavored in comparison to the members of other minority groups, especially Blacks and Hispanics, and were not being evaluated fairly under the same set of academic standards as others. For anyone familiar with the admissions policies at the more selective colleges and universities over the past thirty years, Li’s complaint not only rang true but has been well-documented again and again wherever the situation has been adequately studied. The simple fact is that a Black or Hispanic student with Li’s credentials would almost certainly have gained admission to every elite institution he or she applied to. Indeed, an “underrepresented minority student” would have stood a decent chance of gaining admission to some of the schools Li was rejected at with test scores a hundred to two-hundred points below each of his scores on the three-part SAT exam.

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Texas Sued Again Over Racial Preferences

The University of Texas has been sued once again over racial preferences in its admissions policy – by an 18-year-old high school senior in Sugar Land near Houston who ranks in the top 12 percent of her class but says she was turned down by the university’s prestigious Austin campus in favor of less academically qualified blacks and Hispanics. The rejected applicant, Abigail Noel Fisher, alleges in her complaint filed in federal court that the university’s use of racial preferences to increase minority enrollments violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause as well as federal civil rights laws.

Fisher’s lawsuit, which includes a request for a preliminary injunction requiring the university to reconsider Fisher’s application using race-neutral criteria in time for her to join this fall’s entering freshman class, is the latest court test of efforts by the University of Texas’s generally liberal administrators to factor in race as an admissions criterion in the face of restrictions imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

..In 1978 the Supreme Court ruled, in Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke, that reserving a specific percentage of entering medical-school slots for members of minority groups was unconstitutional, but the court did say that an applicant’s minority status could be considered as a plus factor in admissions decisions. The ambiguously written Bakke ruling appeared to give the green light to racial preference-based admissions policies as long as they did not amount to outright racial quotas. Nonetheless, in 1996, four white people who said they had been rejected from law school at the University of Texas under a racial-preference policy won a ruling from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals outlawing all race-based admissions policies at public colleges. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the ruling in Hopwood vs. Texas, so it became the law, at least in the Southern states, including Texas, that make up the Fifth Circuit.

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