Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Truth About Affirmative Action

No matter what your views on affirmative action and racial preferences, you ought to read Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr.
Sander is a UCLA law professor who shook the affirmative action world a few years ago with a law journal article on affirmative action and “mismatching” of students. Taylor is also a lawyer, and authored a book on the Duke Lacrosse case. Neither author is really opposed to affirmative action on the grounds that it is unfair to whites.
The authors string together both hard data and anecdotes that show how racial preferences, as practiced today, are incredibly harmful to blacks (the authors find race preferences don’t substantially harm Hispanics, since they don’t receive preferences that are nearly as large as those received by blacks). And the bad thing is the colleges know this and continue to string blacks along because all they care about is getting blacks in the door to make their minority recruitment numbers look good. It doesn’t matter whether the blacks actually graduate or pass the bar — and many won’t. Just get them in the door.
Universities have done everything they can to hide the data concerning affirmative action, even from professors on admissions committees. They have even lied and issued knowingly false reports. The authors have been able to glean data from sources here and there, and from various court cases where massive amounts of data were filed.
The authors cite the example of a Dartmouth administrator who was charged with finding out why black students were signing up for STEM majors (science, technology, and math) and almost without exception changing to other courses of study. His finding was that the black students simply weren’t as prepared as the white students and had lower SAT scores in math.
Although not cited in the book, an article in the Dartmouth student newspaper (covering a discrimination suit) reports that Asians need a minimum math-verbal SAT score of 1550-1600 for admission to Dartmouth; whites need a 1410 and blacks need an 1100. Another source shows that the 75th percentile SAT math score at Dartmouth is 780 — almost a perfect score. And it’s these students with the near-perfect scores who will be the white students majoring in the STEM fields.
So Dartmouth’s affirmative action program is going to throw a group of above-average black students with 600 math SAT scores into a class with a bunch of genius white kids with 780 and 800 SAT scores and expect the black kids to keep up. They can’t. Instead the black students will stuggle to make D’s and F’s and ensure that the white kids all get better grades on the curve. All of the black students will change majors and a few may quit college all together.
But the thing is, a 600 math score on the SAT isn’t terrible — it’s well above average. If these kids were to be placed with a cohort of students of like ability where the instruction was a little more basic and a little slower they would do just fine. It’s not that they can’t learn the material, they just can’t learn it as fast or in the same manner as near-geniuses who make 780 or 800 on the SAT. This story is repeated countless times at schools across the country.
The authors point out that there is a terrible mismatch problem in most American law schools. What they find is that black students who attend law schools far out of their league due to racial preferences tend to have great difficulty passing the bar. Students who attend a law school where their LSAT scores are similar to those of the other students tend to do quite well. There’s something about being at the bottom of one’s class that is just dispiriting.
And that’s what affirmative action has done for blacks. We’ve all had it drilled into us that we should attend the most elite college that we can. Due to racial preferences, most blacks are guaranteed admittance into any university until they reach the point that they are equal to the students in the bottom decile or quintile of the student body. But once they are admitted, they leave themselves in a position that no matter how hard they try, they can never hope to be a really good student in relation to their peers.
The authors cite a study called “The Campus as a Frog Pond” which suggests that it is much better to have high grades at a mediocre college than poor grades at a selective college. (Affirmative action aside, all parents would be well advised to counsel their children not to attend a university where their test scores will fall in the bottom half of the distribution; they should likely shoot for the top quartile). Yet due to affirmative action, blacks will almost always be the ones with the bad grades. The system is rigged against them.
Most people aren’t aware of just how extreme racial preferences are in college admissions. To have a 500 point math-verbal difference on what is expected for Asians wanting to enter Dartmouth versus what is expected of blacks is just stunning. This is the norm and not the exception.
When California did away with racial preferences for a few years after the passage of Proposition 209, something interesting happened. Minority applications from around the country to UCLA went up. Apparently many minorities wanted to attend a college where they would be viewed as equals. Many of these outstanding minority applications were turned down and minority enrollment did drop pretty dramatically. But even though enrollment dropped, the number of blacks graduating four years later remained virtually the same. In other words, the only students who didn’t enroll were the ones who were going to flunk or drop out anyway.
California’s race-blind system didn’t last. Despite its success, the school succumbed to pressure to illegally discriminate again. But for a brief moment in time it was possible to see that a color-blind system could work, and that even though minority enrollment might drop, just as many blacks would earn degrees.
The authors admit they don’t know what the answer is, but they insist that universities should be required to inform blacks of what their likely outcomes are based on prior students with similar credentials. A prospective law student told that only 40 percent of graduates from their school with their grade-point and LSAT score had gone on to pass the bar might either rethink law school or check the success ratios of other universities. What these students would find is that by attending a school that is a better “match” their chance of passing the bar goes up dramatically.
Blacks who are told they are being given an opportunity should be informed of just what that opportunity is instead of being used by universities for window dressing and to provide the illusion of “diversity.” If affirmative action is about helping blacks, then start helping them by providing them with full disclosure about what their chances of success are should they enroll in a particular program or college.
Read the book. You won’t regret it.

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