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SCOTUS Split
June 23, 2003 8:12 AM   Subscribe

A split decision from SCOTUS on Affirmative Action -- in cases specifically involving the University of Michigan, the court rules that the law school's AA standard is legal while the undergraduate standard is not. The University president is spinning this as a full out victory because the court has now "given a roadmap" for how Affirmative Action programs can be designed for higher education nationwide. While polls show that Americans want diversity in education but are unsure about Affirmative Action, it doesn't look like it's going away any time soon. And the fundamental question remains: when it comes to education, is being a racial minority four times more important than having held a position of national leadership? Twenty times more important than writing an outstanding admissions essay?
posted by Dreama (70 comments total)

 
I like the way the news picked this up:

Affirmative action upheld:
Court Upholds Mich. Affirmative Action
US court backs affirmative action
In Split Decision, Court Backs Affirmative Action

Well, sort of:
Supreme Court forks on affirmative action cases
Court Limits Race As Factor in Admissions
posted by trharlan at 8:30 AM on June 23, 2003


That's a weird decision. So the message is that it's ok at the grad/professional school level to continue AA due to lack of diversity, but for undergrad admissions it is unfair.

I suppose that's one way of easing into an eventual phase out of AA.
posted by mathowie at 8:32 AM on June 23, 2003


I like the way it's picked up in this article better. Just in case anyone's interested here's some of the text from the opinion written for the case regarding UMich's law admissions.
posted by dmjavier at 8:37 AM on June 23, 2003


The standard they have set up is a fascinating one, and I'm trying to think of something legally to compare it with.
Basically: Objective standards are unacceptable, Subjective standards are acceptable.

In an odd way, is the SCOTUS saying that Affirmative Action is an art, rather than a science? By George, they may have something there!

Racism is based on "objectification", so are objective standards inherently racist? Subjective standards require taking a myriad of qualifications to make a judgement. And yet, if there is a failure of subjective standards, it can be demonstrated, objectively, statistically, that a failure has happened.
posted by kablam at 8:38 AM on June 23, 2003


Actually, mathowie, my understanding of the decisions is that no numerical or formulaic method of determining how minorities are admitted to any level of the university. On the other hand, simply taking notice of race as a factor, without giving it a prescribed weight--as was done in the law school--is permissible.

On preview, I agree that kablam's take is also somewhat accurate.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:40 AM on June 23, 2003


How do they determine race? Blood tests? Color of skin? My skin is as white as unbleached paper, but my ancestors came from Africa -- several tens of millenia ago.

What if I applied and put 'African-American' down as my race. Would they say I was lying? How would they prove it? Just because my skin is white? Are they going to start using a 'skin-color-scale'? How would they calibrate it? Would there be a margin-of-error? Does your nose have to be a certain width? Are they going to trace your family tree? What if you're half-japanese, quarter white, quarter native-american and you look Italian and your last name is Hess? If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, does that mean it's white?

The whole argument that it is in the best interest of society to 'right wrongs' may have good intentions, but (and I hate to say it) "two wrongs don't make a right".

The problem here isn't the intentions of Affirmative Action, its that the means to the end aren't merely unfair, they're ineffectual.

On a side note, at least the decision makes sense on the basis of 'subjective' criteria, i.e. there is no 'objective' definition of race that would stand up to scientific scrutiny; therefore, race should at least be judged subjectively as a criteria for admission (if it is going to be used at all).
posted by PigAlien at 9:19 AM on June 23, 2003


And the fundamental question remains: when it comes to education, is being a racial minority four times more important than having held a position of national leadership? Twenty times more important than writing an outstanding admissions essay?

No. Those are hardly the "fundamental questions". The real issue is how the United States, a country built upon racial inequality, a country where pervasive racial stereotyping continues, a country where equal access to necessities like housing, employment, health care, and education does not exist -- how that country finally intends to change.

If ever.

And frankly, I think a more "fundamental question" is how long some members of the majority will continue to whine hysterically about attempts to level all sorts of playing fields. Looks like they are the ones with a race-based, historical inferiority complex. Looks like they are the ones who really fear equal competition.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 9:22 AM on June 23, 2003


The rancor of the whole AA debate stems from a fundamental misapprehension about the admissions process.

Perhaps because of the feeling so many of us had from applying, people believe that college admissions amounts to a declaration of worth -- i.e., that this student is better than that one. But it doesn't have to be that way.

If you imagine assembling a class of, say, 200 students for a small university, you might want this many athletes, this many probable science majors, this many high-verbal-ability types, this many locals, this many out-of-state -- you'd be putting together a recipe for a class, the way a cook selects ingredients. Yes, you look for good-quality ingredients, but do you really judge whether the flour is better than the olive oil on some linear chart?

Now a strict numeric standard is evidence that the admissions process is using race as an artificial, outside standard, rather than as a factor organic to the decision-making process.

O'Connor nailed it, focusing on "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." That (properly) takes the emphasis out of the valuation of the individual and into the value of assembling a certain type of academic environment.
posted by argybarg at 9:42 AM on June 23, 2003


Fold-And-Mutilate - your 'fundamental question' is based on the assumption that 'majority' is based on race and that somehow everyone who could be categorized as a member of that majority therefore is the same.

Its simply not true. I may be white, but I'm also gay. Just as I believe its wrong to discriminate against gays, I also believe its wrong to discriminate against people because of the color of their skin, their nationality, their religion, etc. etc. etc...

We have to get away from categorizing people altogether. People who belong to a minority race may belong to a majority religion or sexuality. The problem is, everyone is unique and people can belong to many majorities and minorities at the same time.

Discrimination against people because they may belong to a particular group is wrong - period, however noble the intentions.

If you consider that my background is wholly european, as far as I know, then I am part of the 'white majority', but I do not have a 'race-based, historical inferiority complex' and I do not fear equal competition.

In any event, perfectly 'white' people from Italian and Irish backgrounds were considered different races when they first came to this country and were also discriminated against.

some members of the majority will continue to whine hysterically about attempts to level all sorts of playing fields

Many minorities also want to prevent certain playing fields from being leveled - one of them would be college admissions standards.
posted by PigAlien at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2003


Pig Alien: Many minorities also want to prevent certain playing fields from being leveled - one of them would be college admissions standards.

I'm might be a little dense, but just to verify, are you saying that AA doesn't level the playing field?
posted by Stynxno at 9:58 AM on June 23, 2003


shoot. I'm = I.
posted by Stynxno at 9:59 AM on June 23, 2003


Argybargy - I understand your argument and I think it is quite eloquent. Sadly, I think what students want more than anything is to be educated. The fact that a student body may be more diverse might seem a plus to those who are admitted, but for those who are left out, it means nothing.

this many athletes, this many probable science majors, this many high-verbal-ability types, this many locals, this many out-of-state -- you'd be putting together a recipe for a class

I don't see in this recipe how race is relevant. There are athletes, science majors, high-verbal-ability types, etc. of every race.

As for your statement regarding whether the flour is better than the olive oil is not entirely accurate. Its more like whether the Italian olive oil is better than the Nigerian olive oil for making a better recipe.

What I would prefer to see, rather than high-minded philosophical statements, is hard scientific evidence that the numbers at the top of the economic/power pyramid reflect the makeup of society have been influenced by affirmative action.
posted by PigAlien at 9:59 AM on June 23, 2003


PigAlien: We have to get away from categorizing people altogether. People who belong to a minority race may belong to a majority religion or sexuality. The problem is, everyone is unique and people can belong to many majorities and minorities at the same time.

On what basis, then, should the Law School admit students? If we "get away from categorizing people altogether," we'll have to abolish the LSATs, too, as well as reporting undergraduate GPAs. Or, are you suggesting, as I presume you are, that the Law School should admit students based solely on those criteria? What about students who have the grades to get into law school but not the temprament to be an attorney?
posted by JollyWanker at 10:06 AM on June 23, 2003


Don't we have more than enough lawyers anyway? Why not just close law schools for 25 years and maybe when they re-open, the country will be a little less racist?
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2003


The problem here isn't the intentions of Affirmative Action, its that the means to the end aren't merely unfair, they're ineffectual.

What I would prefer to see, rather than high-minded philosophical statements, is hard scientific evidence that the numbers at the top of the economic/power pyramid reflect the makeup of society have been influenced by affirmative action.

Affirmative action has helped the income, promotion and labor force participation rates of both women and minorities.

The program determines the percentage of qualified women and minorities available to a company, then sets flexible goals, to be reached in good faith. As a result, numerous studies show that minorities who land their jobs through affirmative action are not less qualified than their colleagues.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2003


My skin is as white as unbleached paper, but my ancestors came from Africa -- several tens of millenia ago.
What if I applied and put 'African-American' down as my race (...) How would they prove it?


they'll probably have you run a red light in a fancy car, and wait to see how the LAPD treats you.
interesting family tree, by the way -- how did you trace it?
posted by matteo at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2003


this whole debate seems a bit frivolous to me as it is attempting to fix a problem on the back end that should be fixed on the front end. there would be no need for affirmative action at the college stage if the primary and secondary educational playing fields were leveled. despite a constant desire on behalf of everyone and constant political promises by everyone from city council members to congressman to increase educational standards and opportunity across the board, i see nothing that indicates a will (and by that i mean actual money) to make a serious attempt at bettering our educational system.

until then, we might have AA as a patch up, but it will be little more than a palliative until the real issues are addressed.
posted by callicles at 10:30 AM on June 23, 2003


XQUZYPHR:

those links don't show any causal relation between AA and the advancement of "minorities".
posted by signal at 10:34 AM on June 23, 2003


XQUZYPHYR:

I believe that anti-discrimination laws are separate from affirmative action, and I did not see anywhere in your first report where they made an effort to separate the effects. I believe its just as possible that anti-discrimination laws and the civil rights and ERA movements in general had just as much of an effect, or more, than affirmative action itself.

Affirmative action may or may not be succesful in and of itself, but that does not make it necessary. As I said before, 'two wrongs don't make a right.' It only leads to more divisiveness. Most people aren't against anti-discrimination legislation. However, there are a large number of people against affirmative action.
posted by PigAlien at 10:40 AM on June 23, 2003


the whole points system seemed strange to me: people of color got 20 points; outstanding athletes also got 20 points; yet valedictorians or people with outstanding extracurriculur activity didn't?

I hope today's decision leads to a more-level playing field for everyone, and i was particularly heartened by the fact that so many corporations and businesses wrote to the court in support of AA. They've finally realized the value of a diverse workforce, and it's happened recently.

Pigalien: affirmative action has almost meant, to me at least, that you take concrete steps to ensure diversity. It's the how you achieve it part that people don't like sometimes, i believe.
posted by amberglow at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2003


oops...make that always meant to me...
posted by amberglow at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2003


Not to turn this into a class war discussion, but I've long been a fan of socioeconomic class to replace race as a determiner in college admissions.

My feeling is that anyone from a lower income area likely had a harder time getting through primary and secondary education with substandard facilities and deserve a break when picking a university. This would likely acheive the same results (not just rich white guys graduating from harvard and princeton) without alienating someone due to the color of their skin.
posted by mathowie at 10:52 AM on June 23, 2003


PigAlien, let me ask you these questions:

1. If it was illegal to in any way base college acceptance on the race of the student, what percentage of the American college population would be black?
2. What is that in relation to the percentage of the black population of the country as a whole?
3. Why is this?

The answers to those questions are exactly why Affirmative Action is necessary. The fact of the matter is any idea that everything becomes perfect and equal if minorities are given no advantages is an incredible fallacy. Affirmative Action realizes that on the whole, the situation this country deliberately created for certain minorities makes it necessary for them to work significantly harder than those in the racial majority via the increased liklihood of social and economic disadvantage- disadvantage that was deliberately and specifically created by the majority. Affirmative Action is what levels the playing field. Is has never been a second wrong trying to make a right: it's the right correcting the original wrong still inherent in American society.

Is this system perfectly applied? Of course not. It is obvious that there are white students who have to work harder to get into college than black students; no one denies this. A rich black kid with a better upbringing than a poor white kid can take advantage of the system. But saying the system is entirely unfair is just untrue, and using such outliers is inaccurate.

Is it unfair that a black kid might be more likely to get into college than a white kid because of his race? Perhaps. But technically, you could argue it was "unfair" to white people when they had to start paying black people to work for them. Technically, you could argue it's "unfair" to men when it was decided that allowing women to vote reduced their vote power by half.

The point is that the "advantage" complained about in AA is one of infinite weights and balances applied to previous disadvantages. Does it perfectly even things out? Of course not; nothing ever will.

But almost all the time the argument against AA in regards to "unfairness" is made out of selfishness, unintentional or not. By definition, an advantage for someone means a disadvantage for another. To narrow the balance of advantages merely to you personally, or merely to recent American history, is statistical trickery. Generally one only calls AA "wrong" because they have narrowed it down to a personal or at the very minimum incremental level.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:54 AM on June 23, 2003


Amberglow: Ok, I'll bite -- diversity is good. I'm gay - I love diversity!

But I have to ask, what kind of diversity? The assumption with affirmative action is that it is 'racial' diversity that is desirable. Well, what the hell is race? Its a difficult quality to define -- how can you claim it as desirable? Are you talking about a diversity of skin color? Of nationality?

You know, diversity is relative. You could have a school of all-white christians that could be very diverse because maybe everyone had a different favorite color.

EVERYONE is an individual, and when we say that an organization is less diverse simply because its racial makeup is narrow (whatever racial makeup is), then we are depriving those people who belong to the majority (whatever that is) of their individual value and identity.

I'm sorry, but I believe that EVERYONE is special and unique and diverse, regardless of whatever groups they may self-proclaim or appear to be part of.
posted by PigAlien at 10:54 AM on June 23, 2003


1. If it was illegal to in any way base college acceptance on the race of the student, what percentage of the American college population would be black?

I believe it would be the percentage that was qualified.
posted by PigAlien at 10:58 AM on June 23, 2003


Matt, that is my point as well. But this nation's history of racism ensured an increased liklhood of certain minority groups being in the lower rung of socioeconimic class. Your idea is possible, but only when supplemented with methods meant to correct the forced disadvantage placed on minorites. AA does this.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:59 AM on June 23, 2003


There is an additional element to having a more subjective undergraduate admissions policy. Many, even of the "better" universities, have an "admit, but don't graduate" situation for minorities.
In other words, they turn AA against minority students by admitting them to institutions above their abilities. A student who might be at the top of his class in a state university might lose out entirely by being admitted to MIT or Georgia Tech.
It *is* more important to have a good degree from a good university, then to have *no* degree from a fine university, even if admitting you made them look good.

Granted, this is just one element of the bizarre conditions that exist today, including such things as schools turning down students that are too good, for fear that the student will turn their acceptance down in favor of a better school, hurting their statistics; and schools insisting on contracts from the students promising to attend that school if they are accepted; and students having their entrance essays professionally written, etc. Odd stuff.
posted by kablam at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2003


PigAlien:

I definitely see your side of this issue. I wouldn't want to discuss AA with anyone who thought it was a simple up/down issue. It's part of a dynamic.

Many universities have a target for in-state/out-of-state students admitted -- not because they can't find athletes or math whizzes in-state, but because increasing the diversity of the gene pool is good for overall health. That may mean that some in-state student loses a spot he/she wouldn't otherwise. But there are many competing interests at work here beyond that of the individual student.

Incoming students may, as you say, be narrowly focused on their individual experiences, but 18-19 year-olds are notoriously poor at acting even in their own self-interest, let alone the greater good. This is a case where the admissions department have to do the planning and behave as stewards.

For better or worse, race is not an arbitrary marker when you're considering diversity as, say, left- or right-handedness would be. Ideally, culture would be separate from skin color, but the experience of having brown (or yellow or red) skin in this country is so distinctive it leads to authentic cultural differences. Colleges ought to assemble student bodies that include students that have gone through that experience. It's in everyone's benefit.
posted by argybarg at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2003


What seems to be neglected here is that race is self-selected on college applications. Last I checked, applicants didn't mail in photographs with their applications - but I'd be happy to be told I'm wrong! If race was not on the application, the only way that admissions staff would have to tell people's race (and thus discriminate against them) would be to make assumptions based on their names. Certainly, some groups of people have certain names in common, but its hardly the most accurate determinant of race. Maybe they could judge from their essays - do they use ebonics? Or are there some other tricks people would like to enlighten me on to tell someone's race without seeing their picture?
posted by PigAlien at 11:03 AM on June 23, 2003


Anyway, in answer to my own statement above, it would be easy to remove photographs and names from applications. Put every application into a computer and assign every applicant a number and have the admissions staff judge them based on their academic (and perhaps sports/instate-outofstate etc) criteria. I honestly believe you would find the percentage of minorities accepted would reflect the 'available pool'.
posted by PigAlien at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2003


The fact of the matter is any idea that everything becomes perfect and equal if minorities are given no advantages is an incredible fallacy.

I think few people believe this.

the situation this country deliberately created for certain minorities makes it necessary for them to work significantly harder than those in the racial majority via the increased liklihood of social and economic disadvantage- disadvantage that was deliberately and specifically created by the majority.

That's what anti-discrimination laws are for.

Affirmative Action is what levels the playing field. Is has never been a second wrong trying to make a right: it's the right correcting the original wrong still inherent in American society.

AA does not level the playing field. Anti-discrimination laws do that. It is not 'right' and I will believe its corrected very little until you can show me hard evidence otherwise.
posted by PigAlien at 11:15 AM on June 23, 2003


"Not to turn this into a class war discussion, but I've long been a fan of socioeconomic class to replace race as a determiner in college admissions."
Yes.

"there would be no need for affirmative action at the college stage if the primary and secondary educational playing fields were leveled...until then, we might have AA as a patch up, but it will be little more than a palliative until the real issues are addressed."
Yes!

Is race the real issue here? Should we handicap and bandage the collegiate admissions system while we still expect the tax base of poor educational districts to supply a decent education?

We think nothing of subsidizing the farmers of crops, but not the farmers and cultivators of young minds?
posted by jazzkat11 at 11:16 AM on June 23, 2003


In terms of undergraduate admissions at least argybarg is absolutely, entirely spot-on on this issue. Well-said.

Furthermore, college applicants who are smart enough to understand the recipe-ingredients nature of admissions will have a leg up on the competition. It can save you a lot of grief.
posted by furiousthought at 11:24 AM on June 23, 2003


AA does not level the playing field. Anti-discrimination laws do that.

No. They do not. What logic are you using to believe this?

Anti-discrimination laws help to prevent further discrimination. It stops the balance bar, not resets it. A level playing field requires the field to be LEVELLED.

Saying anti-discrimination laws level the playing field is like saying the 13th amendment made up for slavery. That's ignorantly ridiculous. Slavery still happened. Racism still happened, and still happens. Approved, authorized, administered discrimination happened, in the very lifetimes of some of the members on this site, and I don't need statistics to prove that. Saying "you can't do it anymore" DOES NOT correct what was was already done.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:43 AM on June 23, 2003


Pig, all kinds of diversity is wonderful, and everyone is special and unique...no one is arguing otherwise.

People only seem to freak out when it comes to affirmative action to ensure racial diversity tho. I remember talk about how people of Italian heritage had very low college attendance and graduation rates...schools adjusted for that, and now it's not as big an issue anymore. In the 20s and 30s and 40s, many schools had quotas of Jewish students and only allowed in a certain percentage. Lately, there have been quotas of Asian students (and still are, as far as i know). There would be far more women accepted into college than men if no balancing was done.

It's impossible for most schools to let everyone who applies and is qualified in. How do you achieve a diverse student body?

And AA has done wonders, at least in the working world. The days of having a "token black" or "token female" at any given workplace are almost entirely gone.
posted by amberglow at 11:45 AM on June 23, 2003


But technically, you could argue it was "unfair" to white people when they had to start paying black people to work for them. Technically, you could argue it's "unfair" to men when it was decided that allowing women to vote reduced their vote power by half.

I honestly don't understand these statements. If a woman's vote counted more than a man's, sure. That would be unfair. AA is unfair... it's unfair to minorities. Expecting less will get you nothing but less.

Anecdote: A relative of mine, a 6th grade teacher, had to pull a student outside of the classroom for repeated behavioral problems. She discussed the poor behavior with the student in an effort to better understand where all the negativity and apathy was coming from. When asked what the student might like to be someday when she grew up, she replied, "a doctor or a pro basketball player". The teacher said that in order to become a doctor, a fine profession, that one has to go to college. "How do you expect to go to college if you don't do any homework and misbehave constantly?" The student replied, "Oh, don't worry, I'll go to college. I'm black."

AA... It's not working.
posted by Witty at 11:46 AM on June 23, 2003


"Saying "you can't do it anymore" DOES NOT correct what was was already done."

Ah. So AA is atonement then?
posted by jazzkat11 at 11:50 AM on June 23, 2003


Witty: you've identified a single selective incident in order to emphasize your opinion as to why an entire group as a whole doesn't deserve social correction from prior discrimination based on... oh, right: sweeping generalizations. Bravo.

jazzkat11: Partially. AA is a means of attempting a somewhat widespread method of social correctiveness. I disagree with monetary reparations, as that would be a provision of benefit for merely existing. Affirmative Action on the other hand is much more about the idea of allowing an increased liklihood of previously oppressed people to obtain opportunities that they were previously forbidden from even attempting.

For example: Since AA began, there have been huge increases in women in high-position employment. Removing discrimination based on gender obviously aided this, but using AA-based programs and incentive to encourage increased employment of women accelerated this to a great degree. To this day, there is still a disproportionate number of women in high-ranking positions than men. But there is no way the level women are at today would have been reached so quickly were it not for Affirmative Action.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2003


AA is a means of attempting a somewhat widespread method of social correctiveness

The universities supporting AA aren't doing it to fix historical wrongs or level the playing field. They are doing it because they feel that a culturally diverse environment leads to a better overall academic experience for all students. So, please stop with the AA as reparations meme.

If AA was meant to be a social-leveling agent, then it would be based on socio-economic factors, and not race.
posted by jsonic at 12:17 PM on June 23, 2003


XQUZYPHYR: If is indeed reparations, partial or not, then it becomes a slippery slope. How do you quantify said reparations, and to whom? At least the Swiss banks had direct lineage and records for Holocaust reparations.

In addition, why are the reparations performance based (As opposed to a "provision for merely existing")? If someone owes me money, do they only have to repay me only if I am earning more money?

And it gets more slippery from there. I wonder at times if some view AA as some sort of salve to remedy the 'white guilt'?

However, if it is a handicap, then that opens up an entirely different solution set.

Since AA began, there have been huge increases in women in high-position employment.

Yes, from the statistics, women have been the biggest beneficiary of AA. However, a large percentage of lower rank in the workplace for women is directly attributed to time taken off for child birth, and loss of seniority - a fact that is not disputed in academic circles.

I won't disagree that it is helpful, however it performs so as a patch to an already leaky system. My original question is how can we ignore the first 12 years of education for an individual, offering substandard education, and then conveniently remedy problems in the college application process?
posted by jazzkat11 at 12:36 PM on June 23, 2003


"How do you expect to go to college if you don't do any homework and misbehave constantly?" The student replied, "Oh, don't worry, I'll go to college. I'm black."

AA... It's not working.


You're basing your argument against AA on a second-hand story about a twelve year-old who *shock* thinks he has the world by the balls. When I was twelve I though I was going to go to MIT and be a millionaire, but high school came, and that got knocked to shit.

My mom teaches ESL to mostly poor, minority kids. 90% of them work their ass off, but there's always the 10% who don't give a shit. It's not AA that's not working, it's those kids. You can't base a rule on the exceptions to the rule.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:47 PM on June 23, 2003


As I understand it, the argument for AA for college admissions is that not as many of certain minorities attend college, and many of them attend poor schools that don't give them the same opportunities for having the necessary extracurriculars for the college application process. OK. The Michigan undergrad point-system was clearly not narrowly tailored to address these issues, but fine, I can see where AA might be needed to get more blacks/hispanics/native Americans to attend college.

But once we establish AA to get more qualified racial minorities to attend good colleges, why do we then need AA again for graduate/professional schools? Why are these minorities, now there are many more of them at the elite schools, need another boost in order to attend law school? This I don't quite understand.

As for the argument that we need more qualified minority professionals, there are close to 200 accredited law schools in the country. If you're a breathing, semi-intelligent human lifeform, you'll get into one of the schools. If you do well at any one of these schools, you'll have an excellent opportunity to get a good, high paying job. Yes, the reputation of the school helps if you're not a top student, but if you're good, no matter where you go to school, you're going to do fine.
posted by gyc at 12:49 PM on June 23, 2003


The student replied, "Oh, don't worry, I'll go to college. I'm black."

ah, the young black man as bogeyman, the Willie Horton of affirmative action...
posted by matteo at 1:10 PM on June 23, 2003


The days of having a "token black" or "token female" at any given workplace are almost entirely gone

Ahh, but at my workplace I am the token white guy. Does that count?
posted by deadcowdan at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2003


an increased liklihood of previously oppressed people to obtain opportunities that they were previously forbidden from even attempting.

Whether anyone was 'previously' oppressed or not is irrelevant to me. What matters to me is whether they are oppressed NOW.

Despite the fact that racism is alive and well in this country, there is plenty of concrete evidence in this country that ANYONE who is willing to work hard can get to the top, or very close. I have no sympathy for anyone who wants to whine about being a victim, past or present.

Of course, a large part of the problem is that we encourage this 'victim' mentality by caving into it. You know, one of the greatest recipients of prejudice in this country is illegal immigrants. I don't see them complaining about being discriminated against, I see them working hard and trying to make better lives for themselves.

I have many personal, close friends who came from illegal immigrant families who are now living in big houses and driving luxury cars because they understood that if they wanted to be equal and be accepted, they had to work for it. You can't sit around on your ass and whine about how unfair life is.
posted by PigAlien at 1:13 PM on June 23, 2003


"Not to turn this into a class war discussion, but I've long been a fan of socioeconomic class to replace race as a determiner in college admissions."

The UM Law School plan that the SCOTUS okayed today gives 20 points for being an underrepresented minority or socioeconomically disadvantaged. I'm not sure what qualifies someone for either classification or what variables are taken into consideration.

My original question is how can we ignore the first 12 years of education for an individual, offering substandard education, and then conveniently remedy problems in the college application process?

Excellent point -- but of course, the same liberals who champion affirmative action at every turn are firmly and heartily opposed to every suggested plan which would allow families the flexibility to move their kids out of dead-end schools/districts and have no alternative plans of their own to offer. If I were more cynical, I'd say that the continued promotion of AA programs is largely in order to have a convenient fallback when confronted about the problems in the compulsory educational system.

But once we establish AA to get more qualified racial minorities to attend good colleges, why do we then need AA again for graduate/professional schools?

Because it's not about them, it's about the schools. The school needs warm non-white bodies, so more AA.
posted by Dreama at 1:23 PM on June 23, 2003


but of course, the same liberals who champion affirmative action at every turn are firmly and heartily opposed to every suggested plan which would allow families the flexibility to move their kids out of dead-end schools/districts and have no alternative plans of their own to offer. If I were more cynical, I'd say that the continued promotion of AA programs is largely in order to have a convenient fallback when confronted about the problems in the compulsory educational system.

I support AA because it increases the capability of minority groups to achieve in the education and business world. I oppose school voucher programs because it partially-endorses government funding for religious school as well as deprives already-under-funded school systems and does nothing to actually correct their status as "dead-end." How are these two even remotely related outside of both involving schools?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:38 PM on June 23, 2003


XQ: With that last comment, you went from making cogent and principled arguments to "playing dumb", and you know it.
posted by trharlan at 1:43 PM on June 23, 2003


Per Witty: AA... It's not working.

Sure, if your evidence is an anecdote. But I believe pigalien requested “hard scientific evidence,” so how about some statistical analysis? To add to XQUZYPHYR’s defense, I highly recommend The Shape the River, written by two former Ivy League university presidents who reviewed the admissions, college, and post-graduation data from thousands of students and found several interesting things. (more in a previous thread)

per kablam: Many, even of the "better" universities, have an "admit, but don't graduate" situation for minorities. In other words, they turn AA against minority students by admitting them to institutions above their abilities.

The book demonstrates that, while there are anecdotal cases of this, it’s generally untrue that unqualified AA students are being admitted and then failing to matriculate.

per mathowie: Not to turn this into a class war discussion, but I've long been a fan of socioeconomic class to replace race as a determiner in college admissions.

The book also takes up this issue and concludes SES is a less effective discriminator to use in erasing differences in education, income, etc. --which are more strongly correlated with race than with class. I agreed with you until I read the book’s arguments.

1. If it was illegal to in any way base college acceptance on the race of the student, what percentage of the American college population would be black?I believe it would be the percentage that was qualified.

There’s the rub. What’s “qualified” and who determines it? Is it the person with the highest SAT and GPA? (I would 110% disagree.) Is it the person who’s capable of graduating? Some people might be amazed at the narrow differences between students included and excluded in college admissions.
posted by win_k at 1:59 PM on June 23, 2003


If AA was meant to be a social-leveling agent, then it would be based on socio-economic factors, and not race.

It is based on socio-economic factors, but it is just a historical fact that people of color in this country have always made up a far m ore disproportionate number of the poor and working-class. I don't know why we always get so upset about AA for students of color and not the legacy programs admit tons of rich white students into schools they don't deserve to get into (and in the case o f Harvard admits regularly admits more legacy kids than students of color combined). There'd be plenty of room in colleges for everybody's kids if the legacy programs were restricted.

Anyways, in the case of U of M, it is especially based on socio-ec onomic factors, but for some reason it is continually left out of the discussion.

"The President attacked Michigan's policy of awarding 20 points (on a 150-point evaluation scale) to undergraduate applicants who are members of underrepresented minoritie s (which at U of M means blacks, Latinos and American Indians). To many whites such a "preference" is blatantly discriminatory.

Bush failed to mention that greater numbers of points are awarded for other things that amount to preferences for whites to the e xclusion of people of color.

For example, Michigan awards 20 points to any student from a low-income background, regardless of race. Since these points cannot be combined with those for minority status (in other words poor blacks don't get 40 points), in effect this is a preference for poor whites.

Then Michigan awards 16 points to students who hail from the Upper Peninsula of the state: a rural, largely isolated, and almost completely white area.

Of course both preferences are fair, based as they a re on the recognition that economic status and even geography (as with race) can have a profound effect on the quality of K-12 schooling that one receives, and that no one should be punished for things that are beyond their control. But note that such p re fer ences-though disproportionately awarded to whites-remain uncriticized, while preferences for people of color become the target for reactionary anger.Once again, white preference remains hidden because it is more subtle, more ingrained, and isn't ca lle d white preference, even if that's the effect."

--Whited Swim in a Sea of Racial Preference.

I think this is worth reading also:Springing the Diversity Trap.


??
posted by Slimemonster at 2:06 PM on June 23, 2003


Yikes.

Sorry for that post, I won't even go over all the typos...

win_k: please read the second article I posted.

p
posted by Slimemonster at 2:08 PM on June 23, 2003


XQ: With that last comment, you went from making cogent and principled arguments to "playing dumb", and you know it.

No, trharlan, I didn't. I legitimately have no idea what the hell Dreama is talking about.

Dreama suggested a hypocrisy in something I find no hypocrisy in whatsoever: I support AA and oppose vouchers for the same reason: how it affects education. The former is beneficial and the latter incredibly hazardous to the education system in this country, primarily to those in minority and low-income groups.

I again state that AA and vouchers have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Would you care to clarify or would you rather just accuse me of playing dumb again?

And thank you for reminding me, win_k:

1. If it was illegal to in any way base college acceptance on the race of the student, what percentage of the American college population would be black? I believe it would be the percentage that was qualified.

"...the effect of automatically awarding 20 points is that virtually every qualified underrepresented minority applicant is admitted." -Today's ruling, in Rehnquest's opinion

But let me guess, PigAlien, that's not what you meant, huh.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:09 PM on June 23, 2003


"...the effect of automatically awarding 20 points is that virtually every qualified underrepresented minority applicant is admitted." -Today's ruling, in Rehnquest's opinion

Somehow, that seems tricky. Is that not a self serving approach, as in the fact that if you add 20 points to anyone's application, they immediately become 'qualified'?
posted by jazzkat11 at 2:19 PM on June 23, 2003


XQ: you wrote "How are these two even remotely related outside of both involving schools?"

For one, the goals are (supposedly) the same.

They're related because they share a goal-- improving the chances/education/opportunities of "disadvantaged" people.

AA (Univ of Michigan style) tries to do this by granting preferences to members of groups, in order to increase their representation at an elite academic institution.

Vouchers try to do this by giving adequate financial means to the parents of children, in order to increase their representation at better primary/secondary institutions.

You can argue the efficacy and the merits of both approaches all you want, XQ, but the parallel is obvious. And you know this. Hence my accusation.
posted by trharlan at 2:35 PM on June 23, 2003


win_k: I didn't say unqualified minority students are failing to matriculate, I suggested under-qualified minority students are taking the hit. And it's not just at the "elite schools" level. If you took SAT scores and rated them from high to low, you would think that schools would be a parallel list from high to low next to them. For example, MIT and Georgia Tech getting the high scorers and local Community Colleges getting the lower scorers.
However, there is the positively devilish effect of bumping students up, throughout the scale, because of AA and other factors balanced against their SATs, mostly financial need.

So what (might) happen? Students who could get a good associates' degree at a CC or Tech school fail out of a BA or BS program at their local university. Students who could succeed at their local university try a more prestigious school then they should, etc. On top of everything else, failing, and probably incurring serious debt in the process, makes it that much harder to try again at something more fitting to your needs. Even if you successfully complete a program, today's odds are that you will be in debt for years.

Now, I say *might* happen, because *how much* of a boost threatens your chances? Is it being in a class with an average SAT score of 20 points higher than you? 30 points?

Just anecdotally, I live next to an Enormous State University, and each fall semester I see the huge freshman class attrited down to half its size. To me, this stinks of the university admitting people it shouldn't, and then flunking them out, for *one* reason: MONEY.

Ironically, AA may not be at the heart of this issue. What may be is the focus of these institutions in profit instead of education.
posted by kablam at 3:11 PM on June 23, 2003


Vouchers try to do this by giving adequate financial means to the parents of children, in order to increase their representation at better primary/secondary institutions.

The parallel is not obvious. Vouchers are an attempt to allow middle and upper-class (predominantly white) families to Federally subsidize private (typically religious) schools which in turn deprives funding of schools left to families whose incomes are so low (disproportionately minority) that the vouchers still do not aid the purpose of school choice.

It's not a parellel, it's a contradiction. Vouchers are not meant to help "disadvantaged" people- they're sold under the guise of trying to reform, if anything "disadvantaged" school systems. And most aren't even buying that. Furthermore, most "disadvantaged" groups, as you say, oppose vouchers, so I don't see how you can argue it's in the interest of minority groups parallel to Affirmative Action.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:54 PM on June 23, 2003


How about some statistics from, lo and behold, a scientific study of subtle racial preferecnes in hiring.

Would it surprise you that, on average, a resume with a "black" name gets about 60% as many responses from employers as the same resume with a "white" name? [cite]

What this means is that a lot of black people (obstensibly) go un-interviewed for jobs, even though their qualifications are equal. What can we do about this?

Make fucking sure that we go out of our way to interview and hire qualified applicants, that's what. Affirmative action helps level this playing field.
posted by zpousman at 6:57 PM on June 23, 2003


The real issue is how the United States, a country built upon racial inequality, a country where pervasive racial stereotyping continues, a country where equal access to necessities like housing, employment, health care, and education does not exist -- how that country finally intends to change.

Change the 'racial' to 'economically disadvantaged' and your post might not come off as a rhetorical cliche and more as a valid truth.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 9:01 PM on June 23, 2003


What this means is that a lot of black people (obstensibly) go un-interviewed for jobs, even though their qualifications are equal. What can we do about this?

Make fucking sure that we go out of our way to interview and hire qualified applicants, that's what. Affirmative action helps level this playing field.


And how would affirmative action level the playing field when there are bigoted interviewers out there except to create a bigger applicant pool from which to reject?
posted by gyc at 9:09 PM on June 23, 2003


Not to turn this into a class war discussion, but I've long been a fan of socioeconomic class to replace race as a determiner in college admissions.

We're already in a class war. It's called the Bush tax plan. So we might as well acknowledge it. But I agree entirely: minorities are, statistically speaking, more economically disadvantaged than they should be, were the playing field level, and barring any theories of inherent inferiority. On the other hand, it's the exceptions that can make racial preferences unfair: just because I'm Florixican, I can goof off in high school and still get into Harvard, even though my dad's a brain surgeon and I went to Choate?

Affirmative action based on socioec factors would be available to help the orphaned son of Swedish knitters (orphaned by an errant needle, say) as much as the great-great-granddaughter of African slaves from the projects, if both demonstrate a will to rise in the world despite having attended hellhole public schools (in New York City, say) and lived in horrible slums.

More African Americans will be helped at the moment because that's where we are as a society — African Americans are more likely to wind up in jail than those of us who aren't, and less likely to wind up at Yale — but the need for affirmative action when the percentages even out will remain. Because there'll still be the problem of abject poverty and how to help people out of it, perhaps by giving them some credit for how crappy it's been to cope with it. Pure Rawlsian social contract stuff, what's so hard to grasp?
posted by hairyeyeball at 9:34 PM on June 23, 2003


I believe it would be the percentage that was qualified.

There's not really any good reason to think that. If we take "qualified" to mean "would graduate in 8 or so semesters of coursework if admitted," then lots and lots of qualified people get rejected every year. It would be utterly unsurprising if most of the people who were rejected as undergrads by Michigan would have been able to graduate in 4 or 5 years. The problem for schools like Michigan isn't finding the qualified in a sea of drooling morons, it's picking which qualified person to accept and which to reject.

As argybarg notes, admission to a university is not a reward that is bestowed up on the QUALIFIED such that everyone rejected is UNQUALIFIED!!!! Selective colleges and universities like Michigan assemble their classes in part as stewards of their students, trying to put together a class that will enrich each others' experiences. They also, in part, assemble classes with their own institutional interests in having well-placed, happy alums out in the world that want to give back, and that give other people good impressions of Michigan.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:53 PM on June 23, 2003


I uhh... just wanted to point out that my anecdote was nothing more than that; a simple example of alternative consequence to a policy like AA. I'm not trying to make broad generalizations about anything (no moreso than AA does all by itself). But what I do know is, if you expect less... less is what you will get.

If you make AA and option, it certainly will be used as such... and counted on. The question becomes, where does AA eventually go? Does it improve the status and ability of a group of people to someday shed the stigma and pains of being minorities? If the intent is not for AA to exist forever, then when does it end... when minorities don't need it anymore? Is that what you think will happen?
posted by Witty at 9:59 PM on June 23, 2003


Just anecdotally, I live next to an Enormous State University, and each fall semester I see the huge freshman class attrited down to half its size. To me, this stinks of the university admitting people it shouldn't, and then flunking them out, for *one* reason: MONEY.

I'm one of the people who fails them (not necessarily at that Enormous State U, but at a large Directional State University), and I don't think that's the big draw. They wouldn't bring in that much money, really, relative to the capital outlay you'd need for their classrooms and the staff to teach them, even if you're hiring adjuncts. Undergrad tuition just isn't that big a money-maker.

The idea, near as I can tell, is that lots more people get to have a stab at college because of schools that aren't selective, even if that stab is pretty cruelly sink-or-swim. Lots of people fail out for lots of reasons, including some amazingly awful study habits -- people who've never been taught that taking notes and reading the book are important, for example. Or people who are trying to hold down 60 hrs/week of work, or whose kids die, or who have stalking ex-spouses taking up a lot of their time and energy, or lots of other things that a university isn't going to know about in the application process.

Anyway, the point is that it's a big world, and there's room enough for big selective Michigan and for utterly unselective Two-Directional State U, which are going to end up doing dramatically different things. The alternative would be lots of people that would never, ever get a chance to even try attending college. Which seems worse to me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:05 PM on June 23, 2003


kablam, I understood your point the first time, and the book I mentioned explicitly rebuts it. It is true that AA-admits at highly selective schools have a range of SAT scores and GPAs that are lower than non-minority admits’. However, the AA admits are not failing out at disproportionately higher rates than those who attend less selective schools. It’s the reverse—an AA admit with 1100 on the SAT is actually more likely (statistically) to graduate at, say, Brown, than at the unselective college. Unqualified, under-qualified, whatever you want to call it (ROU_Xenophobe’s right that the labels are rotten), the education offered at highly selective schools enables these students to succeed.

slimemonster, alas, I couldn’t get the link to work.
posted by win_k at 7:12 AM on June 24, 2003


Of course both preferences are fair, based as they a re on the recognition that economic status and even geography (as with race) can have a profound effect on the quality of K-12 schooling that one receives, and that no one should be punished for things that are beyond their control.

That's wholly true, but no one should benefit from things which have not affected them, either. A graduate from an upper class suburban high school with a household with a 6-figure annual income should not get "extra points" in his favour in the college admissions process just because his skin is black, but he can. Why? You'd be hard pressed to suggest (and harder pressed to prove) that this particular young person has been academically or economically disadvantaged because of race. But so long as AA programs give a blanket "hand up" to students based solely upon race, there will be these inequities. Why is that acceptable?

Dreama suggested a hypocrisy in something I find no hypocrisy in whatsoever: I support AA and oppose vouchers for the same reason: how it affects education.

Vouchers aren't the issue. The point is that when voucher plans or charter school plans or any "give parents options" plans are proposed on the local level, the same core who support unfettered AA stand in strong opposition without offering any alternative solutions which would eliminate much of the need to do anything with the "playing field" on the collegiate level. AA helps keep the local-level problems from boiling over; so long as underserved kids can still get into college via preference programs, the status quo can be maintained.
posted by Dreama at 10:25 AM on June 24, 2003


All I want to know is this:

In the months leading up to the Supreme Court case, it seems like we heard endless comments from George Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, and saw commentary, amicus briefs and editorials from everyone under the sun.

During all of this, has anyone heard anyTHING from Rod Paige? You know, Bush's Secretary of Education-- black guy, degrees from historically black and majority white universities, makes the occasional awkward statement? Have you seen him? Anyone? Have I been missing his comments, or are they just not there? I have yet to find a direct quote or interview from him. He seems to be avoiding press as if his job has absolutely nothing to do with this, and for some reason nobody cares.

His conspicuous silence during this whole debate just seems strange to me.
posted by tyro urge at 11:13 AM on June 24, 2003


His conspicuous silence during this whole debate just seems strange to me.

It does seem strange, especially since the views of Powell and Rice seems opposite of what the Bush administration was espousing. You'd think if they were going to silence people, they'd start with the the more visible Powell and Rice, rather than Paige. Perhaps Mr. Paige realizes that if the public education system was better, especially in the inner cities, that perhaps this affirmative action debate would probably be moot, and didn't want to draw negative attention to the job he was doing as the Secretary of Education.
posted by gyc at 12:23 PM on June 24, 2003


I could've sworn I heard Paige on NPR yesterday; but now that I think about it, the piece was in regard to the partial [read: inadequate] federal funding for No Child Left Behind. I can't find it on NPR. However, in this piece the Guardian quotes Paige as generally opposing affirmative action. The Sacramento Observer has an April article in which Paige promotes Bush's admit-the-top-10% approach.
posted by win_k at 3:38 PM on June 24, 2003


Dowd is interesting today...Why is it that some beneficiaries of AA are vehemently against it?
posted by amberglow at 5:14 AM on June 25, 2003


Thanks, win_k.

They want America's educational system to resemble that of Texas. Should I be worried?
posted by tyro urge at 2:41 PM on June 25, 2003


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