Ronald Dworking on affirmative action.
May 6, 2003 2:01 PM   Subscribe

 
A simple question: when does Affirmative Action end?

Is there a statistical point beyond which minorities covered by affirmative action no longer have claim for unequal treatment?

When close enough economic and educational parity has been achieved; or when enough of the minority have advanced into a self-sufficient middle class; or just when enough time and generations have passed to eliminate any excuse of "inherited cultural deprivation"?

And must ALL the members of a given minority be included, or just those who have succeeded? Are minorities permitted to fail?
posted by kablam at 2:54 PM on May 6, 2003


I understand the concept behind affirmative action but I have problems with the implementation. Ideally the top candidates should get into a program: those with the greatest chance for success as well as the greatest chance of doing something special with that success upon graduation. By arbitrarily adding extra points based purely on race you're detracting from this, on the other hand if race is completely ignored you're sweeping past mistakes, which unfortunately created a lot of the problems today, under the rug. Clearly if you allow people into the program who won't be successful you are not doing anybody a favour, including the applicant and whoever that applicant displaced.

I don't know what an actual solution is but I'll throw out this idea. Before the school year the administration decides how many people they accept. Perform normal screening to select 110% of this number, then apply some number of additional points based on other criteria. It might be that the top 100% still make it in or maybe because of these points only 90% make it in. At least there's some measurable criteria that doesn't boil down to "we had to make our quota".
posted by substrate at 3:28 PM on May 6, 2003


ah, i'm bored this afternoon, so i'll pick up the ridiculous challenge posed here by you two...

AA programs were strategies developed to right wrongs in the present, wrongs which still beleager our educational system.

segregation is omnipresent in every large city in the u.s. this produces huge disparities in high school student performance. it's not what you can call a "past wrong". there are many other dimly understood mechanisms of racism, discrimination, and lack of equal opportunity in education and lack of equal outcome. another good example is the well known white middle class test bias. a more confusing and obscure problem is the influence of infant health.

universities use AA for their own benefit, not because they are forced to. they compete to get the best young minds for themselves. they are hungry for minority students. not to fulfill mindless quotas imposed by some evil / guilty liberal mandate but because they are trying to nab those diamonds in the rough who just failed to meet their criteria but, had they been "lucky" enough to be adopted by a white family, gone to a better high school, etc. would most likely have qualified.. or had been lucky enough to live in a nation that actually provided a decent high school education to its minority citizens.

there are many other lesser functions / reasons to use AA. for example the AMA pressures medical schools because the AMA wants more black doctors, whose numbers are decreasing drastically in the past 20 years. why do you think they want more black doctors? to "right past wrongs"? because it's fair that way? or perhaps for self-serving reasons... for basically the same reason the republican party wants blacks. the AMA all across america in our big cities has terrible general hospitals and VA hospitals, the profession's training facilities, where most of the admissions are poor minorities who are served by white doctors. [whites go to private or university hospitals in the suburbs where they live] the doctors come to despise the big hospitals and the minorities that are served there, and the minorities despise or are at least mistrustful of the white doctors.

obviously universities use many other weighted criteria that are similarly self-serving. the habit of accepting extraordinarily rich kids or alumni kids who will be likely to donate is similar to AA. the whole sports thing is similar - football is an enormous income generator. it takes fairly contorted logic to say that accepting a football star in the place of a perfectly qualified & brainy white or asian kid is good, and accepting a minority kid who has faced inequality to the school than his slightly higher gpa white/asian competitor is an unconstitutional thing.

in fact, it is simply socially acceptible to say, "it's a shame that minorities in the US don't get to go to the same nice schools that white folks do, but oh well."

i think that if there was any real justice in america, our supreme court would mandate equality of education for minorities as they have for the disabled, a much more popular and less populous cause.

Is there a statistical point beyond which minorities covered by affirmative action no longer have claim for unequal treatment?

When close enough economic and educational parity has been achieved; or when enough of the minority have advanced into a self-sufficient middle class; or just when enough time and generations have passed to eliminate any excuse of "inherited cultural deprivation"?


do you think there's some nationwide rule that tells all universities how to do this? they each do what they want, to whatever extent. they will stop when they want, or if the court makes them.

And must ALL the members of a given minority be included, or just those who have succeeded? Are minorities permitted to fail?

what are you talking about? go read about it some more, you're confused.

I don't know what an actual solution is but I'll throw out this idea. ...

but that is indeed how it works, in a crude way. a minority that the school is looking for gets 20 points [or whatever] added to their score [which includes say 50-80 points depending on their SAT and GPA, 0-5 points for their essay, etc.]

again, please go read about it some more before you just complain about it in ignorance.
posted by mitchel at 5:21 PM on May 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


I think the distinction mitchel is getting at is the one between the retrospective and prospective goals of affirmative action, stated well by Prof. Dworkin:
Several justices have declared, in past cases, that though an institution may use racial classifications to compensate for its own past discrimination, it may not do so to compensate for discrimination by others or in the community as a whole. It is, in fact, doubtful that affirmative action can ever be justified as compensation, because compensation is a matter of individual, not group, entitlement, and allowing black applicants to have preference now cannot compensate generations of blacks who suffered injustice in the past. But the forward-looking social goal is very different: it justifies sensitivity to race not on the basis of any compensatory theory, but on the pragmatic assumption that securing a better racial balance in positions of prestige and influence benefits the community as a whole.[13] Universities may properly serve that goal through their admissions procedures, just as they may legitimately choose students in order to provide a better balance in the community between corporate and civil rights lawyers, for example, or between specialist and primary care doctors.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 5:33 PM on May 6, 2003


mitchel: Don't assert that I'm speaking out of ignorance, from your inability to see through my rhetorical questions.

I do, however, see your prejudgment in the issue with the reference to "...and lack of equal outcome." This is because I am very familiar with the practice of high-grade universities to recruit minority students almost guaranteed to fail in *that* institution; whereas had they gone to a more mainstream school they would have been successful.

"Extra bonus SAT points" just ruined their *careers*.

This does not do the minority student a service, any more than the equally unsavory practices of creating nonsense majors, so incompetent students of all stripes can buy degrees; OR the practice of requiring endless and expensive mandatory nonsense classes from unrelated majors to maximize profits from students.

"Equal Outcomes" is nonsense, any more than trying to legally guarantee that all Americans will live a minimum of 80 years, or that all college graduates will have guaranteed good jobs.

My bottom line here is that, more than bigotry or favoritism, the use of Affirmative Action, or the LACK of the use of Affirmative Action, BOTH create situations exploitable by institutions of dubious ethics. And these institutions DO exploit students in any way they can.

And lastly, my point "must ALL the members of a given minority be included, or just those who have succeeded? Are minorities permitted to fail?" is very straightforward.

In a "colorblind" society, *membership* in a particular minority and *tribalism* are not the same thing. A group of affiliated people are not judged by outsiders on the behavior of their best and brightest, but by how *they* treat their worst and stupidest. If I give someone a "pass" just because they share my skin color, I should expect outsiders to lump the two of us together in a negative way.

Successful minorities condemn their own failings and failures. It is the righteous bigotry of the "respectable" against the "trash."
posted by kablam at 5:54 PM on May 6, 2003


The University of Michigan simply adjusts the number of points an applicant gets for skin pigment until the admission pool reaches some predetermined average hue. Nevermind that surveys show that students rate their instructors' and their fellow students' performance lower as black student enrollment rises.

Diversity is the lethal embrace of emptiness. It forces genuinely bright minorities to live down to the assigned politics of their skin color. It forces the rest of the population to live with falsely promoted incompetents. It provides for far too many people, day to day affirmatory data consistent with racist theory.
posted by paleocon at 6:34 PM on May 6, 2003


Diversity is the lethal embrace of emptiness. It forces genuinely bright minorities to live down to the assigned politics of their skin color. It forces the rest of the population to live with falsely promoted incompetents. It provides for far too many people, day to day affirmatory data consistent with racist theory.

Except that leading free market institutions, like Coca-Cola and Proctor-Gamble, which according to the traditional conservative-capitalist line are the real testing grounds for merit, all have extolled the virtues of affirmative action in making their businesses run better. For a long time I took exactly your position, paleocon, and I think reasoned arguments like Dworkin's are beginning to sway me. I think it is possibly your assumption that the minorities are "falsely promoted incompetents" that is consistent with racist theory, not the open access which universities like Michigan are trying to provide.

I have reservations, of course, and I remain skeptical of any system which approaches anything near a quota, but a sophisticated and nuanced program which recognizes depth of experience, class background, and yes, race, in addition to merit, may do a better job a capturing potential than merit alone can.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:07 PM on May 6, 2003


sophisticated and nuanced.... race in addition to merit

In another era such sophistry was the rationalization for much bigotry and pain. Congratulations on reviving the tradition.
posted by paleocon at 7:15 PM on May 6, 2003


Except that leading free market institutions, like Coca-Cola and Proctor-Gamble, which according to the traditional conservative-capitalist line are the real testing grounds for merit, all have extolled the virtues of affirmative action in making their businesses run better.

What else could they say about affirmative action? To give their A.A. programs anything less than glowing reviews would be suicidal. The programs may work well but if they didn't you would never hear about. If a CEO of a Fortune 500 company slammed the corporation's affirmative action program he would probably be sacked within a week after the calls for boycotts, the threatened litigation, the inevitable Jesse Jackson shakedown, the demands for corporation wide "sensitivity" training (No doubt provided by one of J.J.'s cronies). That's just corporate life in America; everything is on the up,up,up just like Enron stock.
posted by MikeMc at 8:30 PM on May 6, 2003


go on, you're a troll paleo, right?

mitchel: Don't assert that I'm speaking out of ignorance, from your inability to see through my rhetorical questions.

ok, i don't wanna start a fight here. let's rationally discuss this bit:

And lastly, my point "must ALL the members of a given minority be included, or just those who have succeeded? Are minorities permitted to fail?" is very straightforward.

In a "colorblind" society, *membership* in a particular minority and *tribalism* are not the same thing. A group of affiliated people are not judged by outsiders on the behavior of their best and brightest, but by how *they* treat their worst and stupidest. If I give someone a "pass" just because they share my skin color, I should expect outsiders to lump the two of us together in a negative way.


first you ask if ALL members of a minority must be "included." are you asking, in a reductio ad absurdum, if all minority students should be accepted by elite universities if we say some should be helped in? i'm afraid i don't quite get your point.

then you really lose me. first of all, i hardly agree that, as examples, russian jews or native americans were persecuted because they gave their "worst and stupidest" [sic] a "pass". actually i don't really know what you're talking about. what minorities do you have in mind? where is this strange generalization coming from, about successful minorities getting respect from their oppressors because they persecute their weakest members? is this some typical quality of asian americans that in your view makes them successful?

then, if i go ahead and accept this premise, you tell me that "successful minorities condemn their own failings and failures. It is the righteous bigotry of the 'respectable' against the 'trash.' "

it seems that you believe minorities that benefit from AA to be flat-out unsuccessful, sort of like species that should die out, right? the reason blacks, native americans and hispanics have far less income is because they do not condemn their members who are on welfare, right?

then all this talk of trash and "righteous bigotry"... you sound so angry... these are human beings you spit on, you know. they are called the working class. they are poor not because they are stupid, but mostly because their fathers were poor. no need for you to tell me you disagree there, i'm sure you do.

ok, quickly hitting your earlier points...

I am very familiar with the practice of high-grade universities to recruit minority students almost guaranteed to fail in *that* institution; whereas had they gone to a more mainstream school they would have been successful.

do you know what "paternalism" is? it is the white man's belief that he knows what's best for his uppity, foolish black brethren.

really, it doesn't matter that you or the courts think it is somehow unjust. universities will find ways to find good minority students no matter what. they will give them a chance. they let minorities in, and it makes you angry, but seriously, it's a good thing, even if 10% more of them drop out than their white counterparts do. if that is one option, and the other is denying all but 1% of blacks access to the top 15% of our mostly government-supported universities, fine, i'll accept the former, boo hoo.

"Equal Outcomes" is nonsense, any more than trying to legally guarantee that all Americans will live a minimum of 80 years, or that all college graduates will have guaranteed good jobs.

listen up, here's the scoop on the significance of equality of outcome. what would happen if, say, only 10% of blacks lived to be 80, but 50% of whites did? would we look into that? try to find out why? try to see if we could fix that somehow? now, we wouldn't kill enough whites to make the figures match. [and if you show me one white who's seriously been hurt by AA, and not just someone who didn't get to go to his first choice school, i'll really give a crap about it.] but if we found out that there were certain institutions, created by and for whites, that helped them live that long, and which denied blacks access in disproportionate numbers, we would try to change that.

that's the bottom line. equality of outcome - you'd better believe that's a target. it's not a mandated necessity of course - how absurd. but if 99% of millionaires are white, i want to know why. maybe it's because they are the fittest, sure. ["bell curve" b.s.] maybe not.

equality of opportunity - first step. not even hardly achieved. but the real goal is real equality. again i'm sure you disagree.
posted by mitchel at 8:59 PM on May 6, 2003 [1 favorite]


mitchel: are you asking, in a reductio ad absurdum, if all minority students should be accepted by elite universities if we say some should be helped in?

No, I'm (rhetorically) asking "should the son of Colin Powell get affirmative action, because he is black, the same as the son of a poor black janitor, because he is black", given equal SAT scores?

first of all, i hardly agree that, as examples, russian jews or native americans were persecuted because they gave their "worst and stupidest" [sic] a "pass".

Well, do black Americans lose credibility by strongly supporting O.J. or Tawana Brawley or Rodney King solely because of the color of their skin? I would suspect so.

it seems that you believe minorities that benefit from AA to be flat-out unsuccessful, sort of like species that should die out, right?

That is not what I said. In effect, I stated that a student with an 800 SAT might do perfectly fine at any number of State Colleges, but if you send him to Georgia Tech or Yale, with an "adjusted" SAT, you will either fail him, or lower his class standings--neither of which does him justice. It is an open secret that Ivy League schools admit vastly more minority students then they graduate, and those that do graduate often do so with useless degrees.

So *you* think it's racist for a minority student to be at the top of his graduating class from a State College, then to be at the bottom from Yale?

do you know what "paternalism" is? it is the white man's belief that he knows what's best for his uppity, foolish black brethren.

Do you know what "keeping him in his place" means? It means that you promise him a big hat full of shiny nickles instead of a piece of paper check worth 10 times as much.
That's the old trick of how to keep them down generation after generation.

that's the bottom line. equality of outcome - you'd better believe that's a target. it's not a mandated necessity of course - how absurd.

Oh, how absurd is it? Absurd enough so that it's not demanded? It most certainly has been. Lowering test scores and changing rules for the military, fire and police departments. And is that bad, even is someone, or a whole group of people get killed because of it?

but the real goal is real equality. again i'm sure you disagree.

Oh no. True equality does exist. In death. As proven by Bela Kuhn, Anna Pauker, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot. All strong proponets of "equality."
posted by kablam at 10:11 PM on May 6, 2003


Oh, how absurd is it? Absurd enough so that it's not demanded? It most certainly has been. Lowering test scores and changing rules for the military, fire and police departments. And is that bad, even is someone, or a whole group of people get killed because of it?

Ha! The Affirmative Action program that got the President his job certainly resulted in getting some folks killed!
posted by black8 at 1:41 AM on May 7, 2003


Why is it that race-based affirmative action gets lambasted, but the equally biased method by which admissions programs admit rich white kids (points for legacy admissions, points for donations, points for participation in HS programs not available to poor minority students, etc.) doesn't?

Your racism is showing. Or your ignorance. Either way it's not good.
posted by Cerebus at 5:10 AM on May 7, 2003


Well, Cerebus, I believe that many who line up against AA will also line up against legacy admissions. At least they ought to.

The "points for donations", however, is a different matter. Unlike the diversity charade (students with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives can contribute to each other's education.) which can only be "proven" anecdotally, the quid pro quo of "let my kid in and I'll pay for a new auditorium" permits a very concrete cost-benefit analysis.
posted by trharlan at 6:32 AM on May 7, 2003


At least they ought to.

Ought to, but don't.
posted by Cerebus at 10:04 AM on May 7, 2003


No, I'm (rhetorically) asking "should the son of Colin Powell get affirmative action, because he is black, the same as the son of a poor black janitor, because he is black", given equal SAT scores?

ah, ok. yes. that is how it works. again, think of this from the perspective of the admissions officer. she wants some kids who are math whizzes and some who are debaters. she wants some who had great interviews and some who had fantastic grades. now, she takes a gamble on some kids whose SAT scores aren't as high as the others, even though SAT is the best predictor of future success. these kids might be well-rounded, play violin and wrote a great essay and worked all through high school; one might be much older with a science degree now interested in creative writing; whatever. she makes whatever decisions she wants.

now, she knows that there are tons of brilliant minority kids whose test scores are on average lower, went to crappy high schools, etc. she wants to nab some of them too, just like those well-rounded ones, or older ones, and all the rest. so she is constantly tinkering with this point scoring system, trying to get a few more minorities in than otherwise would be admitted if admissions were race blind. she also gives points for economic background, alumni, all sorts of things.

now, if the courts want to say that it's unconstitutional for her to give points for being a minority, she will be forced to look more on a case by case basis, or [because she doesn't have time] she will finagle some other way to get them. she will target certain urban districts, or look for kids who are members of certain programs and honors societies that are race-affiliated, or whatever; who knows what she'll do.

but the point is, unlike the bureaucrat-run centralized US high school system, which is perfectly content to allow minority-dominated schools to have far less money - in inner city Chicago the figures range from 80% to 50% of their suburban counterparts - the university system is a more of a competing market, where schools try to get the smart ones. the colleges are independant and if they make mistakes - creating a stupid major or paying their president $800,000 / year or whatever - they are entitled to. we in the community complain about it, try to get some oversight. in this case, some in the community think that helping minorities into the school is wrong. i disagree.

So *you* think it's racist for a minority student to be at the top of his graduating class from a State College, then to be at the bottom from Yale?

again, yes, basically. you can't make yale a whites-only enclave. i'm sure you find it hard to believe that a black student at yale could be discriminated against. now, no-one's denying that these students often aren't as well prepared. but that's part of the point... for the past 15 years the typical dropout rates in the upper tier of colleges has been around 5-10 percent for whites and 15-25 percent for blacks. it's unpleasant but one accepts it, tries to mitigate it. if you think that's an unconstitutional state of affairs, fine, think that.
posted by mitchel at 10:48 AM on May 7, 2003 [1 favorite]


mitchel: but there's the ends and means argument. College is not an end in itself, it is the means to an end. If you push a student to go to a school where the competition strongly overpowers him--*which results in his getting a worse career post graduation*--you have done him no favor. In other words the statement, "Well, I attended Yale for a semester then dropped out", looks a heck of a lot worse than, "I was at the top of my class at State U."

Each and every year, I see my local State U actively solicit students who *should* attend a community college or a technical school, for *their* success. Hundreds or even thousands drop out and their future education is that much harder to begin, the failure at State U costing them both in terms of precious money, time and strength.

And that's the bottom line to the whole argument.

I will add that I taught in a mostly poor, minority high school where hopelessness was common. Less common, but noteworthy were the students with "burning eyes", who adamantly *refused* to let anything stand between them and success. These students are potentially the best and the brightest of that community, and to see a misstep that ruins or lessens that potential is terrible.

SATs (or in this case ACTs) were really the goal of their entire high school effort. And no "cultural" excuses were made for performance on a test they had been studying for months. Their test results *were* reasonably accurate. And if one of those students was accepted by an institution where the *average* was 35 points higher, YOU BET I would have advised him against it.

Most good students I recommended technical degrees instead of liberal arts, solely on the basis of earning power post graduation. A PhD that earns you no money is just a scrap of paper, but in a high tech area in boom times, a modest Associates' degree in electronics could have you *start* at $35,000. More than I made as a teacher.
posted by kablam at 12:03 PM on May 7, 2003


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