Monday, December 14, 2015

Scalia Is Right That Racial Preferences Often Lead to Academic Mismatches Which Hurt Minority Students

The Wall Street Journal yesterday published an excellent op-ed piece entitled "Scalia Was Right About Racial Preferences."   The title alone will undoubtedly set my liberal friends into a frenzy.  From the article:
With the regularity of Old Faithful, honest remarks on racial matters these days are followed by geysers of liberal indignation and outrage. That is what greeted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s suggestion last week that less-qualified black students might be better off at less-selective colleges.
During oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case concerning race-

Justice Antonin Scalia
conscious college admission policies, Justice Scalia cited research that shows how racial preferences can handicap some black students by placing them in elite schools where they don’t have the same credentials of the average student and struggle academically.  
“There are  those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school—a slower-track school where they do well,” said Justice Scalia. “I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.”
Liberal public figures and media types promptly denounced the remarks. Democratic leader Harry Reid, ever the statesman, stood on the Senate floor Thursday and accused Justice Scalia of endorsing “racist theories.”
We live in a political  environment where the intent of a policy aimed at helping minorities is all that matters; questioning the policy’s actual effectiveness is tantamount to racism....
Liberals simply ignore the fact that Scalia is making an academic argument that's been around for more than half a century, an argument with which even many liberal academics who have studied affirmative action agree.  The article continues:
A 2012 book, “Mismatch,” by UCLA law professor Richard Sander and legal journalist Stuart Taylor Jr., illustrates why Justice Scalia’s concerns are warranted, and the book has helped revitalize the discussion over affirmative action’s efficacy. But it is worth noting that such concerns have been voiced by conservative and liberal scholars alike and are as old as the policies themselves, which date to the late 1960s.
Nearly 50 years ago, Clyde Summers, a professor at Yale Law School and longtime critic of labor-union discrimination against blacks, explained how preferential admissions policies at elite law schools like his own damaged the educational prospects for black students not only at Yale but also at less-selective schools. When a top-tier school like Duke lowered the admissions criteria for a minority student who met the normal admissions standards for a second-tier school like North Carolina, he noted, the latter institution was left with a smaller pool of qualified applicants and forced to begin admitting students who would be a better fit for a third-tier school, and so on.
“In sum,”  wrote Summers (who died in 2010), “the policy of preferential admission has a pervasive shifting effect, causing large numbers of minority students to attend law schools whose normal admission standards they do not meet, instead of attending other law schools whose normal standards they do meet.”
In response to his fellow liberals wanting to hang Scalia in effigy, Columbia University Professor John McWhorter responded with an academic review of the evidence supporting Scalia's line of questioning.  The piece "Actually, Scalia had a point," was published on yesterday
Those who  consider themselves on black people's side are having a field day dismissing Justice Antonin Scalia as a racist. His sin was suggesting that black students admitted to the most selective institutions might perform better at somewhat less selective institutions where instruction is paced more slowly.
I don't usually agree with Justice Scalia's perspectives, but we are doing him wrong on this one. Scalia didn't express himself as gracefully as he could have. No one could suppose that anything like all black students find the pedagogical pace at top-level universities overwhelming.
However, Scalia's comment stemmed not from random intuition but from research showing that a substantial number of black students would do better -- and be happier -- at schools less selective than the ones they are often admitted to via racial preferences.
The reading public's response to Scalia's point shows that few have any idea of this research or assume it was done by partisan zealots. An intelligent discussion of the Fisher v. University of Texas case now before the Supreme Court requires a quick tour of the facts.
... The question [is] not whether black undergraduates were regularly admitted with lower grades and scores, but whether this was appropriate. Also, the very fact of studies addressing what is called the "mismatch" between their dossiers and the schools they are admitted to demonstrates that the mismatch, itself, is real.
Now, at this point, many object that despite the mismatch, the students excel nevertheless. Here is the rub: the data is in, and in crucial ways and too often, they do not.
At Duke University, economist Peter Arcidiacono, with Esteban Aucejo and Joseph Hotz, has shown that the "mismatch" lowers the number of black scientists. Black students at a school where teaching is faster and assumes more background than they have often leave the major in frustration, but would be less likely to have done so at a school prepared to instruct them more carefully.
UCLA law professor Richard Sander conclusively showed in 2004 that "mismatched" law students are much more likely to cluster in the bottom of their classes and, especially, to fail the bar exam. Meanwhile, Sander and Stuart Taylor's book argues that the mismatch problem damages the performance of black and brown students in general.
Yet the discussion of affirmative action implies that the choice is somehow between Yale or jail. But here's what happens on the ground. At the University of California, San Diego the year before racial preferences were banned in the late '90s, exactly one black student out of 3,268 freshmen made honors. A few years later after students who once would have been "mismatched" to flagship schools UC Berkeley were now admitted to schools such as UC San Diego, one in five black freshmen were making honors, the same proportion as white ones.
Our national conversation on racial preferences is underinformed and mean when founded on an assumption that anyone who seriously questions racial preferences is naive at best and a pig at worst. Affirmative action is a complex matter upon which reasonable minds will differ. With the well-being of young people of color at stake, we can't afford to pretend otherwise.
It's a shame that so many liberals would rather scream "racism" than honestly address Scalia's point about academic mismatches which is supported by so many studies.  It makes you wonder if they actually have any real interest in helping minorities rather than simply score political talking points.


leon dixon said...

If your liberal friends haven't read MISMATCH and digested the science then you need not overly worry about them. It is raining today....the sun came up....stick with things they can comprehend.

Susan McKee said...

Scalia's commentary about the (universal) intellectual abilities of blacks had precious little to do with the spurious suit under discussion. Abigail Fisher didn't have the grades to get into UT, according to all accounts; "affirmative action" had nothing to do with her being turned down.

LamLawIndy said...

My grandfather would've expressed it as, "Better to be an otter in a small lake than one more mid-sized shark in the ocean. The odds of survival are higher."

LamLawIndy said...

Susan, I'd also note that none other than Prof. David Orentlicher -- who took the time to file an amicus brief in the latest _Fisher_ SCOTUS case -- notes on page 28 of his brief, "UT-Austin, for example, employs both a top class rank policy and affirmative action for its undergraduate admissions."

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem as though Fisher was turned down because of her race, but because of her inability to make the 10% cutoff (which is now down to 7%. She was offered admission to a branch of UT (which she turned down), she was admitted to LSU and, now that she's graduated, is gainfully employed.

Anonymous said...

"Her spot" wasn't given to a less qualified black student. She didn't HAVE a spot because she didn't make the 10 percent cutoff, so she lost nothing.

Anonymous said...

In this case, it seems that the student "saved" was Fisher -- who would have been out of her depth at the UT based on her grades, scores and life story.

LamLawIndy said...

Anons, you seem to misunderstand the UT admission policy: the top 10% of any TX HS class gets in BUT the UT body isn't made up of ONLY the 10%-ers; not all 10%-ers will opt for UT. For the REMAINING spots in the freshman class, UT uses a multi-factor test. Race is one of the factors used.

Example: Let's say there are 3000 spots in a freshman class. The 10%-ers may occupy 2000 of the 3000 spots. The remaining 1000 spots are awarded based on factors INCLUDING race. Simply put, UT is making distinctions based partly on race. IMHO, using race as a factor AT ALL is not narrow tailoring when other race-neutral factors (income, whether one is the 1st in one's family to go to college) can be employed to diversify a student body.

leon dixon said... Deal with the issue.

Indy Rob said...

Susan, it was not her grades that kept her out, Abigail Fishers grades were actually better than 512 of the 841 admitted under UT policy for the students not in the top 10% of their class.

Instead what kept Abigail out was her combined AI/PAI scores.

UT uses a combination of the Academic Index (“AI”) which is based on standardized test scores and high school class rank, and the Personal Achievement Index (“PAI”) which reflects the strength of the applicant’s essays and a “personal achievement score.”.

But the problem is that she was at best a marginal student to admit and it does not help that other marginal students were admitted due to race.