Tag Archives: Russell Nieli

Campus Diversity: Taking Allport Seriously

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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.

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Global Warming: The Campus Non-Debate

I do not want us to shut down economic drive to support false science, and on the other hand, I do not want to leave behind a scorched earth.  …. Let’s get the science right!  A better debate and research is needed by honest and believable scientists who study climate professionally.

Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Is the earth in a global warming phase?  If it is, how severe is this trend? Is the warming primarily a product of natural causes or do man-made factors play a dominant role?  If man-made factors are important, is the main culprit the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced from the burning of fossil fuels or are other factors more salient?  What is the evidence for and against the anthropogenic and CO2 theories of global warming? If we really are in a period of sustained global warming, will this trend prove a net benefit or a net loss to human welfare?  Who would benefit and who would be harmed by an increase in atmospheric CO2, the greater plant growth this facilitates, and a general increase in global temperatures? If the burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming, and if such warming harms many more people than it helps, is the radical curtailment of fossil-fuel dependence a politically and economically feasible response to the problem?  Is it feasible not only in the developed world but in developing regions like India, China, Indonesia, and Brazil?  If the radical curtailment of CO2 emissions cannot be obtained on a worldwide scale either for political or economic reasons, and if global warming proves to be the serious threat to human welfare that some contend, are there economically and scientifically feasible geo-engineering alternatives that could stop the warming or cool the planet down?  What might some of these geo-engineering alternatives be and how could they be implemented?

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A Desperate Defense of Affirmative Action

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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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A Reluctant Vote for Legacies

legacy.bmpLegacy preferences have come under increased scrutiny of late, as well they should. Most elite colleges and universities, including all the Ivies, grant legacy preferences, just as they all grant special consideration — and lowered admission standards — for recruited athletes, blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans. They also give huge boosts to the sons and daughters of wealthy donors and potential donors. Yes, it’s true — to some extent you can buy your way into an elite university if your parents are very wealthy. The sons and daughters of celebrities and powerful politicians, along with the offspring of professors and administrators, also come in for special treatment in admissions.
Objections to legacies gained ground with the publication and vigorous promotion of Richard Kahlenberg’s Affirmative Action for the Rich—a collection of essays by knowledgeable lawyers, scholars, and journalists, all of whom are critical of the widespread practice of granting college admissions preferences to the children of alumni and wealthy donors.
Before publication of this book, Kahlenberg, a former law school professor and graduate of both Harvard Law School and Harvard College (at the college he may have received legacy consideration himself as the son of a Harvard College alumnus) was best known for his earlier work, The Remedy, defending “class-based” rather than “race-based” preferences in education and entry-level employment.

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Why Caltech Is in a Class by Itself

Caltech005.jpgOlder readers know how the leading American universities, which had risen to world-class status by the 1930s and 1940s, were upended by the traumatic campus events of the late 1960s and their aftermath. Riots and boycotts by student radicals, the decline in core curriculum requirements, the loss of nerve by university presidents and administrators, galloping grade inflation, together with the influence on research and learning of such radical campus ideological fads as Marxism, deconstructionism, and radical feminism all contributed to the declining quality of America’s best institutions from what they had been in the middle years of the 20th century.
Added to these 60s-era trends (some of which have mercifully waned) came two further developments which are still very much with us today and which moved the elite universities further away from the pursuit of excellence and merit which was their greatest achievement after the Second World War: the competitive sports craze and the affirmative action crusade. To these two anti-meritocratic developments, we might add a third: the policy of granting huge admissions boosts to the sons and daughters of alumni — a practice found almost nowhere else in the world and outside America would be likened to bribery or shady political payoffs.
Minding the Campus readers probably need little instruction on the corrupting effects of the racial balancing game played by almost all our elite universities. The typical African- American and Latino student who gets admitted to the most elite colleges and universities in the U.S. (median admit) has a substantially lower achievement record in terms of high school grades and SAT scores, not only than his white and Asian classmates, but even those white and Asian students at the middle-level of his institution’s pool of rejected applicants. The academic achievement gap between the admitted white and Asian students and those designated as “underrepresented minorities” is often huge, in statistical terms often exceeding a full standard deviation (equivalent to a 600 vs. a 700 on each of the sections of the SAT exam).

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How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others

student diversity.jpgWhen college presidents and academic administrators pay their usual obeisance to “diversity” you know they are talking first and foremost about race. More specifically, they are talking about blacks. A diverse college campus is understood as one that has a student body that–at a minimum–is 5 to 7 percent black (i.e., equivalent to roughly half the proportion of blacks in the general population). A college or university that is only one, two, or three percent black would not be considered “diverse” by college administrators regardless of how demographically diverse its student body might be in other ways. The blacks in question need not be African Americans–indeed at many of the most competitive colleges today, including many Ivy League schools, an estimated 40-50 percent of those categorized as black are Afro-Caribbean or African immigrants, or the children of such immigrants.

As a secondary meaning “diversity” can also encompass Hispanics, who together with blacks are often subsumed by college administrators and admissions officers under the single race category “underrepresented minorities.” Most colleges and universities seeking “diversity” seek a similar proportion of Hispanics in their student body as blacks (since blacks and Hispanics are about equal in number in the general population), though meeting the black diversity goal usually has a much higher priority than meeting the Hispanic one.

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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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