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U.S. Supreme Court upholds Michigan's ban on affirmative action
April 23, 2014 6:36 AM   Subscribe

The U.S. Supreme court has decided to uphold Michigan's ban on affirmative action. Here is a a brief summery of the history behind the case. The court has made their opinions available here. Also, how states with affirmative action bans have fared.
posted by Shouraku (237 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man, those numbers strike me as being inconclusive. There are schools on that list who saw their minority enrollment numbers take a hit after an affirmative action ban was imposed. But there seem to be more schools that saw their minority enrollment numbers either stay the same or go up after such bans. More than that, several of the schools which saw numbers go down had been seeing that trend for quite a while before the ban (e.g., blacks at UM, Hispanics at Berkeley).

That would seem to undermine the potential impact of this holding quite a bit, I should think.
posted by valkyryn at 6:42 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


NPR this morning had a University President decrying this on the grounds that it's a good thing to have an ethnically and racially diverse student body and the only way to have that is actually to consider race - knocking down the idea of favoring low income students by noting that typically what you're going to get then is a low income white student.

This being America, however, a country that is fundamentally broken in so many ways, it seems to me that one of those ways could actually work for them in this instance. If you want to increase minority student enrollment without considering race, do it by favoring particular zip codes. This country has become so physically segregated now that zip code is a fantastic predictor of race that doesn't technically include race at all.
posted by Naberius at 6:48 AM on April 23 [15 favorites]


valkyryn: "There are schools on that list who saw their minority enrollment numbers take a hit after an affirmative action ban was imposed. But there seem to be more schools that saw their minority enrollment numbers either stay the same or go up after such bans."

Quoting from here:
California: Hispanic and black enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles dropped sharply after voters approved a statewide ban on affirmative action. Those numbers have not recovered, even as the state’s Hispanic population has grown.

Texas: The state’s flagship universities each enrolled fewer black and Hispanic students after a court ruling prohibited them from using affirmative action. The University of Texas later readopted affirmative action in 2005.

Florida: The University of Florida and Florida State University have been more successful than colleges in other states at maintaining minority enrollment despite a ban on affirmative action. Hispanic enrollment has tracked fairly closely with the overall growth of young Hispanics in Florida.

Michigan: After Michigan voters approved a ban on affirmative action, the number of black freshmen declined at the two most prominent public universities, even as the statewide proportion of 19-year-olds who were black increased.

Washington: Minority enrollment fell at the University of Washington after voters approved a ban on affirmative action. The effect was less clear at Washington State University.
Unless I'm reading it wrong, that's only one state in five with schools where minority enrollment has stayed close to minority college-age population increases.
posted by zarq at 6:55 AM on April 23 [10 favorites]


The argument that racism can only end if we stop thinking about or seeing or considering race has always seemed particularly vile to me. Problems do not end because you pretend they are not there. Sotomayor nails it:

“This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable,” Sotomayor wrote. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
posted by rtha at 6:59 AM on April 23 [56 favorites]


The odd thing in all of these numbers is that black enrollment, in particular, seems to decline precipitously just ahead of a lot of these bans passing; more generally, 1995 to 2000 or so seems like a very bad time for minority enrollments, as both lower enrollment *and" referenda and/or courtroom decisions banning affirmative action occur together.

California is rather interesting; there's a noticeable decline in minority enrollments in 1995 or so, right around the passage of the ban referendum, but then minority enrollments start gradually trending back upwards. This suggests some other mechanism or mechanisms working to reverse the ban or to compensate for its initial effects. Rather disturbingly, one of the Michigan graphs shows a slight uptick in black enrollments just before the ban, which immediately reverses the trend and creates obvious downward pressure.

Finally, Florida and Texas may have had weak affirmative action before the bans, or they may simply have such large, well-integrated Hispanic populations that enrollment/population convergence will happen there no matter what.
posted by kewb at 7:00 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


The ruling wasn't a surprise at all, but it was disappointing. I'd happily see legacy admissions disappear and be replaced with a focus on diversifying the student body in terms of family wealth (a metric I think makes more sense than income, and that also has strong racial implications), but one way or another maintaining and improving racial diversity is important as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:00 AM on April 23


If you want to increase minority student enrollment without considering race, do it by favoring particular zip codes.

This is the model for K-12 desegregation efforts after Parents v. Seattle. But I wonder whether it's justifiable in the same way as individual affirmative action: as a gentrifier, my white daughter would benefit from this in a way that's just plum unacceptable.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:01 AM on April 23


This case is not about the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education. Here, the principle that the consideration of race in admissions is permissible when certain conditions are met is not being challenged. Rather, the question concerns whether, and in what manner, voters in the States may choose to prohibit the consideration of such racial preferences. Where States have prohibited race-conscious admissions policies, universities have responded by experimenting “with a wide variety of alternative approaches.” The decision by Michigan voters reflects the ongoing national dialogue about such practices. (emphasis added.)

I am hard-pressed to see how the decision interferes with the ability to "speak openly and candidly on the subject of race." Indeed, it would seem to enhance the discussion by allowing it to be a discussion.
posted by three blind mice at 7:01 AM on April 23


I'd happily see legacy admissions disappear and be replaced with a focus on diversifying the student body in terms of family wealth (a metric I think makes more sense than income, and that also has strong racial implications), but one way or another maintaining and improving racial diversity is important as well.

Legacies aren't that big a deal really anymore. The numbers are so small and are mitigated by the fact that being the child of a ivy league graduate already makes you a much better applicant in terms of education and socioeconomic status than any actual de jure favoritism.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:06 AM on April 23


I am hard-pressed to see how the decision interferes with the ability to "speak openly and candidly on the subject of race."

Sotomayor's claim is not that this interferes with the "ability" to speak about race candidly, but rather that the majority decision, itself, does not do so. No one is claiming that Roberts is being censored: just that he chooses to speak in deeply misleading and deceptive ways when it comes to race because it makes him uncomfortable to confront his privileges.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:06 AM on April 23 [11 favorites]


I am hard-pressed to see how the decision interferes with the ability to "speak openly and candidly on the subject of race." Indeed, it would seem to enhance the discussion by allowing it to be a discussion.

might want to re-read what she said there, chief
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:08 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Naberius: "If you want to increase minority student enrollment without considering race, do it by favoring particular zip codes. This country has become so physically segregated now that zip code is a fantastic predictor of race that doesn't technically include race at all."

This might work in most areas of the country, but I suspect it wouldn't work well in New York City.
posted by zarq at 7:09 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


The job of the Supreme Court is not to decide whether a law is a good idea but whether a law is legal. I generally approve of various kinds of affirmative action, but I have trouble understanding the legal grounds on which the Michigan law should be disallowed.


(What I really wish is that we try to fix public education at a point long before kids are actually of college age, but that's another conversation entirely.)
posted by Slothrup at 7:13 AM on April 23 [14 favorites]


If you want to increase minority student enrollment without considering race, do it by favoring particular zip codes. This country has become so physically segregated now that zip code is a fantastic predictor of race that doesn't technically include race at all.

Hold on, I gotta go invest in Mailboxes Etc.
posted by Etrigan at 7:20 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


NYC segregation map
posted by garlic at 7:23 AM on April 23


(Which is not to say that I don't think that Affirmative ZIP Code Action is a fantastic idea, but applicants to the University of Michigan in particular have a way of gaming known criteria.)
posted by Etrigan at 7:24 AM on April 23


I was thinking about ways to get around this, the zip-code idea is one. I was thinking you could do it by school district -- if students from Detroit Public Schools received preference when applying to U of M or MSU, that might create an incentive for students to move back into DPS.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 7:26 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Fifty-eight percent of Michigan voters in 2006 passed Proposal 2, a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution and made it illegal for state entities to consider race in admissions and hiring. With the Supreme Court's ruling, the only way left to nullify Proposal 2 is to mount a long, expensive and uncertain campaign to overturn it.
Seems like people in Michigan should get to work overturning Proposal 2.
posted by notyou at 7:30 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


This is another predictable but depressing chapter in the Roberts' court slow drive to equate affirmative action with racism. See Parents Involved ("The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.")

That being said, Justice Sotomayor is a national treasure.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:31 AM on April 23 [10 favorites]


garlic: "NYC segregation map"

If you look at the original, there's a lot of mixed integration in many sections especially in Queens. Populations shift, and don't always follow zip code lines.
posted by zarq at 7:37 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]




Legacies aren't that big a deal really anymore. The numbers are so small and are mitigated by the fact that being the child of a ivy league graduate already

Legacy admissions aren't just an Ivy League thing. Michigan considers parental and grandparental attendance at UM. In fact, under the old affirmative-action system that UM used for undergraduate admissions (killed by the Supreme Court in 2003), being a racial or ethnic minority counted exactly as much as having a parent who attended UM.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:41 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


This is another predictable but depressing chapter in the Roberts' court slow drive to equate affirmative action with racism. See Parents Involved ("The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.")

On the plus side we just solved the energy crisis. All it involves is some really strong magnets, large coils of copper wire and the grave of Thurgood Marshall.
posted by Talez at 7:51 AM on April 23 [13 favorites]


just that he chooses to speak in deeply misleading and deceptive ways when it comes to race because it makes him uncomfortable to confront his privileges.

Because this link mentions Bill Taylor, a civil rights lawyer whom I had the privilege of working for in the early 90s (and who I didn't know died four years ago! dammit!), I googled a bit and found this piece that he wrote about Roberts, a very fine analysis of Roberts' very troubling history regarding race and class and the law.
posted by rtha at 7:55 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


My daughter-in-law is going to be more insufferable than usual about this, I'm sure.
posted by Malory Archer at 7:57 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]


Legacies aren't that big a deal really anymore. The numbers are so small and are mitigated by the fact that being the child of a ivy league graduate

I don't think the evidence supports you on this. It looks like about 75% of top R1 schools and 90 percent or more of elite private schools give priority to legacy applicants. This article in the Chronicle gives a good breakdown, including:

The children of alumni generally make up 10 to 25 percent of the student body at selective institutions. The proportion varies little from year to year, suggesting "an informal quota system," says the former Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Golden. By contrast, at the California Institute of Technology, which does not use legacy preferences, only 1.5 percent of students are children of alumni.

It looks to me like legacy admissions benefit whites far more than the affirmative action policies that are being attacked have helped other groups, in terms of net benefits gained. If we are going to get rid of one, lets at least get rid of the other.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:02 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


Unless I'm reading it wrong, that's only one state in five with schools where minority enrollment has stayed close to minority college-age population increases.

Look at the actual numbers though. Last link in the OP.

* Berkeley: Hispanics are down 50% from their high in 1990. All of that drop came before the ban. Blacks are also down 50%, and that does seem due to the ban.

* UCLA: Hispanics down maybe 30% from their 1995 peak, but it's hard to say how much of that drop happened before the ban. Blacks down by similar numbers, but again, there was some drop before the ban. There was also a growth and then drop from like 2006 to 2010, so no idea there.

* UT: Hispanic enrollment rose a few points when the ban was imposed and that trajectory was unchanged after the ban rolled back. Black enrollment also started to rise after the ban, but has fallen off in recent years for reasons that aren't explained.

* Texas A&M: Hispanic enrollment has risen since the ban and is now at it's highest levels. Black enrollment is maybe a little lower than immediately before the ban.

* Florida State: Slight jump in Hispanic enrollment just prior to the ban, accompanying drop after wards. That aside, the ban does not appear to have affected the increase in Hispanic enrollment at all, and it's currently at its highest level. Blacks definitely dropped off though.

* UF: Hispanic enrollment saw almost uninterrupted growth since the ban. I have no idea what the hell to make of their black numbers.

* UM: Hispanic enrollment seems to have fallen since the ban but is on the rise again. Black enrollment has fallen, but it was already falling. Not clear the ban made more than a temporary difference.

* Mich. State: Hispanic enrollment rose after the ban, but has fallen recently. Black enrollment has fallen, but it was already falling.

* UW: Hispanic enrollment fell temporarily and then started rising again. Looks to me like the enrollment is, on a relative scale, closer to demographics than it was 25 years ago. Blacks seem basically flat.

* Wash. State: Hispanic enrollment started rising after the ban and is at its highest levels. Black enrollment rose for a bit, then fell, and is now rising.

So you tell me what all that's supposed to mean. By looking at the actual numbers, it seems that three of the nine schools listed have seen drops in at least one minority enrollment that seems definitely related to the ban. Most of the others have either higher enrollments than ever or the numbers don't tell a coherent story.
posted by valkyryn at 8:05 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


This is another predictable but depressing chapter in the Roberts' court slow drive to equate affirmative action with racism.

Canadian here, so excuse my ignorance of US civics, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court is not asked to judge the merits or impacts of a law, only its constitutionality. If so, what aspect of this law could be considered unconstitutional?
posted by rocket88 at 8:08 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


My daughter-in-law is going to be more insufferable than usual about this, I'm sure.
posted by Malory Archer at 10:57 on April 23


The internet commenter leaned back in their chair. The Supreme Court had just upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action. Yes ... it was the perfect time to do a reference to Archer, the TV show
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:09 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Canadian here, so excuse my ignorance of US civics, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court is not asked to judge the merits or impacts of a law, only its constitutionality. If so, what aspect of this law could be considered unconstitutional?

The Supreme Court has broadly interpreted the Constitution in a variety of directions (abortion, campaign finance, civil rights) over the last two centuries. They can easily justify pretty much anything somehow. Affirmative Action generally is argued as an equal-protection issue, letting a court ameliorate the effects of racism if not its root causes.
posted by Etrigan at 8:11 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


By looking at the actual numbers, it seems that three of the nine schools listed have seen drops in at least one minority enrollment that seems definitely related to the ban.

Pay attention to the difference in the percentages, not just the raw percentage. It changes the story somewhat.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:20 AM on April 23


This is another predictable but depressing chapter in the Roberts' court slow drive to equate affirmative action with racism.

This is a difference between people who define racism differently. Some people believe that racism cannot exist without a structure of historical power. Other people believe that any form of deliberate discrimination based on race is racism.

If you follow the idea that deliberate discrimination based on race is racism - and I do - then yes, affirmative action is in fact racism. It may be racism with the best intentions, or racism for the purpose of correcting historical racism, but it is, in the end, still racism. Affirmative action is, at its core, saying that because certain races have had a kick in the face in the past, they need a leg up today. That is morally admirable, but it's still a leg up ahead of someone else, specifically based on race.

I'll also note that the problems with varying degrees of education in this country are not really solved well by waiting until the kids have already graduated high school and then punting it to the colleges to fix.
posted by corb at 8:24 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Charles Pierce: The Wonderful World Where The Justices Dwell
There will be a real impact on real people -- just as there will be with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and with the cascade of money that this Court has unleashed on the political system -- but what we are seeing, over and over again, is what happens when you combine the inebriate effect of American Exceptionalism in the philosophy of the law. Race does not exist as an issue in our country anymore because we have overcome it, because we are America and , therefore, Exceptional. Our elections are clean and honest, no matter how much money is sluicing through them, because we are America and, therefore, Exceptional. And if the people of a state wish to vote through a policy that deliberately harms racial minorities, they cannot be acting out of racial bigotry, because we are America, and race does not exist as an issue in our country any more because we are Execptional. And if the success of this policy at the polls is guaranteed because of the money that powers its passage, then the money cannot have been a factor because our elections are clean and honest because we are America and, therefore, Exceptional.

From the bench, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who grew up in the real world and apparently still lives there, was having none of Kennedy's rainbows and unicorns. She went long on it, 58 pages worth, because she had a lot to say, and I think her dissent will stand with Brennan on censorship, or Harlan on Jim Crow. Reality requires an explanation these days, after all.
"We are fortunate to live in a democratic society. But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups. For that reason, our Constitu­tion places limits on what a majority of the people may do. This case implicates one such limit: the guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat, but neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities."
Chief Justice Roberts replied to Sotomayor by citing an argument not unfamiliar to anyone who listens to AM radio a lot.
But it is not "out of touch with reality" to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that doubt, and-if so-that the preferences do more harm than good.
We can't be "reinforcing doubts" among the majority because that would be About Race, and nothing ever is About Race.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:24 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


The university president on NPR this morning made the observation that since whites are the overwhelming majority, even if you used a color-blind selection process the chance that you would select a white candidate overwhelms everything else.

Makes sense to me. If the goal is racial diversity/equanimity, then race has to be a consideration. That is not unfair, discriminatory, or racist.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:27 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I'd happily see legacy admissions disappear and be replaced with a focus on diversifying the student body

Sure, but the question before the court was whether that was constitutionally required.
posted by jpe at 8:28 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


If so, what aspect of this law could be considered unconstitutional?

It was a real stretch of an argument, and I don't think many people expected it to even garner two votes.
posted by jpe at 8:29 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Are there any data on what advantages there are in having school bodies which are racially/ethnically diverse?
posted by koavf at 8:30 AM on April 23


corb: That is morally admirable, but it's still a leg up ahead of someone else, specifically based on race.

Except words have meanings, and no definition of "racism" fits that meaning. There are plenty of words and phrases you could use other than "affirmative action" that would accurately describe using race as a factor, but "racism" is not one of those.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:30 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


If you follow the idea that deliberate discrimination based on race is racism - and I do - then yes, affirmative action is in fact racism. It may be racism with the best intentions, or racism for the purpose of correcting historical racism, but it is, in the end, still racism. Affirmative action is, at its core, saying that because certain races have had a kick in the face in the past, they need a leg up today. That is morally admirable, but it's still a leg up ahead of someone else, specifically based on race.

"That is morally admirable, but not as morally admirable as doing nothing, because [mumbles]"
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:30 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


The job of the Supreme Court is not to decide whether a law is a good idea but whether a law is legal.

That's very circular thinking and over simplistic. Part of the job of the SC is to determine whether the practical effects of laws are consistent with the principles underlying our legal system--that is, consistent not only with explicit enumerated laws (which are finite and narrowly constructed for particular purposes and real world scenarios and which everyone acknowledges can be defectively constructed) but the general organizational and legal principles that laws are created to further.

The SC determines what the law of the land is and ought to be according to both the letter of the law and the broader legal principles set out in our organizational charter (the constitution) and in the common law, it doesn't and shouldn't just look up laws in statutes and slavishly enforce them according to the most literal, narrow possible readings. We don't need the SC to do that. That's what the other parts of government that apply and enforce laws are for. The SC's sole purpose is to resolve conflicts in the law, ensure the effects of the law are consistent with the underlying legal principles and intent, and to clarify issues of interpretation that aren't straightforward.

Any SC that claims to be strict constructionist or whatever is a court that doesn't want to face the challenges of it's real job.

I'm not sure where I come out on the legal arguments on this one, but I definitely think this decision follows this court's pattern of not giving due consideration and proper weight to the practical realities of the law's impact on actual people.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:37 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


The idea of affirmative action is that we need to counter the implicit racist biases in the system against minorities with an explicit bias in favor of them, because the implicit ones are so hard to pin down. See the recent metafilter post about people with white, male names getting better response rates when emailing professors. It's not about making up for past injustices, it's about fighting present ones.

Sure it's not perfect, nothing is.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:39 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


If you follow the idea that deliberate discrimination based on race is racism - and I do - then yes, affirmative action is in fact racism.

This means that you think that when a casting agent is looking to cast African American actors in a play about an African American family, they are being racist. So either you agree with that, or you don't and y our premise is flawed.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:39 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


Affirmative action is, at its core, saying that because certain races have had a kick in the face in the past, they need a leg up today.

Ideally what it is doing is not giving anyone a leg up, it's evening the playing field for the countless legs up white people get from government. If a reasonable attempt to even the playing field is racism under your working definition, you don't have a good working definition.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:40 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]


but my understanding is that the Supreme Court is not asked to judge the merits or impacts of a law, only its constitutionality

The constitutionality of laws is in part determined by their practical impact. This is especially true for laws analyzed under the equal protection clause, which explicitly encompasses a disparate-impact analysis as one of several factors considered in determining the constitutionality of a particular law.

Like some people have said, though, the split was 7-2 so it wasn't the best legal argument ever. Still, you have to be a legal scholar to end up on the Supreme Court (and not every case makes it up that far, either) so obviously there is an argument that the law was unconstitutional. It's laid out pretty thoroughly in the opinion's dissent.
posted by likeatoaster at 8:43 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


Are there any data on what advantages there are in having school bodies which are racially/ethnically diverse?

You know, this is sort of the elephant in the room when it comes to talking about "diversity." It's taken to be such an unalloyed good by most members of the left that it doesn't ever really get talked about, which is unfortunate because I don't think it's necessarily accepted — based on the laws that keep getting passed — by society at large. Or at least not in any serious way. "Oh yes, Diversity. That's a good thing." But there's not much discussion of exactly why, and thus it's hard to construct an argument for exactly what's worthwhile in terms of tradeoffs in order to achieve it.

Obviously a pro-racial-diversity policy is beneficial to the people who get in via the diversity quota (in whatever form it's implemented, whether an actual "quota" or differing standards or preference), but there seems to be an underlying argument that it benefits everyone else at that university as well... if that's the case, I think that argument should be pursued. It would seem as if "do this because it's the Right Thing To Do" isn't working at any rate, so maybe self-interest will.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:44 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


The university president on NPR this morning made the observation that since whites are the overwhelming majority, even if you used a color-blind selection process the chance that you would select a white candidate overwhelms everything else.

Only in proportion to their actual representation in the population, though, right? In that case, the school would be exactly as diverse as the locale.
posted by corb at 8:44 AM on April 23


corb: If you follow the idea that deliberate discrimination based on race is racism - and I do - then yes, affirmative action is in fact racism.

That's just about the most simple-minded and wrongheaded definition of racism I've ever had the displeasure to read.

It's comparable to saying that access ramps discriminate against able-bodied persons who are walking downhill because wheelchair users can go down them faster.
posted by mistersquid at 8:47 AM on April 23 [25 favorites]


Only in proportion to their actual representation in the population, though, right?

In a just and fair world where nobody ever had racist thoughts and where nonwhites didn't face any trouble due to their skin color, sure.

On Earth, in contrast, no.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:53 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


Only in proportion to their actual representation in the population, though, right? In that case, the school would be exactly as diverse as the locale.

Of course. That's the whole concept. Ideally, if a minority population represents, say, 20% of the general population, then their opportunity/participation level should be approximately that also. Otherwise, everything can become subject to a tyranny of the majority.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:59 AM on April 23


Oops 6-2. My apologies to Justice Kagan, who remains baller.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:08 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


The sad thing to me is the way Clarence Thomas blames Affirmative Action for the discrimination he faced in law school and afterward, because so many people appeareed to assume that he owed both his admission and his grades to special treatment because he was black.

But it seems to me that what he faced was plain old racism and that attributing his success to Affirmative Action was simply what the racists used for cover. Plus ça change.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:10 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]


The sad thing to me is the way Clarence Thomas blames Affirmative Action for the discrimination he faced in law school and afterward, because so many people appeareed to assume that he owed both his admission and his grades to special treatment because he was black.

And of course this happens. Why wouldn't it? Affirmative action means by definition that someone less qualified than their peers on traditional measures is still admitted into college | law school | medical school or whatever.

Of course people are going to take that into account in judging them. That's one of the really negative effects of affirmative action: that the truly qualified get lumped in with the others.
posted by shivohum at 9:15 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Ah, so it's the fault of the policy, not the people using skin color as a shorthand for determining whether someone is really qualified or not. Neat trick.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:19 AM on April 23 [11 favorites]


nevermind that education in the US has been systematically transformed into a system of certification for social access and rights to jobs and roles in society.

affirmative action is always a losing debate if you care about equal access to education in this country. white people for affirmative action want to preserve the special privileges of the "middle class" while not feeling like racists. the fact is that if you had true equal access the child of a lawyer or doctor would be just as likely to grow up to work on a cleaning crew as vice versa. so create special access to high ed for victims and preserve a system which is increasingly explicitly designed to reproduce class divisions. as stated up thread, affirmative action is no different than any of the other privileged classes of university admissions: but it is almost designed to split people, who are struggling to do better than their parents, based on race. lower class white people looking to get ahead vs. lower class colored people looking to get ahead. everyone loses.

which is race in the US in a nutshell.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:19 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


Affirmative action means by definition that someone less qualified than their peers on traditional measures is still admitted into college | law school | medical school or whatever.

No it doesn't. It only means that if you assume that there are no biases working against minorities. Since affirmative action is, in part, meant to correct for those biases, it helps to even the playing field.

Case in point, Clarence Thomas. He wouldn't have got into the schools he got into if it wasn't for affirmative action, because racism and discrimination have worked against him. And because he got in and had the opportunity he's successful.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:20 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]


No it doesn't. It only means that if you assume that there are no biases working against minorities. Since affirmative action is, in part, meant to correct for those biases, it helps to even the playing field.

Yes it does. Candidates with lower GPAs and lower SAT scores get into colleges they wouldn't have otherwise gotten into. That means that they are, as I wrote, "less qualified than their peers on traditional measures."

Now whether they should be given a helping hand up because of historical discrimination and because diversity helps everybody etc. is a different question. But there is simply no doubt that they are not as qualified in traditional ways as their peers.
posted by shivohum at 9:22 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


nevermind that education in the US has been systematically transformed into a system of certification for social access and rights to jobs and roles in society.

I've never heard it phrased quite so succinctly. Well done. I say that as the first person in my family to get a degree, in a STEM field no less, but who is also completely cognizant of the fact that it's just a piece of paper that was the goal instead of the summation of a field of study or learning. Getting a degree made me really cynical. Kinda wish I'd went into a skilled blue collar field at times. The grass is always greener and all that I guess.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:22 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


But it seems to me that what he faced was plain old racism and that attributing his success to Affirmative Action was simply what the racists used for cover.

A friend of mine pointed out (possibly having read it on Metafilter although it could be original -- he's a pretty smart guy) that often the people most afraid of stuff like Affirmative Action and how it will allow unqualified people into positions of power are the ones who actually end up implementing it that way. For example, Michael Steele, Herman Cain, and Sarah Palin are all people who are unqualified and/or inept but rose to prominence in the Republican party. The Right is afraid of Affirmative Action because they think it will have the same results for everyone that it has for them, not recognizing that perhaps there actually are really smart, qualified women and minorities who can succeed given appropriate support.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:26 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]


Candidates with lower GPAs and lower SAT scores get into colleges they wouldn't have otherwise gotten into.

This claim is going to require some evidence to support it. And remember: citing the average SAT and GPA scores for accepted minorities does not support your conclusion.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:26 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


This claim is going to require some evidence to support it. And remember: citing the average SAT and GPA scores for accepted minorities does not support your conclusion.

Why not? That's exactly the kind of evidence that would support my conclusion.

What do you think AA policies do exactly? Have some magical bias-destroying effect that doesn't display itself in the numbers?
posted by shivohum at 9:29 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


often the people most afraid of stuff like Affirmative Action and how it will allow unqualified people into positions of power are the ones who actually end up implementing it that way.

Kind of like the way one of the Republicans' favorite terms of derision is 'Hollywood', but they're the ones who keep electing actors?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:32 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


but there seems to be an underlying argument that it benefits everyone else at that university as well

Diversity benefits our society by not letting us get too isolated into little pocket communities and challenging us to come face-to-face with other Americans who might not be like us, but who are still very much fellow Americans and so have every right to participate equally in the project of American society. Over the long term, it promotes social cohesion and makes it harder for cultural trends that isolate and ghettoize vulnerable communities to take hold, since we can't ignore the disparate effects of laws as easily when their impacts on other groups are plainly visible to everyone through personal contact with individuals effected. It's a public good with long-term returns, not a direct, short-term ROI kind of benefit.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:33 AM on April 23 [11 favorites]


It's always too bad seeing minority students/graduates as less capable than their peers, because they were able to get into the program with a lower aptitude/IQ. Perhaps no where is that more present than law school, where the gap between the URMs (under represented minorities) and your standard white male has a significant difference in mean IQ. As a result you start to infer that in your sample the minorities really just aren't as smart, because they aren't. And this also shows as minority law students tend to crowd the lower parts of the grade distribution, coming well below the white students*.

I mean it's easy to act haughty about it, but the ugly truth is the black students are not as smart as the white students, because they were able to get in on less demanding admission requirements. Obviously there is a high variance, and you will still get black students in the top of the class. But the conditional mean on race means black (minority) students should be expected to be below whites, absent additional information. And this can be really depressing for minority students. As it should be. And simply accusing those who see the world this way (e.g. me) is a cop out. Because there is a clear and disfigured truth to the race gap, and pretending it isn't there doesn't change anything.

But that would be something of a moderate/'right leaning' liberal counterargument. To go all out, I would argue weighting minority/race at all is pointless. We know that very short men, fat women, ugly women, poor rednecks, hicks, christian conservative military families from the south, and other demographics suffer heavily as well. Why don't we care about the rampant discrimination against southern hicks? Liberal institutions don't like them, so you have entire groups of poorer white military families excluded. And this is a zero-sum game, after all, so someone needs to be kicked out to make a place. It's not so surprising then we see a huge backlash against these institutions as a result. And to return to my short men example: Short men and fat and ugly women suffer absolutely horrific discrimination. Compare a fat and ugly women to a taller demure attractive blonde. Well, we have. We know the latter has a huge advantage in basically all walks of life. We also know short men are immensely disadvantaged. I admit at first it sounds maybe a little silly. But these are real people with real lives who are going to suffer pretty clear discrimination.

There are many decompositions that can divide up attributes that face some type of discrimination. There is this modern day solipsism that it is only *really* happening on 5-10 dimensions of race/ethnicity/gender. It fits the research coming out of sociology and gender departments at liberal institutions, and is shaped by them. There isn't a journal or advocacy group for men under 5"5. We don't think about it, but it's there. And the moral values of Christian conservative white military families clashes with universities, so instead of asking why they are rejected so often from universities, no one really cares.

We have seen backlash from groups with a collective identity. The right wing/Christian groups hate liberal universities. What came first, their hate, or discrimination against their group? Hard to say, but it isn't as one sided as we like to think. And what about short men? They don't share an identity. Identities tend to form more readily when people share a race or ethnicity. There has been lots of research on homophily. So when discrimination occurs, if it is correlated with people with closer genetics, they are more likely to fight it.

I will never believe that the danger from giving people power to boost/lower admissions based on genetics is prudent. Because for every addition, you need to kick someone out. You end up with society planners, who wield a disturbing level of power in trying to craft some type of ideal composition. And those who collectivize and lobby the hardest will get the most help. I think it's very dangerous.



*Atlantic article linked as it's easy to read. But it was written by the author of the research paper it was based upon: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/the-painful-truth-about-affirmative-action/263122/
posted by jjmoney at 9:37 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I believe formulas can be constructed by thoughtful universities to bring in historically disadvantaged groups, but it will take work, experimentation, and dedication to the cause. Using race was a shortcut to that and it wasn't perfect by any means, but it provided a much simpler standard and formula for public institutions to address inequality and institutional racism. Now, those institutions that actually care will be able to confront these issues in a more nuanced way, but the fact is that many of them won't bother.
posted by cell divide at 9:37 AM on April 23


That's exactly the kind of evidence that would support my conclusion.

The average SAT and GPAs of white people is lower than the same metrics for Asian people, and it would be silly to conclude that some of those white people got into college who otherwise wouldn't if they were Asian.

More importantly, the variation amongs groups is much larger than the variation between groups, meaning that the difference between the average SAT/GPA would have to be a couple of standard deviations in magnitude to support the claim that the lower scoring candidates got "into colleges they wouldn't have otherwise gotten into"

In addition, colleges have never used exclusively quantitative metrics for admissions, so focusing solely on them misses a lot.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:38 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


Candidates with lower GPAs and lower SAT scores get into colleges they wouldn't have otherwise gotten into.

Yeah, and a lot of those candidates over the decades have been white. GPAs and SATs have never been the sole metrics by which whites have been admitted to colleges. Schools have also used religion (not too many Jews!), class, legacy status, proficiency in sports, and many other criteria. But suddenly when it comes to eliminating racial bias scores and grades are not only the most important, but the sole criteria by which students can be judged!

Such bullshit.
posted by rtha at 9:41 AM on April 23 [14 favorites]


Candidates with lower GPAs and lower SAT scores get into colleges they wouldn't have otherwise gotten into. That means that they are, as I wrote, "less qualified than their peers on traditional measures."

You have to be careful about hidden assumptions. The unstated assumption here is that a white and a minority person with the same GPA and SAT score have the same chances of success. Research has proven time and again that this is not true. The minority will have a better chance at success, so these "traditional measures" have historically favored whites. If you know anything about grades and standardized tests and think about it for a second, it's not surprising at all.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:47 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]


The average SAT and GPAs of white people is lower than the same metrics for Asian people, and it would be silly to conclude that some of those white people got into college who otherwise wouldn't if they were Asian.

Actually, that's exactly what you might conclude. Lots of Asians are excluded, likely for implicit racial diversity reasons.

Certainly that would be doubly true if there were a *policy* of giving whites a leg up. Then you'd definitely conclude that.

More importantly, the variation amongs groups is much larger than the variation between groups, meaning that the difference between the average SAT/GPA would have to be a couple of standard deviations in magnitude to support the claim that the lower scoring candidates got "into colleges they wouldn't have otherwise gotten into"

Nonsense. Lower-scoring candidates are by definition on the admissions margins, and affirmative action is one of the thing that helps them up.

Whether there's more variation between groups or within them, AA moves the entire admissions "window" up for URMs, meaning that lower-scoring candidates at or below the admissions threshold, of which the data clearly shows there are a relatively larger number admitted as a percentage of those populations, cross it as a result of AA.

That's the point of affirmative action! If it didn't have that effect, no one would give a damn about its existence.
posted by shivohum at 9:48 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


It's interesting to me that both of the Atlantic articles against Affirmative Action use the word "noble" to describe the program's intentions.

belonging to a hereditary class with high social or political status; aristocratic.

or

having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals.

The point being, of course, that while it was nice for those at the top of the pyramid to toss a bone to those who had previously suffered centuries of some of the most extreme oppression in the history of man, and decades of family-destroying racism and inequality, it wasn't anything necessary or important.
posted by cell divide at 9:50 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


As a result you start to infer that in your sample the minorities really just aren't as smart, because they aren't. And this also shows as minority law students tend to crowd the lower parts of the grade distribution, coming well below the white students

"Not being smart" is not the only explanation for why people of color do poorly in law school. It's not even the most plausible explanation. For example, I'd go with: law school continues to be one of the most racist environments in the country. This is evidenced by actual facts, like the overwhelming majority of white male faculty and their near complete control over grading; the course offerings, which are dominated by things that white students may have had specialized training in before getting to law school, but which exclude things students of color might know more about, like immigration law; the fact that journals and other prestigous pieces of the law school experience are based on peer-to-peer admission, largely with white males deciding who gets into law reviews; the fact that lots of white male law students have lawyer parents, which provides a gigantic leg up in studying, research and writing in law school classes; the fact that you can purchase short-cuts to doing well in law school classes, like tutors or expensive materials, which creates an advantage for people with means; or the fact that people who do not need to work while they are in law school can take unpaid internships and gain mentors which can and often do translate into academic success.

Not only is your conclusion offensive, it is sloppy.
posted by likeatoaster at 9:51 AM on April 23 [40 favorites]


If you follow the idea that deliberate discrimination based on race is racism - and I do - then yes, affirmative action is in fact racism. It may be racism with the best intentions, or racism for the purpose of correcting historical racism, but it is, in the end, still racism.

The reason we continue to have these disappointing outcomes is because no one can call it for what it is.

Affirmative Action isn't for the purpose of correcting simple racial bias. It's for the purpose of correcting the hundreds of years of state-sanctioned White Supremacy that led to that simple racial bias. Unless you're calling for hundreds of years of slavery, terrorism, violent supression, land-theft, forced labor, and apartheid against whites, any "tit-for tat" argument is simply silly.
posted by billyfleetwood at 9:51 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


This claim is going to require some evidence to support it. And remember: citing the average SAT and GPA scores for accepted minorities does not support your conclusion.

Why not? That's exactly the kind of evidence that would support my conclusion.

What do you think AA policies do exactly? Have some magical bias-destroying effect that doesn't display itself in the numbers?


Wouldn't a fairly easy test of this assertion be graduation rates? Compare the graduation rates of persons who got in (at least partially) because of racial preferences against a similar cohort (say some minority group with somewhat lower SAT scores vs a group of non minority who are otherwise similair) who didn't (this is probably easier said than done, I know). Graduation rates are kinda the final word on wether or not someone was qualified to be admitted isn't it?

I don't know for certain, this really isn't my area, but I seem to remember hearing that there is a rise in minority graduation rates in universities who take out racial preferences in admission data. I would bet there is someone on here who knows better than I do though.
posted by bartonlong at 9:51 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


The unstated assumption here is that a white and a minority person with the same GPA and SAT score have the same chances of success.

If all AA did was to equalize people with the same scores, then URM populations would have the same scores as the general student population. But they don't. So clearly goes beyond merely eliminating discrimination... which is of course a pretty openly-stated aim, right? To have positive counter-discrimination to compensate for historical disadvantages.

--

Wouldn't a fairly easy test of this assertion be graduation rates?

I do know that URMs admitted to law schools, often on the basis of AA policies, pass the bar at much lower rates than others, and that there is some evidence that being admitted to a school to which you would not normally have been admitted actually exacerbates this effect.
posted by shivohum at 9:54 AM on April 23


If all AA did was to equalize people with the same scores, then URM populations would have the same scores as the general student population.

I think you meant to say something else. Not having AA equalizes people with the same score, no? Or do misunderstand your argument?
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:07 AM on April 23


jjmoney: But it was written by the author of the research paper it was based upon

That'd be Richard Sander, whose causal inferences on this topic have been called into question many times, e.g. here:
However, beyond merely identifying another set of racial disparities, Sander has gone further by claiming that affirmative action is the cause of the black-white gap in law school grades: "virtually all of the black-white gap... seems attributable to preferences: virtually none of it seems attributable to race or correlates of race (such as income).

His core idea, based on the "academic mismatch hypothesis," is compelling in its simplicity: Because blacks tend to have systematically lower entering credentials than the median (white) student, black students learn less than they might have if they had attended schools at which they were better matched, and thus they should be expected to earn lower law school grades and to graduate and pass the bar at lower rates.

Sander claims that the mismatch effect caused by affirmative action is so significant that it actually reduces the overall number of black lawyers. While estimating that affirmative action causes 14.1% more blacks to enter law school, he concludes that the lower graduation rates and bar passage rates of mismatched black students on net reduce the number of black lawyers by 7.9% (relative to the number that would be produced in a system without affirmative action).

While the mismatch hypothesis is plausible, this response refutes the claim that affirmative action has reduced the number of black lawyers. We find no persuasive evidence that current levels of affirmative action have reduced the probability that black law students, will become lawyers. We estimate that the elimination of affirmative action would reduce the number of lawyers. Indeed, some of our results suggest an equally plausible "reverse mismatch effect," where the probability of black law students becoming lawyers would be maximized under a system involving an affirmative action program with larger racial preferences than those presently in place. We emphasize, however, that we do not view these estimates as definitive, as they are derived within the simple tier-index score framework offered by Sander. We put them forward to underscore our conclusion that, even within his framework, there is not persuasive evidence indicating that affirmative action is responsible for lowering the number of black attorneys.
and here:
In a widely discussed empirical study, Richard Sander concludes that affirmative action at U.S. law schools causes black students to fail the bar. If correct, this conclusion would turn the jurisprudence, policy, and law of affirmative action on its head. Yet the article misapplies basic principles of causal inference, which enjoy virtually universal acceptance in the scientific community. As a result, the study draws internally inconsistent and empirically invalid conclusions about the effects of affirmative action. Correcting the assumptions and testing the hypothesis directly shows that for similarly qualified black students, attending a higher-tier law school has no detectable effect on bar passage rates.

Part I of this Comment clarifies the assumptions implicit in the Sander study and explains the inconsistent and indefensible premises on which it rests. Part II presents results from a reanalysis of the data, using alternative methods that correct and reduce the role of these unjustifiable assumptions. The reanalysis suggests that Sander’s conclusions are untenable on their own terms.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:08 AM on April 23 [9 favorites]


there is some evidence that being admitted to a school to which you would not normally have been admitted actually exacerbates this effect.

There is also some evidence that bar exams (which include large subjectively graded components and so can hardly be defended as rigorous and immune to biasing effects) suffer from unique racial biasing effects of their own.

You'll note that Bar Exams only became required in some states as the Civil Rights era was advancing, coinciding with the latter days of the Jim Crow era.
But Swaminathan said a detailed analysis showed the results could not be explained by chance.

He and a panel of legal experts met in Tallahassee last week to review the exam questions. They tentatively identified portions of the test that may be the cause of the disproportionate number of failing scores among black law school graduates.

In some cases, he said, overly complex and awkwardly written questions may be the stumbling block. He suggested portions of the exam may test the ability to untangle a poorly written sentence rather than legal knowledge.

Critics of The Florida Bar exam, which was not required until the middle 1950s when the first black law school was started in the state , say there is no evidence it measures legal knowledge or separates good prospective lawyers from bad ones.
There's a plausible argument to be made that, at least in some states, bar exams may have been instituted as de facto parts of the Jim Crow apparatus.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:08 AM on April 23 [10 favorites]


I think you meant to say something else. Not having AA equalizes people with the same score, no? Or do misunderstand your argument?

Sorry, I think I misunderstood your argument. Your argument is that between a minority and a white person with the same scores, the minority is actually more qualified -- is that right?
--
There's a plausible argument to be made that, at least in some states, bar exams may have been required as de facto parts of the Jim Crow apparatus.

Whatever their origins, I don't think there's a particularly plausible case that bar exams are racially biased now. The ability to "untangle a poorly written sentence" is a critical legal skill.
posted by shivohum at 10:10 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


it would be silly to conclude that some of those white people got into college who otherwise wouldn't if they were Asian.

Wasn't there just an FPP on this? I know there's been a lot of talk about how Asians are suffering, admissions wise, because of the high proportions at various schools, thus people "correcting" the "over-high" rates of Asian acceptances.
posted by corb at 10:13 AM on April 23


It's always too bad seeing minority students/graduates as less capable than their peers, because they were able to get into the program with a lower aptitude/IQ

That is such a ludicrous argument. I hope you did not go to law school yourself.

Many other reasons exist for peers doing better:

1) More rigorous access to training and education before law school and college.

2) Cultural issues that do not allow students to "click" or understand their professors in the same manner their peers do.

3) The fact that people like you assume they have lesser "aptitude".

Furthermore, I am sure that on plain old IQ measurements they would do just fine as long as they are not "culturally" biased.
posted by The1andonly at 10:13 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Whatever their origins, I don't think there's a particularly plausible case that bar exams are racially biased now.

Of course there is--they have subjectively scored components and no one can say whether the scoring of these components isn't subject to implicit biases. For example, when someone scores an essay, if they find a pattern of speech popularly associated with black culture, are those cultural markers interpreted as evidence of incompetence?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:15 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


And the moral values of Christian conservative white military families clashes with universities, so instead of asking why they are rejected so often from universities, no one really cares.

We have seen backlash from groups with a collective identity. The right wing/Christian groups hate liberal universities. What came first, their hate, or discrimination against their group? Hard to say, but it isn't as one sided as we like to think. And what about short men? They don't share an identity. Identities tend to form more readily when people share a race or ethnicity. There has been lots of research on homophily. So when discrimination occurs, if it is correlated with people with closer genetics, they are more likely to fight it.


I don't want to see this just sit in the thread unopposed. (Apologies to everyone with the good sense to let it go.)

There is no systemic discrimination against Christians, military families, and/or conservatives by public colleges and universities in America.

Colleges of almost any size will have ROTC members in them. Colleges have a wide array of Christian (and Jewish, and Muslim) student groups that are supported and subsidized just like the gay pride group, the hiking group, and the Mac user's club. Every college of any size will have a young republican group that schedules debates with more liberal student groups.

Requiring Christian students to learn actual science in science classes is only discrimination in the eyes of brainwashed culture warriors. Requiring students from military families to learn history, rather than a fairy tale of history, is only discriminatory in the eyes of brainwashed culture warriors. Requiring official persons and publications to be relatively free of religious iconography and references to particular gods is only discriminatory in the eyes of brainwashed culture warriors.

Colleges generally do not need to see another personal essay about a white person's mission trip to a third world country, and how much that changed their life, but that's not discrimination either. It's a dime a dozen, which is a different thing entirely.

In the case of poor whites in particular, most colleges add weight to applications from students who would be the first from their families to go to college.

The idea that there is discrimination against military families is probably the weirdest thing I've heard this month.
posted by jsturgill at 10:17 AM on April 23 [22 favorites]


Also, lest we forget, affirmative action based on gender is also still alive and well at most law schools, where the student body is still primarily male.
posted by likeatoaster at 10:18 AM on April 23


I know there's been a lot of talk about how Asians are suffering, admissions wise, because of the high proportions at various schools, thus people "correcting" the "over-high" rates of Asian acceptances.

Another nuance to this fact is that "Asians" are an enormous and extremely diverse group of people. Usually American children of Chinese immigrants (and you can go further and even look at various provinces or ethnicities within China) are who are generally setting the standard for all "Asians".
posted by cell divide at 10:18 AM on April 23


I think of Affirmative Action - giving people who have been oppressed an extra edge in admissions and hiring - as a small but useful form of reparations for slavery and the ensuing years of oppression. We can end it when racism is ... resolved? What would be a valid measure of no longer needing Affirmative Action?
posted by theora55 at 10:20 AM on April 23


My understanding is that it's not about reparations it's about remediation of present (or relatively recent, in the candidate's own lifetime) disadvantages. There's also a certain meritocratic property; that an equally-performing candidate from a disadvantaged background actually had to work harder to achieve comparable results so maybe that should be respected.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:30 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


For example, when someone scores an essay, if they find a pattern of speech popularly associated with black culture, are those cultural markers interpreted as evidence of incompetence?

What is a "pattern of speech popularly associated with black culture"? Do you mean something like ebonics, or something that doesn't accord with standard English grammar? If so, that's not appropriate on a standardized test for attorneys and it should be marked down.

It is a critical legal skill to be able to discern what diction is appropriate in what circumstance.

Not to mention that the much larger part of most bar exams is multiple choice, and there is no evidence that essays as opposed to multiple choice questions are the problem.

You are, in short, reaching like crazy.
posted by shivohum at 10:32 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


And by the way, I've never heard these same people complain about Harvard's long-standing policy of considering other forms of class disadvantage in admissions, such as being raised on a farm.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:34 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Ehhhhh... I think some affirmative action policies are, on balance, a good idea. But I'm having a hard time (like a few others in this thread) seeing how it is Constitutionally mandated. This seems like the correct ruling to me. There are plenty of policies which are a good idea which are not Constitutionally mandated and plenty of bad policies which either have been in the past or are now Constitutionally mandated.
posted by Justinian at 10:39 AM on April 23


Saying that AA allows "less qualified" minorities in in place of the whites that would otherwise fill those spots, is just another way of saying the present system is the "correct" way to do things, no?

That's just justifying the "default position", which almost always sits wrong with me. It's usually nothing more than an assumption that gets treated as unexamined fact. Like most people are automatically assumed to be straight, or "liberals do this" and "conservatives do that".
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:46 AM on April 23


When you look at the makeup of a college, and it does not reflect the general population, there is a problem. If the population is, say, eight percent African-American, but the percentage of students is only four percent African-American, something has gone wrong somewhere. And there are two possible conclusions:

1. Black people somehow don't have the aptitude for the college
2. Black people have been excluded somehow

The former assumption is racist. The latter assumption is repeatedly documented.

When you make the case that affirmative action is unfair, you are, in fact, making a case that a racist system is a fair system. Affirmative action is a corrective to racism. It's not privileging students who otherwise wouldn't be able to get in because of IQ or skills or test scores. It is correcting a system of privilege that systematically excludes these students, regardless of their IQ or skills or test scores.

It is a corrective to racism. Arguing that is is racism is diving through the looking glass.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:47 AM on April 23 [20 favorites]


When you look at the makeup of a college, and it does not reflect the general population, there is a problem.

If the general population is 4% Asian and the population at a college is 15% Asian is that a problem?
posted by Justinian at 10:50 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


Justinian: But I'm having a hard time (like a few others in this thread) seeing how it is Constitutionally mandated.

I think this piece explains that part in layman's terms. Essentially, state actions that have the potential to shut minorities out of the political process, as noted in "the most famous footnote in constitutional law", should be subjected to heightened scrutiny. As the Lemieux piece puts it:
It is instructive that in their concurrence Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas mock the influence of Carolene Products: "We should not design our jurisprudence to conform to dictum in a footnote in a four-Justice opinion." This is grimly ironic, given that Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas recently joined an opinion gutting the Voting Rights Act based on highly implausible bare assertions made by dicta in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts less than five years ago. With respect to Carolene Products, conversely, what matters is not merely the footnote in one opinion but the fact that it conforms to the 14th Amendment, and was elaborated on in many subsequent cases. Several of these precedents were the political-process rulings that were supposed to control the outcome in yesterday's case. As both Scalia from the right and Sotomayor from the left argue, it's hard to deny that these precedents have been silently overruled, even if the plurality says otherwise.
So we're not talking about the Court saying "this is Constitutionally mandated", it's about the Court in this case deciding to throw out a series of precedents that allowed the Court itself to apply a stricter standard of review with respect to the Michigan ballot initiative.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:53 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Why not? That's exactly the kind of evidence that would support my conclusion.

Accepting for argument's sake that GPA and test scores are good measures of ability, looking at group means won't tell you what you want to know.

For that, you'd want to look at the proportion of minority admissions were were less "qualified" than the least-"qualified" Anglo student who was admitted. All the minority students above that bar can quite credibly claim to have been admitted on their "merits."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:53 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


tonycpsu: Yeah, I don't find that so compelling. Like I said, something can be good policy without being something the Court can insist upon. It doesn't sound like the court thought this was a particularly close case either given it was 6-2 instead of 5-3.
posted by Justinian at 10:59 AM on April 23


Affirmative action means by definition that someone less qualified than their peers on traditional measures is still admitted into college | law school | medical school or whatever.

Even just saying they are unqualified is a stretch. In the vast majority of cases we're not talking about folks who didn't meet the bare minimums for entrance but were let in anyway. We're talking about students whose test scores are all within a similar range but whom can't all be accepted due to there being a limited number of seats. Other factors have to be considered to make those choices.

And guess what, 'education' in the broad sense is not standard or measurable, and neither are students. How a student will perform under a certain curriculum and certain faculty and with certain local housing conditions and certain funding options is not something the SAT tests for.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:02 AM on April 23


I strongly suggest that folks arguing against Affirmative Action take a look at the FPP about Racial and Gender Biases in Faculty Mentoring from yesterday.

In short, allowing people to say "I'm not a racist/sexist" and have that be the end of the story just doesn't work. It results in poorer outcomes for women and minorities in comparison to white males.

Look, I get that no one wants to think of themselves as racist, and that it is human nature to cast ourselves (and people from similar backgrounds) as the noble, hard-working underdog who triumphs against absolutely horrific oppression from the larger group.

And I also am aware that it is often counter-productive to play Oppression Olympics.

But the fact remains that implicit bias is a thing. Affirmative Action is an attempt to address that. Yes, it is imperfect and inelegant in some ways. The solution is to tweak it and revise it, not eliminate it altogether and then give credit to oneself for being "fair" enough to admit that racism exists as some nebulous force out there while simultaneously arguing against nearly every specific example of it and working hard to roll back all of the hard-won victories from the Civil Rights movement.

And so I'm left asking why certain groups in America always seem to demand that any government-based attempt to redress social ills be absolutely perfect in its implementation and never, ever, inconvenience or (perceivably) disadvantage the dominant group in any way.

It's almost like that plague game that was popular a few years back that had people tripping over the President of Madagascar's reaction to disease.

UNDERLING: Sir, a black woman just got food stamps and she also has a flatscreen TV. Plus her daughter just got admitted to a college despite not having a 4.0 GPA and perfect SAT scores.

REPUBLICAN OFFICIAL: SHUT. DOWN. EVERYTHING.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:03 AM on April 23 [15 favorites]


Justinian: Like I said, something can be good policy without being something the Court can insist upon.

Well, The Court can most certainly insist upon equal protection as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and under established precedent, that would have included something that disadvantages minorities with less access to the levers of power. I readily concede that taking away a mechanism that advantages them (or tries to mitigate the many disadvantages they faced previously, depending on how you look at it) is not precisely the same as disadvantaging them, but it certainly has that effect.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:06 AM on April 23


There is no systemic discrimination against Christians, military families, and/or conservatives by public colleges and universities in America.

Bullshit.

I actually got to sit in on the hiring process of some faculty at the college I went to, god only knows why - maybe because they want to see what students think of them? Or see how they react to real students? And the professor that eventually got hired quite blithely dropped in a cute anecdote about how she couldn't write a recommendation for a totally qualified individual because he supported politics she found immoral and what if he used her recommendation to make his way in the world with those terrible politics? And the department head thought it was funny, and not completely disqualifying.

I mean, it'd be one thing to say, yes, there is discrimination, but it's not as bad as other types of discrimination, but there is 100% discrimination against people with conservative viewpoints in some departments, and discrimination in favor of people who are perceived to have liberal/radical ones.
posted by corb at 11:08 AM on April 23


Tonycpsu: I understand the argument it just strikes me as overbroad to apply it here.
posted by Justinian at 11:10 AM on April 23


Bullshit.

Systemic discrimination. Not singular, occasional cases, which -- as with all exceptions -- certainly exist.
posted by cjelli at 11:12 AM on April 23 [15 favorites]


If the general population is 4% Asian and the population at a college is 15% Asian is that a problem?

The problem is exclusion, not inclusion. Asians are historically oppressed in the US. If they environment has changed so that they are no longer excluded from colleges, I don't know that it is surprising that their numbers would go up. I expect after many private clubs stopped excluding Jews, there were suddenly a lot more Jews in those clubs than statistics would have suggested.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:17 AM on April 23


I actually got to sit in on the hiring process of some faculty at the college I went to...

I don't think the Christians, poor white military families, and conservatives in the comment I was responding to were prospective tenure track professors. The topic I was commenting on was admissions and student life, since those are related to the post at all.

Also what cjelli said.
posted by jsturgill at 11:19 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


There is no systemic discrimination against Christians, military families, and/or conservatives by public colleges and universities in America.

Bullshit.


Well, it's bullshit, but in a different way than you claim. Many public universities are required to give special preference to Veteran applicants. So unless the topic suddenly changed to hiring practices when I wasn't looking, you've got the bias exactly backwards as far as is relevant to this discussion. (sorry; edited link because I pasted the wrong one...)
posted by saulgoodman at 11:19 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]


I am also not sure that responding to mountains of statistical evidence with a single anecdote demonstrates anything other than there are a few jerks out there.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:21 AM on April 23 [9 favorites]


"Believing in meritocracy is a manifestation of privilege. 'Merit' doesn't exist a priori. It's evaluated by people in power, according to expectations and standards set by people in power. How you gonna evaluate 'merit' when one kid has tutors and ballet, and another is going to school hungry? And how 'equal' are their schools? How much 'merit' does it take to just get through every day as a Black person in a viciously anti-Black world? People with privilege get everything handed to them on a platter from childhood—and get told they 'earned' it through their 'merit.' And when you're only surrounded by other people of privilege, that privilege becomes invisible, so believing in 'merit' happens."—Dr. Jane Chi

And also, back to bias in law, a study showing that law firm partners, when asked to review a research memo which they were told was written by a white or a black lawyer, judged the same memo as significantly better if they thought it was written by the white man.
posted by jeather at 11:24 AM on April 23 [14 favorites]


The problem is exclusion, not inclusion. Asians are historically oppressed in the US.

Agree but I do think that the problem can be further clarified by the understanding that Asians are not a monolithic group, and further that the problem that matters is societal inequality, and in turn, one prevailing idea/solution amongst progressive-liberal groups is that this societal problem can be addressed through control of the selective "gauntlet" of higher education.
posted by polymodus at 11:27 AM on April 23


Bullshit

Yes, please go ahead and make the case that there have been many decades of systemic and deliberate discrimination in college admissions against Christians, political conservatives, and kids from military families. Women and racial minorities can easily show data of this kind of discrimination.
posted by rtha at 11:29 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


I understand most of you disagree with me, and that's fine. Of course I expected that going in. But the idea that poor whites/conservative whites/Asians are being discriminated against is important to understand, even if you still think AA policies are worthwhile, at least understand these are real costs. I know it's hard to think of conservative Christians from smaller states as not the enemy, but lots of them are just disadvantaged but get no recourse. There is lots working against them, but they don't really get much boost at all. There are reasons these people hate these policies and universities, it reflects their self interest. I am not at *all* part of that culture. But it's so easy to just dismiss them as delusional racist bigoted hicks, rather than thinking "hey these are real people who dislike us, and maybe their reasons for disliking us aren't bullshit? Maybe they have real frustrations which we are just writing off?"

We are now seeing a similar pattern with Asian families, who are getting wise to the fact that the top schools are sick of having so many of them. Now their children need to work harder than any other race to get accepted. After all, who wants more Chinese? We have enough of them, let's cap them in our universities. You *have* to make these choices on the other side of the equation.

Anyway, you are all kind for reading. I know this isn't a popular opinion, and I do hope you are able to give me the benefit of the doubt. I spend a significant amount of my time helping students of all types in life, careers, and schools. I'm not just an internet commenter, I try to spend real time helping one person at a time. So hopefully even if we disagree on this topic, we can agree that if everyone was kinder and dedicated more time selflessly helping others, these issues wouldn't be so depressing and complex.
posted by jjmoney at 11:30 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


I recently distanced myself from a theater conference I have participated in for eight years because of this nonsense idea of merit. They have a long history of favoring male playwrights over female, especially in their "mainstage playwright" category, which are the six plays they judge to be best. Last year, of the six, only one was by a woman. This year, there were none.

They argue that this is simple merit. The plays are judged through a blind reading, so we cannot know whether the playwright is male of female, and it just happens that the best plays are all written by men.

But there are no universal standards for excellence. There is simply the standards you pick. And you're going to pick the standards that make sense to you, blind to how much those standards reflect your own experiences and understanding of the world, and how little they may reflect those who do not share those experiences or standards.

The plays are primarily selected by two middle-aged white men. And so they pick the plays that reflect their interests and worldview, and, unsurprisingly, they are all written by men, all but one white, and all middle aged.

We twist the world to look like us without knowing it, and we claim we do so in service of merit. But when we get to define what merit means, it always seems to be the sorts of merits that people like us have, and people who are not like us lack.

, one prevailing idea/solution amongst progressive-liberal groups is that the problem can be addressed through control of the social "gauntlet" of higher education.

As far as I can tell, it created the black middle class. Is there some evidence that this mechanism of addressing it hasn't done what it was supposed to: Get more minorities in colleges and into jobs where they have historically been excluded, leading to greater opportunities than they would have had otherwise?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:31 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]


rocket88 : Canadian here, so excuse my ignorance of US civics, but my understanding is that the Supreme Court is not asked to judge the merits or impacts of a law, only its constitutionality. If so, what aspect of this law could be considered unconstitutional?

The Court has looked to the practical effects of the law not to judge merits but because they have a held a statute can be unconstitutional if it's discriminatory in practice, even if the lauguage or intent of the law wasn't specifically discriminatory.

There's a somewhat famous case I'm forgetting the name of, but it involved dry cleaners/clothes washing businesses in San Fransisco. The city passed some sort of ordinance (a fire code maybe) that was racially netural on its face but in effect it shut down all the Chinese-owned business and left all the white-owned ones open. They court acknowledged the law wasn't de jure discriminatory, but was was de facto.
posted by spaltavian at 11:32 AM on April 23


As far as I can tell, it created the black middle class. Is there some evidence that this mechanism of addressing it hasn't done what it was supposed to: Get more minorities in colleges and into jobs where they have historically been excluded, leading to greater opportunities than they would have had otherwise?

I completely agree. I don't have objections, except from a proto-Marxist view—i.e. that even these ideas that we [i.e. including me] support, they aren't above reflection and questioning, and hence my deliberate, slightly critical choice of words earlier to describe the idea.
posted by polymodus at 11:35 AM on April 23


corb: And the professor that eventually got hired quite blithely dropped in a cute anecdote about how she couldn't write a recommendation for a totally qualified individual because he supported politics she found immoral and what if he used her recommendation to make his way in the world with those terrible politics? And the department head thought it was funny, and not completely disqualifying.

Are you capable of realizing how incredibly stupid it sounds to hold this up as an example of "discrimination"? Can you really be this obtuse? "Somebody was mean to me" is not discrimination.

There is no systemic discrimination against Christians, military families, and/or conservatives by public colleges and universities in America.
posted by spaltavian at 11:38 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


But the idea that poor whites/conservative whites/Asians are being discriminated against is important to understand

Are you really saying that there is systematic discrimination against conservative whites in the college admissions process?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:39 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


spaltavian: "There's a somewhat famous case I'm forgetting the name of, but it involved dry cleaners/clothes washing businesses in San Fransisco"

Yick Wo v. Hopkins
posted by zarq at 11:39 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


The Court has looked to the practical effects of the law not to judge merits but because they have a held a statute can be unconstitutional if it's discriminatory in practice, even if the lauguage or intent of the law wasn't specifically discriminatory.

Well, Plessy v. Ferguson said that separate facilities for blacks and whites were legal, as long as they were "equal". That stood for 60 years +/-.

Brown v. Board of Education struck that down with the realization that "separate is inherently unequal".
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:44 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


There's a somewhat famous case I'm forgetting the name of, but it involved dry cleaners/clothes washing businesses in San Fransisco. The city passed some sort of ordinance (a fire code maybe) that was racially netural on its face but in effect it shut down all the Chinese-owned business and left all the white-owned ones open. They court acknowledged the law wasn't de jure discriminatory, but was was de facto.

It's Yick Wo, and it's one of my favorites. It's a unanimous opinion from 1886, and unfortunately, was far more progressive than the race-based opinions coming out these days. It's still cited often, though, and is an interesting bit of history not only because of its impact on the development of equal protection/race doctrine, but also in the development of immigration law, because it established that non-citizens have some rights under the Constitution.

(on preview, I see that zarq got to it first.)
posted by likeatoaster at 11:44 AM on April 23


>By looking at the actual numbers, it seems that three of the nine schools listed have seen drops in at least one minority enrollment that seems definitely related to the ban.

Pay attention to the difference in the percentages, not just the raw percentage. It changes the story somewhat.


Not as far as I can tell. Examples?
posted by valkyryn at 11:44 AM on April 23


Are you really saying that there is systematic discrimination against conservative whites in the college admissions process?

Is there? If there is, there shouldn't be. Is there evidence of it? I went to school with a lot of conservative whites, and they never mentioned anything in their admission process that raised any red flags, but it's too small a data set to be useful.

The only evidence I could find of your claim is this 2012 survey, which even the people who did it admit is inconclusive. But that was a quick Google search. I'd be curious to read more.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:45 AM on April 23


I understand most of you disagree with me, and that's fine. Of course I expected that going in. But the idea that poor whites/conservative whites/Asians are being discriminated against is important to understand, even if you still think AA policies are worthwhile, at least understand these are real costs. I know it's hard to think of conservative Christians from smaller states as not the enemy, but lots of them are just disadvantaged but get no recourse. There is lots working against them, but they don't really get much boost at all. There are reasons these people hate these policies and universities, it reflects their self interest. I am not at *all* part of that culture. But it's so easy to just dismiss them as delusional racist bigoted hicks, rather than thinking "hey these are real people who dislike us, and maybe their reasons for disliking us aren't bullshit? Maybe they have real frustrations which we are just writing off?"

These poor disadvantaged whites who hate AA policies do not want to see more Asians enrolled. Meritocracy has a funny way of meaning whatever gets white students in, whatever white means at the time.

I am interested in real information about how poor whites, white military families, white Christians, and white conservative students are handicapped when they apply to colleges. I view them all as part of the cultural mainstream and beneficiaries of substantial privilege. My personal background sees me embedded in all of the above, although my father didn't encourage us to join the military because his brother, who lied about his age to enlist early to fight in Vietnam, died in combat.

This is not to say that there are no handicapps for poor Southerners. A Southern accent is (wrongly) a huge handicap in many professional roles, for example. But I don't believe accent plays a role in college admissions. What does play a role, and how is it hurting these groups? Help me understand.
posted by jsturgill at 11:50 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


There's a somewhat famous case I'm forgetting the name of, but it involved dry cleaners/clothes washing businesses in San Fransisco. The city passed some sort of ordinance (a fire code maybe) that was racially netural on its face but in effect it shut down all the Chinese-owned business and left all the white-owned ones open. They court acknowledged the law wasn't de jure discriminatory, but was was de facto.

Except the court in that case never reached the issue you're saying it decided; they specifically said they had no need to address that issue because the law was administered in a blatantly racist fashion. Basically you had to apply for a license to operate a laundry in a wooden building and more or less all non-Chinese laundries were granted permits while all Chinese laundries were denied them.
posted by Justinian at 11:52 AM on April 23


If the population is, say, eight percent African-American, but the percentage of students is only four percent African-American, something has gone wrong somewhere.And there are two possible conclusions:

1. Black people somehow don't have the aptitude for the college
2. Black people have been excluded somehow


There's a third possible conclusion:

3. Black people have been given sub-standard K-12 education so they're less prepared for college (rather than having less aptitude).

This seems the most likely explanation, and one that might not be remedied by simply admitting more black people to college. I know someone who works at a college which has open enrollment ("all you need is a pulse and a purse") who believes it is downright fraudulent to take tuition money from students who aren't prepared to succeed.

Ivy league schools get so many qualified applicants that they turn away lots of students who could be successful, so they can have affirmative action policies and still only admit minority students who are just as likely to succeed as the other students. I'm not sure that's the case when you get to large state schools like the University of Michigan. Still, it's probably better to err on the side of giving someone a chance at college, better to sometimes take tuition money from students who will fail to graduate than to turn away students who could have graduated.
posted by straight at 11:55 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


3. Black people have been given sub-standard K-12 education so they're less prepared for college (rather than having less aptitude).

For me, that falls under the category of "black people have been excluded somehow." In this case, they have been excluded by being denied a standard of education that their white peers can expect.

Do we have any evidence that students who enter a college as a result of AA are so ill-equipped for college that they aren't prepared to succeed? I saw a study a while ago that suggested they do as well as other students, on average, but I can't seem to find it just now.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:58 AM on April 23


Sahil Kapur: Conservatives Rip Into Sotomayor's 'Legally Illiterate' Dissent On Race
The National Review published an editorial trashing the Obama-appointed justice's blistering dissent as "Orwellian" and "legally illiterate" after the Supreme Court upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action.

"Her opinion is legally illiterate and logically indefensible, and the still-young career of this self-described 'wise Latina' on the Supreme Court already offers a case study in the moral and legal corrosion that inevitably results from elevating ethnic-identity politics over the law," wrote the editors of the influential magazine. "Justice Sotomayor has revealed herself as a naked and bare-knuckled political activist with barely even a pretense of attending to the law, and the years she has left to subvert the law will be a generation-long reminder of the violence the Obama administration has done to our constitutional order."

Appearing on Fox News, Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard said the first Latina justice's lengthy opinion was driven by "emotion."

"This was a decision written by somebody who was writing about emotion," he said, as quoted by the Daily Caller. "It was President Obama's 'empathy standard' — that's what he was looking for when he nominated her, that's what I think he got."
I'm sure that calling a 59yo Latina illiterate, overly emotional, and immature are totally reasoned arguments and not unhinged racism and sexism from the usual suspects. Because, of course, nothing ever is About Race (Or Gender).
posted by zombieflanders at 11:59 AM on April 23 [28 favorites]


What does play a role, and how is it hurting these groups? Help me understand.

I'm not saying there is systematic, intentional discrimination against conservative whites in the entry level college admissions process of many colleges. I think that discrimination, when it appears, tends to be subtler. For example: extra curricular activities are listed on applications. If there are two candidates, and one of them volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, and the other volunteered with the American Legion or their local church group, I think that liberal-leaning academic staff may be unconsciously tempted to support the Habitat for Humanity volunteer, and away from the American Legion volunteer - even though the activities may have been functionally identical.

I'm saying that there is systematic discrimination against visible conservatives in certain fields, particularly the social sciences, which tend to be populated by people of a particular political stripe - liberal or leftist. Much of the discrimination continues as college does. When I was in school, I would do things like write nearly identical essays, one conforming with the professor's biases, the other opposing their biases. On the whole, the essay conforming with the professor's biases would be marked at least a half a grade to a full grade higher than the other, though they were written by the same person and involved the same levels of academic scholarship. I quickly learned that if I wanted to get good grades, I needed to hide any conservative opinions - to "fluff the professor."

This is particularly true in graduate admissions, which tend to be a little bit of a more skewed eye - and some of this relies on the lack of recommendations, etc, engagement with faculty, grades on papers, etc - things that, as the survey shows, are subject to bias. And when you have a faculty that identifies, per Haidt's questioning, as 80% liberal and less than 5% conservative, even if every person, liberal and conservative, acts on that bias, you are actually having quite a bit of bias.
posted by corb at 12:06 PM on April 23


If this is happening, it must be quantifiable. If we're simply going with gut feelings, my gut feeling is that having your local church group or American Legion is no impediment. Every single thing out there that offers suggestions for applying to college recommends putting your church group on there.

I mean, I'm literally an atheist socialist, and I think it is perfectly lovely when people are involved in their church groups.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:10 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


When I was in school, I would do things like write nearly identical essays, one conforming with the professor's biases, the other opposing their biases. On the whole, the essay conforming with the professor's biases would be marked at least a half a grade to a full grade higher than the other, though they were written by the same person and involved the same levels of academic scholarship.

In what kind of class or classes were you able to turn in two nearly-identical essays to do this A:B testing?
posted by straight at 12:10 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


I think that discrimination, when it appears, tends to be subtler.

So, you think something happens, but have nothing but anecdotal evidence for a single person and a single institution whose source (yourself) has an admitted bias? And you have no evidence at all that there has been damage done to any of the groups you mentioned in any way in either the educational fitness or the post-education outcomes for those groups, either by colleges/universities or in general?
posted by zombieflanders at 12:13 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


If there are two candidates, and one of them volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, and the other volunteered with the American Legion or their local church group, I think that liberal-leaning academic staff may be unconsciously tempted to support the Habitat for Humanity volunteer, and away from the American Legion volunteer - even though the activities may have been functionally identical.

Do you have any evidence?

m saying that there is systematic discrimination against visible conservatives in certain fields, particularly the social sciences,

Do you have any evidence?

And if we are going to use random anecdotes to prove our point, I'll just say that being in the military will increase your chances of getting into a relevant PhD program, because the military will fund your education and pay your tuition. I'm waiting for right-wingers to complain about that.

Oh, and these people, IME, aren't discriminated against at all.

This is particularly true in graduate admissions, which tend to be a little bit of a more skewed eye - and some of this relies on the lack of recommendations, etc, engagement with faculty, grades on papers, etc - things that, as the survey shows, are subject to bias. And when you have a faculty that identifies, per Haidt's questioning, as 80% liberal and less than 5% conservative, even if every person, liberal and conservative, acts on that bias, you are actually having quite a bit of bias.

Not in my experience.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:15 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying there is systematic, intentional discrimination...

In your comment here you did exactly that! You said that the claim that there was no systemic discrimination was bullshit!
posted by rtha at 12:16 PM on April 23 [8 favorites]


zombieflanders, that's a typically disgusting National Review article. Note how they still won't let go of the 'wise latina' trope, though they always abandon the context in which she said it with specific reference to Sandra Day O'Connor's repeated use of the words "wise old man" and "wise old woman". And "self-described" is completely disingenuous -- she did not describe herself that way.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:18 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Texas A&M Admin agrees to pay damages for discrimination against conservative students.

Article on Haidt's commentary
“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”...

The fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology have long attracted liberals, but they became more exclusive after the 1960s, according to Dr. Haidt. “The fight for civil rights and against racism became the sacred cause unifying the left throughout American society, and within the academy,” he said, arguing that this shared morality both “binds and blinds.” “If a group circles around sacred values, they will evolve into a tribal-moral community,” he said. “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.” It’s easy for social scientists to observe this process in other communities, like the fundamentalist Christians who embrace “intelligent design” while rejecting Darwinism. But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.
Discrimination suit by conservative law professor

Students sue over discriminatory funding at University of Michigan

Jury backs claim of Conservative professor who was denied promotion
The Adams case was of particular interest to many who charge political bias in the academy because he is a political (and religious) convert. He presented evidence that his faculty colleagues liked him when he was an atheist Democrat, but started to have concerns when he became a Christian Republican.
posted by corb at 12:38 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying there is systematic, intentional discrimination against conservative whites in the entry level college admissions process of many colleges. I think that discrimination, when it appears, tends to be subtler. For example: extra curricular activities are listed on applications. If there are two candidates, and one of them volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, and the other volunteered with the American Legion or their local church group, I think that liberal-leaning academic staff may be unconsciously tempted to support the Habitat for Humanity volunteer, and away from the American Legion volunteer - even though the activities may have been functionally identical.

I think all of the examples you gave are BS filler used by unerachieving students who don't have anything better to say about what they did with their time. I doubt any of it would help unless the student expanded on what they did and why it was important somehow in the application.

Showing up to paint a house for Habitat for Humanity that doesn't really need to be painted, or replacing a few lightbulbs for nice old ladies who don't own step stools, won't impress anyone. Contacting local businesses and arranging for the donation of an additional $18,000 in lumber over the last three summers of your high school career, enough to frame three homes? Now you're talking.

Volunteering at an American Legion doesn't mean squat. Working with the folklore professor at your local community college to gather the oral histories of seven local veterans who saw combat in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, whatever, before they pass away, and then sharing the recordings and transcripts on a website? You'll go far.

No one cares that you babysit congregation members' children during a church service. But if you doubled the size of the church's food bank program by starting a letter writing campaign to local supermarkets and working with radio stations to get free radio spots advertising the program? Now you're talking.

It sounds like you may not have a lot of direct experience about the discrimnation white students experience when they apply to schools, just some thoughts about how it might occur. Do you have any numbers you can point to, or more in-depth research that found some problems?
posted by jsturgill at 12:39 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Re Haidt's findings: Ideas Are Not The Same As Race:
And it's not just the fact that you can choose your ideology, but not your race. Ideologies have a real effect on overall life outlook, which has a direct impact on job choices. Military officers are much more conservative than the population at large; so? (And funny how you don't see opinion pieces screaming "bias" and demanding an effort to redress the imbalance.)

It's particularly troubling to apply some test of equal representation when you'sre looking at academics who do research on the very subjects that define the political divide. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?
posted by tonycpsu at 12:47 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]


corb,

none of that is evidence of systemic discrimination against conservatives in the admissions process. Its evidence that conservatives like to sue universities, for sure, and that they do so with a lot of money and support from national groups.

I should know, I went to Temple.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:49 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


He presented evidence that his faculty colleagues liked him when he was an atheist Democrat, but started to have concerns when he became a Christian Republican.

I don't like Christian Republicans either. They tend to shift goal posts a lot.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:49 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


It looks like academic articles are unsurprisingly paywalled, but for those who have accounts or are willing to pay,

Antireligious prejudice in admissions to doctoral programs in clinical psychology.

Religious Discrimination in Social Work Academic Programs: Whither Social Justice?
posted by corb at 12:49 PM on April 23


religious != conservative
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:51 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Good lord. The amount of misleading conflation (white != religious != conservative), blatant straw-manning ("but you said there was no discrimination!" -- no, nobody said that) and goalpost-moving ("bullshit there's no systemic discrimination!" -- "I'm not saying there is systematic, intentional discrimination") going on here speaks volumes about the scope of the underlying discrimination, to the extent that there is any.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:59 PM on April 23 [10 favorites]


Okay, I would be interested in a FPP looking at the data showing religious discrimination in social work academia, but for now I'm down with discussing this FPP about a ban on affirmative action. From the article:
Proposal 2 limits not only how U-M can consider an applicant's file, but also how the school can offer financial aid packages and scholarships. The school can't target aid to specific races [...]
Just... I mean, they're now restricting the university from offering targeted financial aid packages for minorities? There isn't enough grar in the world.
posted by nicodine at 1:14 PM on April 23


Corb, could you maybe post a more cohesive statement about what these links are meant to demonstrate, and how they relate to affirmative action? Maybe draw the line from point a, to b, to c for me and others who might have a hard time following.
posted by jsturgill at 1:15 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


To expand on my confusion, here's what your posts look like, from the outside:

* Some links show harm done to student groups who are disproportionately funded because of their political views. You've highlighted libertarian and conservative student groups in your links.

* Some links show harm done to professors who are not hired/not promoted due to their religious beliefs. You've highlighted Christian professors in your links.

* Some links show harm done to professors who are not hired/not promoted due to their political beliefs. You've highlighted conservative professors in your links.

I don't think the first set of links are relevant to an affirmative action discussion. I'd still like to hear about admissions discrimination against white students, students from military families, etc., if you have the opportunity or information.

As for the second group, you may be interested in learning that religion is already a protected class, and has been since the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. In many common circumstances, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an applicant, or pass over a current employee for promotion, based on that employee's religion. This allows those professors to sue in a court of law! And if they can make their case, the law is on their side! This is awesome. Women, who also became part of a protected class because of the Civil Rights Act, have had to resort to lawsuits regularly in order to fight for their legal protections. The perfect world we all want hasn't arrived yet, but we're closer than ever.

The law not only protects Christian professors, but also Jewish ones, Muslim professors, and so on. It's a pretty good law. I don't think many people here on MetaFilter disagree with its existence, or applying religious protections fairly to people of all religions.

The last set of links, about discrimination against professors due to their political views, is interesting but maybe not relevant to a discussion about Affirmative Action. If you can make the association clear, it might help.
posted by jsturgill at 1:41 PM on April 23 [7 favorites]


Corb, could you maybe post a more cohesive statement about what these links are meant to demonstrate, and how they relate to affirmative action? Maybe draw the line from point a, to b, to c for me and others who might have a hard time following.

Upthread, some people, including myself, have talked about how affirmative action largely "solves" problems that occur before the students get to the university - that minority students often come from low-income backgrounds, and the conjunction of race and class often mean they suffer sub-par schooling, a more chaotic environment, and a multitude of other factors that make it more difficult for them to have the same college attractiveness and financial ability as other students, even ones from the same income backgrounds. Others have defended affirmative action as saying that it is a necessary thing in order to promote diversity, defined as a proportional representation of the population.

But jjmoney talked upthread about how affirmative action and "diversity" only appear to be valuable to some on certain axes, saying, "There is this modern day solipsism that it is only *really* happening on 5-10 dimensions of race/ethnicity/gender." He (I feel correctly) points out that even though there are enormous diversity gaps, possibly due to discrimination, on other axes - such as political belief, or religious belief, or the rural/urban divide - there aren't a lot of complaints about lack of diversity in those areas. And he posited that it's simply because people don't care about those axes as much, or it falls in line with their biases.

I posted Haidt's work in order to show a theory that would explain that behavior - the tribal-moral community idea - wherein individuals are willing to discriminate in order to keep and preserve the moral community they would like to see, even in the face of contrary evidence. Other articles were posted as evidence of that behavior - that primarily liberal academics would not, in fact, treat conservative students, groups, or professors equally - that their biases would cut across all lines and take place in all areas.

The implication, I suppose, was that I don't think people are really as committed to colleges modeling a diverse population as they might appear to be, and that while this conversation appears to be about diversity, it's not actually about the broad mantle of diversity so much as it is about diversity for a specific group and reparations for that group - which a lot of commenters allude either directly or indirectly to. And if the mantle of diversity is being used simply to advantage one particular group, then it is, in fact, definitively discrimination.
posted by corb at 1:51 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


there aren't a lot of complaints about lack of diversity in those areas

That's because they aren't protected classes, like sexuality, gender, race, religion, etc. I mean this is 101 discrimination level stuff.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:00 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


[Folks, this is kind of a thread about affirmative action and maybe we could keep it to loosely that topic instead of larger complaints about larger issues that seem a little axe-grindy? Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:01 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


We have tools that we've created to resolve problems of discrimination. Protected classes, lawsuits, the EEOC, Affirmative Action, awareness campaigns, forced bussing. These tools all have problems. They are always blunt tools, and their usefulness should be continually evaluated. They often are difficult or expensive to enforce, but on the whole they are actual, real tools. They create change. They are the opposite of sitting still and letting inertia continue to dictate outcomes that are known to be unfair. To some people, doing nothing is morally unacceptable because inaction is also a decision, is also an action. If you can choose another course of action that does less harm, then, some people think, you should do so.

Perhaps, if there is an unaddressed problem with discrimination that upsets you, a good solution might be to use these tools to address that problem, and/or to create additional tools to address different kinds of discrimination and oppression that these tools aren't suited to take on.

Think of it as America building a flood wall against the waters of discrimination. Some counties aren't inside the wall, and you don't like that. You could argue to expand the wall to include them. Others may argue that they're pretty hilly counties, and they don't need the flood wall anyway. Or you could try to destroy the flood-wall program and not provide any constructive alternatives for those living on the flood plains--flood plains that the people were violently forced to settle on generations ago, by those living on the hills.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, at least I didn't go for a sports or car analagy.
posted by jsturgill at 2:13 PM on April 23 [10 favorites]


I'd love to see data showing that there has been such a degree of legal and systematic discrimination in college admissions against conservative white Christians that it rises to the level of needing affirmative action to remedy it. I would also love to see a ceasing of goalpost-shifting and gut-based handwaving. I will not hold my breath for either.
posted by rtha at 2:46 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


> The plays are primarily selected by two middle-aged white men. And so they pick the plays that reflect their interests and worldview, and, unsurprisingly, they are all written by men, all but one white, and all middle aged

As pointed out on Twitter (by a few people, I don't know who was the first): There are more cats presenting at #Bookcon (@BookExpoAmerica) than POC: http://www.thebookcon.com/guests/
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:41 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I tried explaining to my dad why Affirmative Action is justifiable, and all I get is the normal talking point: "Cultivate a culture where you make a person constantly feel like a victim and don't encourage them to become self-sufficient, and you will have a guaranteed, perpetual voter base."
So in his world, blacks are made to feel victimized somehow, disincentivized to be self-sufficient all to keep electing democrats. One big conspiracy I guess.
Where do I even begin?!
More and more I find that I can't even talk to these people--even family. If they think the sky is green, but that you're the one who is wrong about its color, where do you begin?!
posted by whatgorilla at 4:00 PM on April 23


Cultivate a culture where you make a person constantly feel like a victim and don't encourage them to become self-sufficient, and you will have a guaranteed, perpetual voter base

I've been starting get these lines from relatives and family friends. I would love to see an article that sheds light on this type of outlook—on the one hand I would very much enjoy knowing a rigorous/technical counter-argument that can dismantle these sentiments into the conservatism that it is expressing, yet on the other hand I'm willing to acknowledge that lines like these contain valid concerns and truths; it's just that they're conveyed in a way that make you and I go "Whaa…?"
posted by polymodus at 4:43 PM on April 23


I'd love to see data showing that there has been such a degree of legal and systematic discrimination in college admissions against conservative white Christians that it rises to the level of needing affirmative action to remedy it.

That's the shell game, summed up: these policies are not about creating Platonically "fair" processes that treat everyone the same, advantaging or disadvantaging no group in particular; they are about ensuring that categorially-parsed outcomes are equitable in cases where the category itself should have no reasonable bearing on the outcome but nonetheless does. In other words, for there to be affirmative action or equal funding for whites, Christians, and conservatives, there'd need to be a statistically significant problem of short- and long-term outcomes for large numbers of people in those categories.

Since there is no visible problem of "unreasonable bearing" outcomes on any scale other than the anecdotal -- and probably not even there, most of the time -- there's no need for any special large-scale process to address a nonexistent problem. It may be that conservatives and fundamentalists do not gain entry to certain professions as easily as others, but these are professions where viewpoints and cultural assumptions *do* have a direct bearing on the work being done; you also find very few socialists or Marxists in the business and engineering schools, and I hardly think corb would demand a program to address that.

More broadly, I'd wager you'll find few leftists dominating a wide range non-academic professions -- is ideological affirmative action needed there, as well? If it's a problem that the conservative student group can't get the same funding as the pro-affirmative action student group, why isn't it a problem that Pfizer gives a lot more money to the pharmacology program than the humanities, or that the English department's budget is smaller than that of the school of law?

It's a fallacy of equivocation, in the end, where conservatives and libertarians switch out the meaning of words like "fair" and "equitable" so that they refer, not to real historical situations and real outcomes, but instead to some imagined world where contemporary processes occur ex nihilo without looking behind or ahead to see the causes or the results of any unequal outcomes that may result. It's the same thinking that allows people to pretend that "The Market" is a set of natural laws unaffected by historical circumstance, but rather that it deals entirely with the equivalent of spherical cows in a vacuum.
posted by kewb at 4:50 PM on April 23 [13 favorites]


Yeah, when I try to calmly talk, I inevitably can't go on when I'm hit with something like, "Most blacks never voted in their lives until 2008...even Ray Charles can see that!"
posted by whatgorilla at 4:53 PM on April 23


Cultivate a culture where you make a person constantly feel like a victim

Or you could just sit back and let the existing culture - the one where quantifiable systemic discrimination exists - keep certain people under its heel as actual victims of bias and discrimination.

This argument (I use the term loosely) is in the "when did you stop beating your wife" category, and it's really best to not let the people making it set the terms. They want to argue that that institutionalized discrimination simply doesn't exist anymore, so remedies to it are not only unnecessary, they're harmful to the very people they try to help!

Which is bullshit. There's a thread a couple doors down about implicit racial and gender bias in academia - the paper is very interesting, multiple people (both in the thread and externally) agree that the experiment is solid, and yet many people still want to find ways to explain the results that are not because of racism or sexism. Like racism or sexism are these really rare, fringe things that happen, and/or only horrible people have those attitudes, and they have them on purpose.
posted by rtha at 5:02 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Cultivate a culture where you make a person constantly feel like a victim and don't encourage them to become self-sufficient, and you will have a guaranteed, perpetual voter base

Irony is when an evangelical conservative tells you this.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:09 PM on April 23 [7 favorites]


corb: And the professor that eventually got hired quite blithely dropped in a cute anecdote about how she couldn't write a recommendation for a totally qualified individual because he supported politics she found immoral and what if he used her recommendation to make his way in the world with those terrible politics? And the department head thought it was funny, and not completely disqualifying.

spaltavian: Are you capable of realizing how incredibly stupid it sounds to hold this up as an example of "discrimination"? Can you really be this obtuse? "Somebody was mean to me" is not discrimination.


There is no systemic discrimination against Christians, military families, and/or conservatives by public colleges and universities in America. I agree. But of course corb's story is an example of discrimination. If a professor refused to write a letter of recommendation for somebody because they were black, it would be discrimination; this professor refused because the asker was conservative, and that's also discrimination. It's just not systemic discrimination (afaik there's no pattern of this sort of thing).
posted by joannemerriam at 5:15 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]


It's weird when proponents of all-against-all philosophies then think that victimhood requires a change in policy.
posted by klangklangston at 5:44 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Me: Racism is really bad. Let's do something to help the situation.

A Conservative: You're right! Racism is really bad! But you know what's worse? Reverse Racism!

Me: Really? I was talking about centuries of oppression with tens of thousands of documented examples and considerable data and research about causes and effects both overt and insidious.

A Conservative: Yes! And also one time someone said something, and another person agreed, and what they were saying conflicted with my political viewpoint!

Me: Really. Someone said something to you -

A Conservative: No. Not to me. They were talking to each other.

[Curtain]

Ya know if the thread were about faculty bias against conservative ideology (and actually the direction of this antipathy really runs the other way, given that the conservative movement in this country is more powerful than academia and also stridently anti-intellectual), I would be happy to let those kinds of comments stand. I would even allow for some sympathy.

But to compare some trivial disagreement you witnessed or some experience you had with a myopic professor to actual racism is grotesque.

Also, the idea that there is systemic discrimination against Christians or military family or conservative students at the level of admissions is so laughable as to be farcical. I have taught at two different public universities and at BOTH OF THEM, the President himself* addressed the faculty and told us that they were going to increase the admissions and recruitment efforts to bring veterans into the student body.

* And yes I used "himself" because both university presidents in my examples are white males. One of whom I am referring to is an Army veteran.
posted by Slothrop at 5:46 PM on April 23 [8 favorites]


I can understand the argument for giving an admissions bonus to people whose ancestors were selected against for many generations — that this can be a temporary corrective imposed bias, and can bootstrap a new generation to equality.

Unfortunately, there are some serious problems with implementing affirmative action using bonuses or quotas. By admitting people who are less qualified than their peers, you are (1) setting these people up to fail; (2) forcing professors to cater to less advanced student body, which reduces the value for everyone else; (3) creating resentment from people who feel that their rejection from a school might have been due to affirmative action; and (4) encouraging a prejudice against the racial group as not being deserving of their admission.

(This last point, I have seen first-hand when a girlfriend refused to go to talks by women arguing that they were consistently a waste of time!)

A much better way of implementing affirmative is the way large companies do it: you invest the time and money in sifting through people whose networks or socio-economic status hinders their making a good application to the school, but who are nevertheless just as qualified as the other admitted applicants. This is the kind of affirmative action that is much more palatable to everyone. It suffers from none of the problems above.

To go a step further, to really achieve the goals of affirmative action, what is really needed is better access to education starting from a much younger age. That means more public education funding for smaller class sizes with better teachers. Unfortunately, this is expensive, and doesn't produce results in a four-year election cycle. It is also probably the only thing that will really work.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:21 PM on April 23


By admitting people who are less qualified than their peers

I assume you're referring to all the generations of white legacy admits and athletes we've seen, right? Because those poor kids, no one ever expresses any concern about how everyone is going to look all side-eye at them because they got in on the strength of daddy's (or mommy's) checkbook and not the their grades or scores. So sad, the resentment and mockery they face. Won't someone think of the legacies?
posted by rtha at 7:28 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


> By admitting people who are less qualified than their peers

I question this. You're presuming that the people admitted through affirmative action programs who wouldn't be admitted without them are less qualified. One point of affirmative action, as I understand it, is that there isn't a fair way to tell who is qualified.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:28 PM on April 23 [7 favorites]


I question this. You're presuming that the people admitted through affirmative action programs who wouldn't be admitted without them are less qualified.

First of all, there are many kinds of affirmative action as I pointed out. If we're talking about the kind where race can be factor in admission, that's exactly how it's supposed to be used: to admit people who otherwise wouldn't be admitted.

If you think that "there isn't a fair way to tell who is qualified" — surely, that's up to the school to figure out as well as possible who's qualified. After all, it's in their best interest to admit the best students.

Won't someone think of the legacies?

rtha, let's not resort to jokey comments. It comes across as ignorant and reductive. I made four (numbered) points. Your comment has nothing to do with any of them except maybe the fourth, and even then: If you mean that no one will show up to an academic talk by someone on a football scholarship, I think we both know that yes, no one would.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:02 PM on April 23


I come off as ignorant and reductive? You told an anecdote about a girlfriend who wouldn't go hear women speakers like that's supposed to prove how harmful affirmative action is to women and minorities? Are you kidding me?

As to the rest of your points:

They all rest on an assumption that students admitted with some benefit from affirmative action are not qualified and that is something you have not demonstrated. You haven't - can't, actually - show that someone given points towards their admission because of their race or economic status is less qualified than someone given points towards admission because of their community service hours or being head of their school paper.

If you think that "there isn't a fair way to tell who is qualified" — surely, that's up to the school to figure out as well as possible who's qualified. After all, it's in their best interest to admit the best students.

Colleges are building forests, not looking for individually perfect trees. Who are you to tell them that "the best" can't possibly include students whose race or gender brings something that the school values? It's nice that you want on one hand to declare that it should be up to the school to decide who's qualified, but on the other, they must only use criteria *you* decide is acceptable.

Pick one.

p.s., people given points because of their race can also be head of their school paper, a varsity athlete, and a solid, longtime volunteer for a local charity.
posted by rtha at 8:21 PM on April 23 [8 favorites]


A classmate of mine wrote this book, The Gatekeepers, about the admissions process for highly selective liberal arts colleges (he focused on one, Wesleyan (the one in Connecticut)). It's more than a decade old now, but I'm betting that the process is still more art than science.
posted by rtha at 8:26 PM on April 23


Colleges are building forests, not looking for individually perfect trees.

This may be a difference between a liberal arts degree and a science degree. In a science program, if one person is getting points for academic accomplishments like contest scores and grades (proven success — not community service and managing a school paper), and another is getting points for race, then it's clear who will probably prove more successful.

Why not fix the problem at the root: elementary school education? Why wait until university when it's probably too late?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:43 PM on April 23


Why not fix the problem at the root: elementary school education? Why wait until university when it's probably too late?

1) Point out a comment that argues for college-level affirmative action to the exception of elementary-school reform of any kind

2) Why not do college-level affirmative action until such time as elementary-school reform, a vastly complicated task, is achieved
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:54 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


2) Why not do college-level affirmative action until such time as elementary-school reform, a vastly complicated task, is achieved

Is it "vastly complicated"? You just fund it and hire more teachers. Divert some of $680 billion spent on the military towards the $68 billion spent on education (probably disproportionately in richer neighborhoods) and spend it evenly by student.

I'm arguing for this as an alternative to college-level affirmative action for the four reasons I gave.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:05 PM on April 23


What is a "pattern of speech popularly associated with black culture"? Do you mean something like ebonics, or something that doesn't accord with standard English grammar? If so, that's not appropriate on a standardized test for attorneys and it should be marked down.

It is a critical legal skill to be able to discern what diction is appropriate in what circumstance.


Well, but who has decided "what diction is appropriate in what circumstance", and... what race, class do you think those decisions benefit? Why should "standard English grammar", which is a loaded phrase in itself, be privileged? What sets ebonics aside from and below this "standard English grammar"?

I just don't think that the exclusion of language as "inappropriate" for a setting happens independently of the exclusion of groups from that setting.
posted by lwb at 9:27 PM on April 23


You just fund it and hire more teachers.

Dude, that's the complicated part.

Divert some of $680 billion spent on the military towards the $68 billion spent on education

Like, for example, military money is Federal money, public education money is state, county and city money - at least in who decides how it's allocated. Even besides any philosophical debate about state sovereignty vs. Federal power (which was actually kind of the point of this Supreme Court case), simply on a practical level we're talking about two or more entirely different government entities, and you can't just magically whisk cash from one to the other.

I certainly agree with your point about improving pre-college public education for everybody, but you're being really hand-wavey about how that might actually happen here in the real world.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:30 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier, I think you're discounting the difficulties of education reform a bit too readily. Everyone wants to do things for the children, everyone says education is important to them, but no one agrees on solutions. Many solutions that are put forward actually weaken the system as a whole, such as vouchers for private education. No one wants to pay the taxes that would be necessary. Cultural issues get in the way as well; we can't agree on curriculum, and in the great state of California, teachers are forbidden to instruct students in their native language if it happens to be something other than English. Massive problems abound.

And it's not just schools that cause a difference. Inner city kids growing up in war zones are disproportionately people of color. No matter how much you try to make up the gap, there is a fundamental difference between a teen with PTSD and a teen without.

Then there is the allocation of resources. Impoverished communities of color have been systematically underserved when it comes to building out basic tax-funded infrastructure: electricity and gas lines, buses and light rail, schools and parks. The entire environment within which many poor people of color live is fundamentally different from the environment on the other side of the tracks, even if that other environment is also poor.

Also, prison and the war on drugs.

To actually level the playing field would require decades and generations with entirely reworked environments, not just a single generation with good teachers. Epigenetic effects can have measurable impacts for generations; the classic example is the Dutch Hunger Winter. Arguably the entire history of slavery, Jim Crow, etc., is another example.

There is certainly more going on than a lack of funding for public schools.

Affirmative Action is a wildly practical solution that is wicked cost effective. I'm genuinely surprised that the sharp conservative business minds don't recognize its benefits. It provides a tangible metric that is difficult or impossible to game. It is extremely low cost to implement compared to the alternative of actually fixing the fundamental issues prior to college admission, and it requires very few alterations to existing workflows.

To just show up in a thread like this and say the solution is simple: fix the lower levels of education and college will sort itself out, is like saying the solution to the deficit is simple. Simply capture a unicorn and convert its rainbow farts into gold, and we can all live happily ever after without taxes, right?
posted by jsturgill at 9:37 PM on April 23 [10 favorites]


This may be a difference between a liberal arts degree and a science degree. In a science program, if one person is getting points for academic accomplishments like contest scores and grades (proven success — not community service and managing a school paper), and another is getting points for race, then it's clear who will probably prove more successful.

Don't hurt yourself moving those goalposts, now.

The vast majority of college-bound kids are going to liberal arts colleges and universities, and those colleges and universities educate the vast majority of science majors. Admissions at schools like MIT and Cal Tech are not made solely on the basis of grades and test scores.

Can you give some links to science programs for undergraduates that in their admissions process do not consider extra curricular activities, or anything beyond grades and test scores? Assuming these exist, what percent of college-bound students do these schools attract and educate, compared to the whole?
posted by rtha at 9:40 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Affirmative Action is a wildly practical solution that is wicked cost effective.

How does it achieve this? It seems like to be effective, you are counting on people being admitted to schools having better economic success, which then becomes more success for their children, including more of their children going to college, and so on… So, it seems like a multi-generation solution as well.

the solution is simple: fix the lower levels of education and college will sort itself out…unicorns…

Is it so crazy? Health care reform was passed. Who saw that coming? I don't see why education reform is "capturing unicorns". It's expensive, but there are plenty of peripheral effects to smaller classes like mitigating dropping-out and the associated reduction in poverty and crime spending associated with drop-outs.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:48 PM on April 23


Well, but who has decided "what diction is appropriate in what circumstance", and... what race, class do you think those decisions benefit? Why should "standard English grammar", which is a loaded phrase in itself, be privileged? What sets ebonics aside from and below this "standard English grammar"?

I just don't think that the exclusion of language as "inappropriate" for a setting happens independently of the exclusion of groups from that setting.


Are you serious? Yeah, sure white people have decided, over the course of time, what is proper english and what isn't, but guess what? that is just society. Every human society has class markers and distinctions. If you sound like some uneducated poor white person and try to use that language and grammar on the bar I bet you won't pass either.

However, one the great things about the US (at least in theory) is that ANYONE can study and work at becoming whatever they want to. Is it harder for someone from a poor family without access to some of the needed tools harder? sure it is, and even harder if you aren't the right skin color. BUT lowering the standards isn't the answer, for anyone. We aren't going to end up with a better society that way. The answer is to help people up, not drive everyone down in the quest for equality. Have you ever read Harrison Bergeron?
posted by bartonlong at 9:59 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Is it so crazy? Health care reform was passed. Who saw that coming? I don't see why education reform is "capturing unicorns". It's expensive, but there are plenty of peripheral effects to smaller classes like mitigating dropping-out and the associated reduction in poverty and crime spending associated with drop-outs.

Yes, it is crazy. I think it is crazy, anyway, and I gave some reasons as to why in my post. I think they are good, persuasive, solid reasons that spell out why it's crazy to believe your solution is 1) simple to implement and 2) sufficient for major change when it comes to certain minority groups being represented in college and the workforce.

I agree that schools need to be improved. I agree with spending money to make it happen. I agree that the benefits of doing so would be massive and well worth it.

It's the other stuff I disagree with.
posted by jsturgill at 9:59 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Is it so crazy? Health care reform was passed. Who saw that coming?

Unsatisfactory health-care reform which stupidly largely preserved the healthcare insurance industry's place in the economy, and which is sabotaged at every turn by politicians and others who steadfastly oppose anything that could give the poor something resembling a fair shot - much as lower-level education reform would be incremental, unsatisfactory, and liable to constant interference from its opponents. And it would definitely, definitely have opponents. These reforms would be no easy thing to carry out.

On preview, jsturgill is right. You are not addressing his objections to your idea that primary education reform would be easy.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:04 PM on April 23 [4 favorites]


"This may be a difference between a liberal arts degree and a science degree. In a science program, if one person is getting points for academic accomplishments like contest scores and grades (proven success — not community service and managing a school paper), and another is getting points for race, then it's clear who will probably prove more successful."

Oh, bullshit. This sort of thing only flies around people who don't know anyone doing research science, the idea that it's a pure meritocracy with no influence from more pervasive structural biases. Most famous example? Rosalind Franklin.

Or, hey, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
posted by klangklangston at 10:08 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


And when you have a faculty that identifies, per Haidt's questioning, as 80% liberal and less than 5% conservative, even if every person, liberal and conservative, acts on that bias, you are actually having quite a bit of bias.

If your argument is that about 80% of graduate faculty are liberal and that people act on their biases then why not recognize that about 70% of the US is white and also acts on their biases? The "unfairness" of affirmative action pales against the systemic unfairness that minorities in this country encounter when it comes to school funding, the legal system, employment, lending practices, income disparity and encounters with the police. Merciful heavens, they want to let a few more Blacks and Hispanics into the freshman class!
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:55 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]




Admissions at schools like MIT and Cal Tech are not made solely on the basis of grades and test scores.

True enough. But I think Cal Tech approaches the admissions process differently than MIT and all other elite schools. They do--I think--place more emphasis on test scores and grades compared to the other schools and they appear to be inflexible on that front. They are not into legacies who don't meet their objective bar and while they try to recruit diverse students, they won't relax the bar to achieve specific proportions. In 2008, 40% of the incoming class at Cal Tech was Asian--way way above the percentage at all other elite schools which clusters around 15%. Less than 1% were non-Hispanic black and less than 6% were Hispanic. Here is the data that compares CalTech to the others.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:44 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, there are some serious problems with implementing affirmative action using bonuses or quotas.

Quotas are unconstitutional in the US, so you must be referencing another country.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:24 AM on April 24


However, one the great things about the US (at least in theory) is that ANYONE can study and work at becoming whatever they want to.

That is great in theory.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:21 AM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Well, maybe Michigan affirmative action for white male Christians. It seems they're unfairly discriminated against across the board. This must be why there are so few of them in positions of leadership.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:21 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Are you serious? Yeah, sure white people have decided, over the course of time, what is proper english and what isn't, but guess what? that is just society.

Very serious. "that is just society" is a cop out. We make progress by acknowledging and examining these processes. Not so long ago it was equally true that white people had decided, over the course of time, who should be allowed to vote or go to particular schools and who shouldn't, and (I hope) you wouldn't dismiss that as "just society".

lowering the standards isn't the answer, for anyone. We aren't going to end up with a better society that way.

This kind of thinking is exactly what I'm talking about. What makes ebonics a "lower standard" except for the association with black culture? Why wouldn't a society in which common vernaculars are considered equally valid be a better society? Why would the better society be the one in which black Americans adopted a 'whiter' vernacular? These are assumptions worth unpacking, is all I'm saying.
posted by lwb at 8:38 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]




Just for the benefit of anyone reading the thread, "ebonics" is a deprecated term. If you don't want to sound like a right-wing radio host making fun of the idea, you should use "African-American Vernacular English," "AAVE," etc.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:52 AM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Thank you for that!
posted by lwb at 9:02 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Quotas are unconstitutional in the US, so you must be referencing another country.

I'm curious about this, actually. From my understanding, the existence of a lower proportion of minority individuals in a school or profession is often taken as evidence of discrimination, even if no intent of discrimination was there. Given that, isn't there an implicit quota on a par with population? Or what, more precisely, do you mean?
posted by corb at 10:20 AM on April 24


isn't there an implicit quota on a par with population?

Explicit quotas are unconstitutional. Implicit quotas are what everyone is fighting about.
posted by jessamyn at 10:41 AM on April 24


Given that, isn't there an implicit quota on a par with population? Or what, more precisely, do you mean?

Explicit quotas, in the sense being used here, haven't been legal in the United States since 1978; see Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which held that having a strict -- say, requiring that n out of x applicants much be black -- isn't allowable, but considering the race of applicants as part of the application process is fine.
posted by cjelli at 10:47 AM on April 24


s/applicants/admitted students/
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:51 AM on April 24


I'm not really comfortable with describing the act of taking race into account as a factor in admissions as "implicit quotas." "Quota" implies a specific number that's meant to be achieved, while I think affirmative action just means "more", not any particular target number. I'd be very surprised if any institutions ran things in such a way that they were aiming for a given percentage of URM representation, even implicitly.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:52 AM on April 24 [3 favorites]


s/applicants/admitted students/

Yes, that, thanks. And just outside the edit window, too.
posted by cjelli at 10:53 AM on April 24


I'd be very surprised if any institutions ran things in such a way that they were aiming for a given percentage of URM representation, even implicitly.

In Grutter v. Bollinger, the "critical mass" of URM students certainly looked like an implicit quota, where about the same percentages of URM students are admitted each year.
posted by gyc at 11:54 AM on April 24


“There are definitely not quotas,” said Parke P. Muth, a former associate dean of admissions and director of international admissions at the University of Virginia. “A quota is an exact number, and no school is ever going to have a quota because they know it is illegal. Now, they may have a goal, and a goal is not a quota. That is where you get into semantics.”

In 2011, the New York Times reported that demographic statistics for Harvard’s enrollment over nearly two decades may indicate an Asian “quota” in Harvard’s admissions policies. According to the Times, 20.6 percent of Harvard’s undergraduate enrollment in 1993 identified themselves as Asian Americans, but has remained around 16.5 percent over most of the last decade. However, the number of college-age Asian Americans nearly doubled in that same time period.
This is a bald-faced admission of an implied quote. Maybe it's easier for some people to stomach race-based discrimination towards blacks and hispanics when it's coming at the expense of asians?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:19 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Yes, it is crazy. I think it is crazy, anyway, and I gave some reasons as to why in my post. I think they are good, persuasive, solid reasons that spell out why it's crazy to believe your solution is 1) simple to implement and 2) sufficient for major change when it comes to certain minority groups being represented in college and the workforce.

I think this is the problem. What the point of having "certain minority groups being represented in college and the workforce"? Do you have any idea what it's like to teach a class where some students have clearly been failed by their earlier education and to know that you have to maintain a pace that these students will not be able to maintain? Do you know what it's like to work with people who cannot do their jobs as you sit through meetings patiently waiting for them to catch up? This idea that we simply force equal representation does not repair social inequity. It just causes a lot of pain for everyone and hides the real problem.

Do you think these students will go on to do graduate degrees? Do you think they will perform best in their interviews? Or do you think they will end up with a lot of student debt and fewer prospects than their classmates: a cruel fate.

Also, I disagree with your assessment that it is cheaper. A college education (including all subsidies) costs, what, $100, 000? How far would that kind of money go to more elementary school teachers and high school teachers (and their professional development)? So for every individual unqualified admitted student, you could hire how many new teachers?

Then there is the allocation of resources. Impoverished communities of color have been systematically underserved…

Yes, I agree, and that is where you have to start. Everything else is a stupid distraction.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:30 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Do you know what it's like to work with people who cannot do their jobs as you sit through meetings patiently waiting for them to catch up?

I do! Now, what does this have to do with black people?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:38 PM on April 24 [6 favorites]


Or do you think they will end up with a lot of student debt and fewer prospects than their classmates: a cruel fate.

You're seriously advocating not letting people into college for their own good as the fair angle here?
posted by Etrigan at 1:42 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: You're seriously advocating not letting people into college for their own good as the fair angle here?

That's the whole premise of the Richard Sander "mismatch" theory cited above. I think it's bullshit, and I linked to some experts who called his methods into question, but that's actually the concern troll-ish road they've gone down with this.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:50 PM on April 24 [3 favorites]


What the point of having "certain minority groups being represented in college and the workforce"?

Wasn't there a recent fpp with a link to research about the value that people from different backgrounds bring when it comes to solving problems?

Your constant equation of minority groups with people who are not just incompetent but incapable is really disturbing, btw, your upthread handwave about there being different kinds of affirmative action notwithstanding.

Yes, I agree, and that is where you have to start. Everything else is a stupid distraction.

Everyone else here wants to fix early childhood educational opportunities as well as working for and with people who are not children right this minute anymore. You seem to just want to give up on everyone over the age of five (10? 18?) until we can make perfect pre-K and elementary schools. Good luck with that policy here in this universe.
posted by rtha at 2:19 PM on April 24 [5 favorites]


I think this is the problem. What the point of having "certain minority groups being represented in college and the workforce"? Do you have any idea what it's like to teach a class where some students have clearly been failed by their earlier education and to know that you have to maintain a pace that these students will not be able to maintain?

They've been failed by their parents, their community, their local government, their state government, and the federal government. They've also been failed by history and geography. They've been failed by their diet and their friends. They've been failed by everyone and everything. The public school system, as overburdenned as it often is, is also often a shining beacon of hope and non-suckiness compared to the dysfunction they're surrounded by everywhere else in their lives.

Meanwhile, you seem to be seriously suggesting that the only problem is crappy K-12 schools, which will be simple, non-contentious, and cheap to fix.

How will you fix them? What will the curriculum look like? Will there be arts programs? Sports? How much control will be local? Will increased expenditures come from sales tax, property tax, state income tax, federal income tax, gambling revenue, pot legalization? Is it important to bust teachers' unions? Why? What should the ratio of admin to teaching staff be? Is class size really important? Should there be free lunches? Free, intensive counseling and free health care for students? Why or why not? Should classes be mandated to be in English? Even if these American citizens are ESL students? What percentage of the school day can be in their primary language? When do you teach sex ed and how do you teach it? Should problematic students be isolated, condemning them to worse outcomes, or integrated, so that they improve while dragging their classmates down half a notch? Should school uniforms be mandated nationally? Locally? Ever? Why or why not? Does Texas have too much control over textbooks? What are the alternatives? Are computer skills important? How do you teach computer literacy when none of the students have computers at home? Are standardized tests necessary? Why do countries elsewhere have better outcomes with fewer standardized tests and larger class sizes?

Why do you think change will be simple and cheap? Why do you think you even know what needs to be done?

Do you know what it's like to work with people who cannot do their jobs as you sit through meetings patiently waiting for them to catch up? This idea that we simply force equal representation does not repair social inequity. It just causes a lot of pain for everyone and hides the real problem.

The idea isn't to hire incompetent idiots who happen to have a certain ethnicity. It's about hiring competent people of diverse backgrounds.

Diverse groups solve more problems better than elite groups. A group consisting only of elites is a group primed for failure.

Also, I disagree with your assessment that it is cheaper. A college education (including all subsidies) costs, what, $100, 000? How far would that kind of money go to more elementary school teachers and high school teachers (and their professional development)? So for every individual unqualified admitted student, you could hire how many new teachers?

You could hire 1.5, or maybe 2 entry level teachers for one year for $100,000. What do you do for the next year? And the next? To fully fund a single teacher for their entire career costs... well, way more than $100,000.

And the average burden in loans for college graduates is closer to $30,000, not $100,000.

Do you think these students will go on to do graduate degrees? Do you think they will perform best in their interviews? Or do you think they will end up with a lot of student debt and fewer prospects than their classmates: a cruel fate.

You are so wrong about the worth of these degrees, but so sure in your wording, that I'm finding it hard to decide how to respond.
posted by jsturgill at 3:10 PM on April 24 [8 favorites]


Your constant equation of minority groups with people who are not just incompetent but incapable is really disturbing, btw, your upthread handwave about there being different kinds of affirmative action notwithstanding.

Isn't that what we're talking about? We are talking about giving an admissions bonus based on race. So, there are two groups of people: one who is being admitted who wouldn't have otherwise been admitted (A) and one who is displaced who would otherwise have been admitted (B).

Like I said, it's one thing to expend energy searching for people who would be admitted but make poor applications or don't apply. It's another thing to displace people in group B for people in group A. I personally find the possibility of racial quotas to maintain an "Asian quota" repugnant and pernicious.

Why do you think change will be simple and cheap?

I never said it would be cheap. My hypothesis is that you get better results the earlier you invest.

And the average burden in loans for college graduates is closer to $30,000, not $100,000.

We're talking about the cost to the system, which includes subsidies paid to a college.

You are so wrong about the worth of these degrees, but so sure in your wording, that I'm finding it hard to decide how to respond.

You may be right, but unfortunately this is a very poor study. You are trying to reason counterfactually: what would happen with and without bonuses. What you need to do is to take students in groups A and B. Randomly admit them or reject them. And compare outcomes of admitted versus rejected students within each group. Then, you can conclude how effective admissions bonuses are.

(E.g., in the above study, we don't know if the people of color who have degrees would have been admitted anyway, and are simply brilliant students in their community who are not at all benefitting from admissions bonuses.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:35 PM on April 24


[Folks, this would be a good time to try to move past the "debate with a single user" track we seem to be on. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad at 3:54 PM on April 24


Isn't that what we're talking about? We are talking about giving an admissions bonus based on race. So, there are two groups of people: one who is being admitted who wouldn't have otherwise been admitted (A) and one who is displaced who would otherwise have been admitted (B).

That you think this is the entirety of affirmative action programs (all of them! everywhere!) is telling. I guess if I'd been paying closer attention I would have seen your oversimplification of this set of very complex and complicated policies and bowed out long ago. As it is, you've spent the entire thread assuming every mefite here who's been the recipient of some form of affirmative action (and I know I'm not the only one, since I am not the only person of color or woman in this thread, and while we may not *all* have gotten some benefit of the doubt via affirmative action along the way, more than one of us certainly has) obviously less competent than white men. Overdue though it is, I'm out.
posted by rtha at 4:04 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, you seem to be seriously suggesting that the only problem is crappy K-12 schools, which will be simple, non-contentious, and cheap to fix.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that. Just because that's the only thing that might work, doesn't mean that it would be easy - or even politically possible without either enormous tax raises, or significant cuts to other programs.

If you were to truly and perfectly equalize - attempting to erase the impact of generational poverty and the environment and being raised by people who are equally uneducated or undereducated - it would be an enormous, enormous expenditure. You would need to provide not just free breakfast and lunch - and the free breakfast and lunches served at schools would have to be improved - but free breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You would need to hire additional teaching staff and make afterschool hours, with tutors, free. You would need to have the school nurse a qualified physician able to prescribe, as well as having multiple psychologists and at least one psychiatrist on staff, all of whose services would not cost money to access. You would need to have clothing donations on hand and available for everyone interested in them. You'd probably need to make it either a boarding school - which would honestly be the best - or provide dormitories for students to sleep in when they felt like their home was unsafe or unstable to return to. You would need to acquire peer mentors from other schools to be able to spend time at the afterschool, for students to get an idea of age appropriate behavior and language. You would need to purchase books for each student - not just their schoolbooks, but lots of books, to read at home. You would need to pay for fun and interesting weekend programs. You'd need to hire a lot more aides and guides as well as paraprofessionals.

It would probably cost as much, per child, as a mid-range college, at best projections.

There's no way this would be un-contentious. If you raise people's taxes in order to account for that high an increase in the quality of a large number of schools, you're going to largely be raising taxes on those who can afford to pay that much money, which is people whose kids aren't even going to those schools. They, in turn, would likely demand that if they are going to be paying those taxes, that every school have equal access to all of these programs, thus making the thing even more prohibitively expensive to build. Cuts will likely be demanded. But where are you going to cut? Whichever way you cut, you're going to be pitting children against parents - and it's not going to be the idealized version of parents who are all willing to sacrifice for their children.

That doesn't mean, though, that it's not the thing that needs to be done. It just means it can't currently realistically be done.
posted by corb at 7:29 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Elementary school is too late. Pre-K education not only helps equalize disadvantaged with advantaged in terms of opportunity, it's actually an investment, not a cost, and returns for society of around $7 for every dollar invested (Table 1A) are better than just about any other investment it can make. (The link is just one study, but Art Rolnick, famous radical lefty and VP of the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis, has done a thorough review of all the research and makes a similar claim.) However, the political winds fanned by enormous, enormous expenditures by people like the Koch's have made enormously popular the idea that any spending of tax money to help the "takers" is wrong and this is the reason change is impossible. It astounds me that the so-called supporters of capitalism never even mention this money-generating scheme when it comes to public expenditure. I presume it is an ideological bias, not an empirically based decision.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:56 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


‘Harvard Not Fair’ Seeks Rejected Applicants for Race-Based Affirmative Action Suit

Loss of privilege feels exactly like discrimination to the less self-aware.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:02 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


Increased spending on K-12 education was offered as an alternative to affirmative action, but of course there is no actual tension between these two policies. Affirmative action costs nothing unless you subscribe to the butterfly effect argument where you assume the non-URM applicants who end up going to their second-choice school can't use their many advantages in life to overcome the fact that someone else was given the spot instead of them.

One of the basic principles of investment is you look for companies that are undervalued by the market, invest in them, and make way more than you would have if you'd taken the "safe" bet on companies that were already valued highly. This is how I see affirmative action. If you have N slots at your university, you could just fill them up with the applicants who have already tested highly, but how much will you be able to increase their knowledge beyond what they already gained with their superior early education? Meanwhile, to someone who doesn't test as well, the college education could provide a much better ROI for our society as a whole.

Of course these same principles apply to primary and secondary education, but when we're talking about the scale of affirmative action as it actually exists, and not the caricature of it that exists only in the minds of people who oppose it on ideological grounds, all we're doing is diversifying our portfolio with some higher-risk but also higher-reward "penny stocks." You can say all you want about how this isn't "fair" or "equitable", but you can't say it's not a sound investment strategy.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:03 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


"Do you have any idea what it's like to teach a class where some students have clearly been failed by their earlier education and to know that you have to maintain a pace that these students will not be able to maintain?"

Looks like these students get a pretty clear idea of what it's like to be taught by a racist who assumes they're worse students because they're minorities.
posted by klangklangston at 8:06 AM on April 25 [5 favorites]


There's no transcript available yet, I found this Morning Edition segment interesting. The researcher being interviewed talks about some alternative strategies to increase representation of URMs, including (1) admitting the top 10% of each high school, (2) increasing representation of lower-income applicants instead of using race, and (3) college outreach to lower-income communities, including scholarships. The research finds that that these other correlated indicators would have to be weighed four times as much to achieve the same results as considering race directly.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:14 AM on April 25


all we're doing is diversifying our portfolio with some higher-risk but also higher-reward "penny stocks." You can say all you want about how this isn't "fair" or "equitable", but you can't say it's not a sound investment strategy.

It's certainly an investment strategy, but your metaphor carries some unpleasant connotations for some of us that you may not mean to be including. The problem with high-risk, high-reward penny stocks is not just the risk, but also the fact that it's pretty easy to slip in some stocks that are going to be losers except for the people making money on the transaction. In this case, affirmative action based solely on increasing implicit racial quotas is like taking a spinner on junk stock and letting it randomize the companies you invest in. Sure, some may do very well, but others will absolutely tank.

One of the basic principles of investment is you look for companies that are undervalued by the market, invest in them, and make way more than you would have if you'd taken the "safe" bet on companies that were already valued highly. This is how I see affirmative action.

The problem is that this isn't that. Using your metaphor, you would be looking for students who were undervalued by the college market, invest in them, and make more back in generous alumni donations than you would otherwise. This is, to some extent, what many colleges already do. It's why financial aid exists at top colleges - you're betting that this student, through being exceptionally intelligent, will be worth the money you're placing on them. If affirmative action were a sound financial investment, you wouldn't have needed a law to implement it. Unless the argument is that the capitalistic system just isn't ruthless enough.
posted by corb at 8:24 AM on April 25


By your logic, the private sector would have created the Internet long before the government did. Sometimes, the market completely whiffs on an opportunity, because it's made of up many individual actors who can't see the forest for the trees, and are interested more in banking modest quarterly gains than getting a much larger windfall later.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:30 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


And let's also remember that it's not just the universities that are investing here. College tuition is heavily-subsidized by the federal treasury, so we citizens have a say in what metrics we use to evaluate our ROI. Hint: it's not always measured in dollars, though if our interest in making sure people are educated happens to overlap with our interest in developing students into people who can succeed in their careers and make our country more prosperous, we'll take it.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:37 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


This is a good debate about the relative merits/value/need of affirmative action. And it's a debate that should be had. If you read Breyer's interesting concurrence, that's the exact point he makes: this is a debate that can be had in legislatures and local governments. Affirmative action can be wise policy with great benefits that helps a lot of people and society as a whole, and it is a constitutionally permissible policy if duly enacted; that still doesn't make it a constitutional imperative.

I think the most interesting aspect of these opinions is not that Breyer went with the majority (his previous opinion on this topic--and I think if I recall a portion of his book Active Liberty--pointed to this conclusion) or that Kagan recused (it would not have mattered in the result, though I think she would have helped produced a more grounded dissent) or Scalia's rancor. Rather, the most interesting thing is Sotomayor's dissent. It came across as a poor dissent in large part because it came across too much like a social justice warrior. I'll have to go back and look, but I recall her previous opinions being much more grounded. This one felt like she has learned enough from Scalia over the years and wanted to finally spread her wings into a full-fledged partisan advocate. She used a lot of dismissive and critical tone, hyperbole and sniping which is has always been the worst features of Scalia.

On hard nose constitutional analysis and explication, Scalia has always been a master, but he allowed his immense abilities to be used for baser partisan instincts. He has been too often unnecessarily rude, transparently hyperbolic, dismissive and refused to recognize the good faith of those who disagree with him. For some time, Those negative features are not the part of Scalia to imitate; the Court is better served by reserved expounders of constitutional doctrine. It is important to be detached and inoffensive in writing these opinions because there is a country of citizens who hang on their words and who come from wide-ranging backgrounds and belief systems. There is no reason to be antagonistic in explaining the law to the people who are superficially going to not like the result. Sotomayor's opinion was far more polemical and fighty than what, say, Ginsburg would produce. It almost felt like she decided to "pull a Scalia" in using all of his bad features in arguing for something she personally believes in as opposed to a constitutional theory. That disappoints me. I don't think she is going to be as effective at moving the Court in a direction by being fighty; she needs to focus on doctrinally and pragmatically pushing the Court in a direction to fit modern realities. For instance, her concurrence in US v. Jones was prescient and showed the need of the Court to not be blind to new realities in a digital age. Given subsequent developments such as Katzin, she showed she was on the ball on that point, and that is how she is going to move the Court, in my opinion. The other justices know next time to listen to her on such topics so she will have effect in the future on such matters. Her dissent here will not be productive. One can spend a career on the Court in dissent writing scathing polemics but there is little productive in that. She can have greater impact by being pragmatic and congenial.
posted by dios at 9:50 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


dios, I guess my follow-up would be to ask for an instance where Scalia has ever been punished for being too partisan, or when RBG has ever gained a significant advantage by using a more measured tone. It seems to me being a partisan firebrand hardens support among the justices who agree with you already, which seems more valuable than hoping for someone who was specifically chosen for their ideology to change their views based on some well-reasoned legal argument. We see this in electoral politics, too -- Democrats spent more than a decade chasing the mythical gettable moderates, and all it did was create an opening for the side that hardened support among its base. How is it any different on the Court?
posted by tonycpsu at 10:15 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Apart from the fact that bringing in the whole tone argument as an indictment of Sotomayor is a bit concern troll-y in the first place, there is nothing that isn't grounded about Sotomayor's dissent at all here. Roberts more or less said, as he did with Shelby, that systemic racism isn't really a big problem anymore, so the tools being used to fight back against it now are no longer necessary. The conservative wing of the Court is inventing new "realities" of their own in many of their major decisions, completely evidence-free and often without firm basis in either law or fact, and so much so that it is entirely likely that they will contradict themselves at least once a session. So when Sotomayor's (and Ginsburg's) dissents are basically refuting this "new reality" by pointing out the fact that no, systemic racism is alive and well, they're not the ones who are being rude, hyperbolic, dismissive, and arguing in bad faith.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:25 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Tonycpsu, I think there are two different levels to answer your question:

On the microlevel, on a roughly 4-4 Court, there is no chance at ever persuading Kennedy with a partisan opinion. Pragmatism and congenial opinions are what get majorities; polemics do not. (Now, there's a bit of skewing principle that one might decide to be more polemical in dissent after having realized there is no way to get a majority). But if one stakes the position of being a fighting partisan on the Court, your capacity to persuade others to your side is virtually nill. Thomas never brings the Court to his point of view; they might be there on some issues, but it isn't because Thomas moved the Court there.

On the macrolevel, Scalia suffers the same. He has over his decades shaped some doctrine, but a lot less than he could have otherwise. For instance, his partisanship surely cost him the Chief Justice position, but it also has undermined his legal doctrine. On certain areas, he has been just banished to dissent role because he is too partisan show he lacks the ability to shape the Court's doctrine at all. Moreover, because of that vocal partisanship, few people view his (intellectually compelling) judicial theory as little more than a cover for his personal preferences. That has undermined his ability to advance that judicial theory into more accepted doctrine (compared that with Breyer's Active Liberty theory which seems more like a workable doctrine as Breyer has implemented it fairly, including in this case). And on the macrolevel, I think Sotomayor wants to shape the Court and leave her imprint. I can see her doing that on bringing doctrine up to date with modern realities. But I think she is going to do that over the years by showing that she is doing that intellectually and not from a partisan firebrand standpoint. Sotomayor could decide she wants to be a warrior and spend most of her career in dissent firing off red meat opinions to adoring fans. Or she could try to move the Court in incremental ways. The history of the Court shows famous justices on both sides. But barring some dramatic change structurally on the divided court, it is going to counterproductive to seeking incremental change if you playing the partisan firebrand role.

I think equating partisan electoral strategies with consensus-building on the Court is the wrong way to approach this. Winning elections is different than building coalitions on the Court. So the argument over whether electorally it makes more sense to play to the base or play to the moderates--whatever the right answer to that is--doesn't work for a Court which has so many built in factors to do nothing much less a partisan angle to pursue.


(On preview: zombieflanders, your comment about how this is a just a "tone" issue or "concern-trolling" is uncharitable argument designed to shut down discussion. In the future, if you want to have a conversation like an adult, then don't write such garbage. Either engage in the discussion in good faith or spare us all.)
posted by dios at 10:52 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


dios: On the microlevel, on a roughly 4-4 Court, there is no chance at ever persuading Kennedy with a partisan opinion.

Correct, but there's also no chance at ever persuading Kennedy with a non-partisan opinion. He rules how he wants, without regard to his previous rulings or to anything anyone else is saying or doing. He's chaotic fucking neutral.

dios: I think equating partisan electoral strategies with consensus-building on the Court is the wrong way to approach this. Winning elections is different than building coalitions on the Court. So the argument over whether electorally it makes more sense to play to the base or play to the moderates--whatever the right answer to that is--doesn't work for a Court which has so many built in factors to do nothing much less a partisan angle to pursue.

I didn't equate them, I compared them -- of course there are differences. And in all your talk about how the consensus-builders are winning, I don't see a citation of an actual case that was won because of consensus-building. You keep talking about incremental change and saying that Scalia's been marginalized, but he's on the 5-side more than he's on the 4-side. Scoreboard.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:59 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


But I think zombieflanders made a good point that if Roberts et.al. are going to make evidence-free claims that racism doesn't exist anymore, some kind of strong rhetoric might be necessary to get some of the court to feel ashamed of that nonsense.
posted by straight at 11:01 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


(On preview: zombieflanders, your comment about how this is a just a "tone" issue or "concern-trolling" is uncharitable argument designed to shut down discussion. In the future, if you want to have a conversation like an adult, then don't write such garbage. Either engage in the discussion in good faith or spare us all.)

It's strange how defensive you get when accused of making a tone argument about how "polemical" and "fighty" and "scathing" and "vocal" and "firebrand" Sotomayor's opinions are.
posted by Etrigan at 11:07 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I honestly don't see anything bad faith about zf's response. "She should be less partisan" is explicitly a tone argument.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:08 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I honestly don't see anything bad faith about zf's response. "She should be less partisan" is explicitly a tone argument.

The problem is the connotations of tone argument, not the content. Yes, she should be less partisan, or strident, or fighty, or whatever - all of these are arguments about tone. But people who use the words "tone argument" as a negative are usually saying that to talk about that at all is a bad thing - thus the automatic association of "tone argument" with "concern troll", and the person who is doing so is kind of a bad person for bringing up these factors in the holy discussion.

And yes, it's kind of a bad faith move. A lot of people do it, but it's not any less bad faith. It's directly not addressing what someone is saying, and basically saying "People who say those things suck".
posted by corb at 11:19 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I may be misunderstanding you, but the problems with a tone argument is that it addresses how something is said, rather than what is said. The problem with a tone argument is it is a derail. The very content of a tone argument distracts from the content of the original argument.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:22 AM on April 25


Looks like these students get a pretty clear idea of what it's like to be taught by a racist who assumes they're worse students because they're minorities.

That's pretty uncharitable. If you're a professor who regularly sees a significant number of students fail because they aren't prepared for college, I don't think it's racist to be concerned that some kinds of affirmative action could increase that number.

We're not talking about Harvard where the pool of applicants contains 10x more students who could succeed at Harvard than they let in. We're talking about state schools that already admit significant numbers of students who don't graduate.

I think a more appropriate response to this concern is to say, yes, affirmative action might admit more students who aren't prepared for college, but that our tools for predicting who those students are don't work as well for some minority students. And that it's better to err on the side of giving more people a chance at an education, even if some of them fail, than to err on the side of shutting out people who could succeed. Ultimately students have to be responsible for deciding themselves if they are ready enough for college to be worth the time, expense, and debt.
posted by straight at 11:24 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


The problem with a tone argument is it is a derail. The very content of a tone argument distracts from the content of the original argument.

It's only a derail if you're criticizing the tone of the person you're conversing with. Corb is talking with MetaFilter about how Sotomayor could be a more effective justice. He isn't ignoring or belittling anyone's arguments here by complaining about their tone.
posted by straight at 11:27 AM on April 25


But people who use the words "tone argument" as a negative are usually saying that to talk about that at all is a bad thing - thus the automatic association of "tone argument" with "concern troll", and the person who is doing so is kind of a bad person for bringing up these factors in the holy discussion.

You're free to point out at what point dios actually addressed her opinion or the validity thereof. If you're equating the persuasiveness a justice often in the minority with one in the majority by the same standard of behavior and coming up with a different conclusion, and then nitpicking the former (and her "side") on her behavior, it's an accurate assumption that the argument isn't really about her jurisprudence.

And yes, it's kind of a bad faith move. A lot of people do it, but it's not any less bad faith. It's directly not addressing what someone is saying, and basically saying "People who say those things suck".

Which in this case is bull. There was zero substance in that comment, so I called it out for that reason. The entirety of that comment that was in relation to Sotomayor was how she said things, not what she said. That's pretty much the textbook definition of a tone argument. If there had been even the slightest jot of analysis on the reasoning behind her decision (which I discussed for both her and Roberts), then it wouldn't have applied.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:33 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


Corb is talking with MetaFilter about how Sotomayor could be a more effective justice.

I guess I am not clear how she is an ineffective justice. But it does duplicate the classic tone argument, that people would somehow be receptive to discussion of privilege and such if they were just worded in precisely the right way.

I have never seen a lick of evidence for that, but I have seen plenty of evidence that people would rather discuss the way things are said than what is being said.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:34 AM on April 25


When someone says, "Hey, this person is really smart and making some good points, but this person needs to be nicer about it," that's pretty much the rawest possible version of a tone argument, and calling that out is not a bad faith move.
posted by Etrigan at 11:35 AM on April 25 [4 favorites]


But it does duplicate the classic tone argument, that people would somehow be receptive to discussion of privilege and such if they were just worded in precisely the right way.

So in certain social justice circles, yes, the argument that people would be more receptive to various discussions if they were worded or phrased differently, has fallen out of favor. But that is not universally accepted, and treating it as though it were, as though everyone in the world, or more specifically, everyone on Metafilter, subscribed to that philosophy, is a problem.

Dios is talking about the real world - about how the presentation of an argument by a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court affects its reception. And the idea that the arguments a lawyer makes are influenced by their presentation is pretty much undisputed in the legal world. That's why so much time is spent finding ways to argue more persuasively, to ensure that tone is as the jury or judge might like it to be, that the arguments are phrased in precisely the right way so as to get maximum sympathy and ensure the greatest chance of success.

In that context, arguing about the tone of a Justice is absolutely relevant content. Arguing about the likely success in the real world of a lawsuit, and why it might have failed, is absolutely relevant content, and that relevancy doesn't go away just because it's unfashionable in social justice circles to complain about how someone is phrasing something.
posted by corb at 11:39 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


In that context, arguing about the tone of a Justice is absolutely relevant content.

In my experience, in discussing justice, the only tone that works is the one that the unjust dislike.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:42 AM on April 25


I guess I am not clear how she is an ineffective justice.

No one said that. The discussion was how she could be more effective given that she didn't persuade the majority to take her side.
posted by straight at 11:43 AM on April 25


I never said she was wrong because of her tone. If you go back and read my comment, I specifically was commenting that I thought the most interesting part of these opinions was that it showed a different direction for Sotomayor, and one that I don't think is going to be productive. As I mentioned, I thought up to this point she was largely straightforward in her analysis, and that this is the first time I saw her go the partisan route.

That is me talking about a dynamic on the Court that I found interesting. It's a discussion about court dynamics. It was not in any way saying she is wrong because of her tone. And it sure as hell isn't trolling like zombieflanders said. But that kind of bullshit comment by zombineflanders adds nothing to the conversation but screw it up, as it did. If he wanted to discuss the point I made--how Sotomayor can shape the court most effectively--he could do so on the merits (and if he did, I think it would be clear to anyone who follows these things that how you say things is an important factor in the court dynamics going forward). If he didn't want to talk about that, he could have skipped it. But lobbing that kind of bad faith insult at me by calling me a troll is worthless and should not be part of a discussion.

And now it has its intended effect: I'll be departing this thread because I'm not wasting any more time with having to defend against a troll accusation when I was clearly engaging in this topic on this merits.
posted by dios at 11:44 AM on April 25


The discussion was how she could be more effective given that she didn't persuade the majority to take her side.

I just don't think any tone would have done that. I think that's why voting is important -- so that our president nominates chief justices whose vision of justice is consistent with our own.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:46 AM on April 25


In that context, arguing about the tone of a Justice is absolutely relevant content. Arguing about the likely success in the real world of a lawsuit, and why it might have failed, is absolutely relevant content, and that relevancy doesn't go away just because it's unfashionable in social justice circles to complain about how someone is phrasing something.

I refuted dios' assertion about her dismissiveness and hyperbole and bad faith assumptionin the very next sentence. The fact there was zero supporting evidence for any of it (and plenty for Roberts and Scalia) seems to me pretty underhanded as a criticism.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:47 AM on April 25


I sure would not want to be represented in court by a lawyer who thinks tone is irrelevant.
posted by straight at 11:48 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I admit that I don't know the answer to this, so someone please feel free to educate me, but don't the published opinions of justices get written after the vote has already been made? Does anyone actually on the Court ever get convinced by an opinion?

I mean, I'm sure they discuss the cases amongst themselves, and I know that opinions often refer to each other, but does what we read in the official record actually have any effect on whether a decision goes 5-4 one way or 4-5 another way?
posted by Etrigan at 11:49 AM on April 25


I refuted dios' assertion about her dismissiveness and hyperbole and bad faith assumption in the very next sentence.

Which I found convincing and interesting, which is part of why I object to the idea that it shouldn't be discussed at all.
posted by straight at 11:55 AM on April 25


"That's pretty uncharitable. If you're a professor who regularly sees a significant number of students fail because they aren't prepared for college, I don't think it's racist to be concerned that some kinds of affirmative action could increase that number."

It's actually pretty fair when you think about what knowledge any given professor has about their students. Their ability to infer which students are, in fact, there because of affirmative action policies is low. Therefore, their ability to infer which students are failing because of affirmative action rather than other causes, is also low. Ergo, the argument that because a professor has seen unprepared students fail, they should be skeptical of affirmative action, is unsupported outside of the assumption that affirmative action is causing these particular students to be less prepared. And since we've already established that knowing that is unlikely and subject to a tremendous amount of bias (confirmation and otherwise), a professor advancing that argument is largely making racist assumptions about the capabilities of their students through the rubric of affirmative action.
posted by klangklangston at 12:20 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I think talking about the dynamics of suasion on the SCOTUS are valuable, even as I disagree with him about Sotomayor's dissent, and his phrasing of "coming across too much like a social justice warrior." I do think that many of the white men on the court are trying to adjudicate racism out of existence, and saw her dissent as a pointed attack on that, and one that she was correct to make, even as I can understand why it would be unpersuasive to the other members of the court. (Because, goddamn, their invisible knapsacks are so big they need clerks to carry them.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:31 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


dios: And now it has its intended effect: I'll be departing this thread because I'm not wasting any more time with having to defend against a troll accusation when I was clearly engaging in this topic on this merits.

That was not the intended effect, at least from my end, so I'm sorry to see you go.

If you do return to take a peek at the thread some time, you might consider how some of your loaded language cited above may have distracted from the points you were trying to make. Instead of blaming others for not assuming good faith, you could have avoided using phrases that often signify bad faith. It takes two etc. You might also consider that you were asked several times to cite specifics of how reducing partisanship has ever yielded tangible results, but chose to respond with murkier talk about the "incremental change" of "advanc[ing]... judicial theory into more accepted doctrine." With a bunch of questionable language choices, no hard data, and the lack of a reliable invention that can measure good faith in written text, I think you have to take some of the blame for this one.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:28 PM on April 25


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