Affirmative Action and Equality, Cont’d

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at

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240 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    “Minority” is misleading here. Not all minorities are historically or presently underserved (e.g., Asian Americans). At certain schools like UCLA, black student enrollment has dropped significantly (I think it did so at Berkeley as well), while black student enrollment system-wide after Prop 209 has only gone up by .2 percentage points, or something to that effect.

    In Texas, doing away with affirmative action programs and then replacing them with the 10% rule caused a drop in black and latino enrollment.

    So even with your data, the battle is clearly not over. But your data isn’t the whole story. The problem isn’t just minority enrollment, but underpriveleged minority enrollment. There is no evidence that the top 10% rule gets anyone into college who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get into college. I’m not sure any programs in California post-Prop 209 have done so either. And that’s what affirmative action is supposed to do.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

      More community colleges that are prepared to deal with people who came from crappy high schools and give them the high school education they weren’t able to get in their communities would be a lot better than letting kids from these communities into a college where most of the other students got in with something approaching a real high school education.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        I actually agree with this, though in conjunction with programs that look at more than grades and standardized test scores for kids who have built in disadvantages.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Chris says:

          You should not agree with this. Affirmative action gives a leg up in actual admissions to kids who are generally qualified to attend a given university. It doesn’t cause patently unqualified students to be admitted to campuses where the academic expectations are far above what they have demonstrated in the classroom. That function we reserve for major-sport athletics and private school legacy admissions.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

            The numbers I’m seeing show that 40% of college students drop out.

            I’m digging to see if this 40% is skewed one way or the other (my google fu is failing me).

            I would say that the answer to that question is very important for this debate, yes?Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              Not the way Kowal is arguing it, is it?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                He’s defining “the debate” here. If you want to re-frame things, you have a blog. (Though I know you don’t like to use it for what I fully agree is a particularly dreary topic. You could re-frame in a longer original comment – I’d be interested in hearing your larger take, but I don’t think this comment alone was enough to re0frame the debate such that we aren’t still operating within Kowal’s argumentative framework.)Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                The blog also has a rule of “no politics”.

                But if you’d like me to cease discussion of this particular issue in this particular sub-thread, I will.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                No, it’s just that you have to say what “this debate” is, or should be, to which you think this is relevant, because what I’m saying is that, no I don’ think it’s particularly relevant to the debate the way Kowal has set it up, and you haven’t defined the debate as you think it should be done. So I’m just saying, do that. You can do it here, though the columns are getting kind of narrow. If you insist on me answering the question then the answer is, no, it’s not particularly relevant to “this debate,” because “this debate,” until you define a new one, is the one Kowal has set up, using the parameters he has defined. So, No, I guess is the answer.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                It seems to me that the “debate” is “Should we engage in Affirmative Action?”

                There are a ton of “YES! WE SHOULD!” answers and “NO! WE SHOULD NOT!” answers.

                To get into specifics without doing justice to the positions, the yeses include such stories as institutional racism and privilege and, hey, legacy admissions and so on and so forth. The nos include such stories as reverse racism and color blindness and assumptions on the part of society that say that anyone of a particular background who went to college got in as an AA admission.

                Tim has, of course, turned this into a loosey-goosey morality debate.

                I’d be more interested in a somewhat more measurable morality debate.

                I am willing to concede every point that argued that we ought to engage in AA admissions because of more or less every reason that people have offered in service to such a policy.

                What I am doing now is asking about the stuff we can measure (dollars) and wondering if there is a point beyond which we can say that our moral assumptions about our responsibilities have not, once again, taken us to a place we did not wish to go to despite our best intentions starting out.

                Which is probably much less loosey-goosey than Kowal’s appeals to nouveau post-bellum thinkers who didn’t have all of the important information that Gregiank mentions down there at 6:06.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, now we’re cooking with gas, Jay!

                Unfortunately, per Patrick, I’m pessimistic on being able to get all that info. And i would be against saying, “Well, the cost is this much, it must not be worth it!” If you want to do a CBA, then do a CBA. But a CBA is not, “Holy shit the C is X! My A is that the B can’t possibly be enough to justify the C!”

                Barring a real CBA, I don’t have a problem operating on the assumption that giving people who defied the odds to get in a place to be able to credibly seek admission at a good university the opportunity to give it a shot over someone who defied far fewer odds but gained only roughly equivalent credibility is going to be, when it all shakes out, a good thing. But I fully admit that is just a proposed operating assumption and nothing more.Report

              • Tim Kowal in reply to Jaybird says:

                By my count, I don’t think anyone else had yet identified a standard by which they would decide the endless questions they nonetheless insist on asking. With respect to those questions, you’ll notice no one asks them of me, because I’ve already given a clear account of the moral and legal standard by which I would answer them. Mine is the least “loosey-goosey” approach here. But I say again, it’s about the only “approach” that’s yet been offered.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I agree entirely with you on that, Tim.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think the confusion is that JB was not equating ‘loosey goosey’ with ‘lack of conviction on position.’Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t think anyone else had yet identified a standard by which they would decide the endless questions they nonetheless insist on asking.

                Dude! I’m using hard dollars!

                Mine is the least “loosey-goosey” approach here. But I say again, it’s about the only “approach” that’s yet been offered.

                I meant no offense, Tim.Report

              • Koz in reply to Jaybird says:

                “I’d be more interested in a somewhat more measurable morality debate.”

                Good point. I agree with Tim’s angle, but I haven’t pursued it because it’s a worn path by now. Instead, let’s try something else. Forgive me for quoting myself from yesterday,

                “My point, which is that AA as it’s currently implemented is a clusterfkkk of bureaucratic overreach that has no accountability or understanding of what is subject to fiat and what isn’t.”


            • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              The usual comparison is between AA admissions and the general student population, which is misleading. The right comparison is between AA admissions and the students they replaced, who were, by definition, borderline. Unfortunately, that’s a counterfactual.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                So there is no way for us to get a meaningful number from these admissions, even if getting such a number is measurable?Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Mike’s right about what the right comparison is, but if there’s not much of a difference between AA admissions and the general student population, it’s pretty unlikely that there is a meaningful one between AA students and the people they replace, either.

                FERPA is going to kill you, here. It’s not a lack of Google-Fu.Report

              • I do think that there is a number above which we might be able to say that these admissions do more harm than good… I mean, unless these marginal students get significantly more financial aid (not in the form of loans) than other students.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                So they should gouge a bunch of white kids who are going to drop out instead? Racist!Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                They’ll be fine.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think if we could find an exact number, it would be very helpful in this debate. But I am still not convinced it’s the only question to be asked.

                The more I’m thinking about this over the past day or tow, the more I’m starting to think of state admissions as being like the NCAA Men’s BBall Tournament. You have a certain number of slots you can accommodate, and with those there are going to be a great many teams that qualify, regardless of where they are from or what conference they play in.

                But there are going to be some conferences who get to have a team go, even though they clearly aren’t one of the best 64 teams in the country. Is someone from the American Conference really going to upset Duke in the first round? No, but the lives of that conference’s champs are amazingly enriched, as is the conference as a whole, and basketball itself.

                Does that mean that a better team doesn’t get in? Yes, but that’s part of the unsolvable problem. No matter how meritocritous (I just made that word up) you want the system to be, when you get to the 60-70 area in the ranking, there is never going to be consensus, and there will always be 6 teams in that mix that are convinced the fix is in.

                I think we get something valuable by having a diverse group of our population realize higher education, and I think higher education is more holistic in a lot of ways by having people from a variety of different socio-economic, racial, religious, national, and whatever backgrounds. I understand the argument of wanting merit only, but I don’t see the issue as being so black and white – or that it’s even possible.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Perhaps if you took a number of schools that do significant AA, figured that was N% of students, and considered their graduation rate vs. that of the bottom N% of a group of similar schools that don’t do AA. Sounds daunting to me.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Oh, I’m sure that *I* couldn’t do it.

                It strikes me as something that somebody would have researched at some point, though.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                The link given elsewhere on this thread mentioned some of what you’re talking about mike.Report

            • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              But to your point, front-end qualification measures are what is important to me. Schools shouldn’t admit students patently not qualified to study at their institutions. Beyond that, I don’y think that the fact that a particular student is by some objective standard measured to be a more deserving applicant, that it follows that if that student happens to be the least-deserving one admitted, that the next-most-deserving student (not admitted) was definitionally not qualified. They were just not admitted. So admissions is more about competition and class composition than actually weeding out unqualified applicants.

              And it doesn’t follow from a dropout that the dropout was an unqualified admit. So it doesn’t follow from higher rates of dropouts among a group of people aided by affirmative action that patently unqualified applicants among them are being admitted. Just because you may have a higher-than average statistical likelihood of dropping out because of your skin color does not mean that you have been admitted below some absolute level of qualification. Setting such a level would be easy enough in its own right, so we might as well just approach that issue that way.

              Dropouts also have a cultural component. This is anecdotal, but I know of minority kids who excelled academically in high school but ultimately found themselves in a a cultural environment to which they could not adjust enough to be able to succeed academically in a university placement which they had earned beyond question.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                If it turns out that more harm (debt, opportunity cost) than good (graduate purchasing power, if we want to use numbers we can compare to each other) is being done, isn’t that something that we’d *WANT* to know?

                Because if we’re doing more harm than good IN PRACTICE, then the good that we think we’re doing is yet another example of privileged people making themselves feel better at the expense of others.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Sure, it’s something we want to know.

                Again, FERPA’s gonna kill us, here. Whether we want to know it or not, I don’t think we’re going to find out.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Patrick, Being older I’ve already had kids through the FERPA regime. Even when I had them sign the waivers (I was paying for their education after all, not some grant or loan) the schools, by their own volition and/or policy neglected to keep me informed of certain things that would have been useful (like, um GRADES!). When my youngest got accepted to a fraternity that was channeling “Animal House” and proceeded to drink himself into a stupor for over a month, by the time I found out he had flunked out of the school (which itself had turned down a record number of Freshmen that year). So my son – a minority as it turns out, got accepted (deservedly so) but then blew it anyway. A lot of blame to go around, the frat (subsequently shut down), the school (ignoring FERPA waiver), my son’s stupidity (Asian alcohol tolerance is only marginally better than native Americans), me (could have raised him smarter/better – just because he’d never been interested in drinking in high school didn’t really make him immune to the lure) etc.

                Fortunately a reverse AA was involved in his acceptance to that school. He was accepted in spite of being Asian. After we made him do penance at a community college for a time, he went on to a different school and was eventually employed at both Microsoft and now Google. Apparently he overcame the handicaps. Interestingly both Microsoft and Google have “entrance exams” that are basically 6 sigma IQ tests. Your degree might get you past HR, but how you do on their internal tests determines whether you get a job.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                This is why what “this debate” is matters. The debate as Kowal defined it had been about the propriety of admissions decisions, treating admission as a good. You said nothing about your view of the right debate being whether, on the whole, these admissions produce better outcomes for the student they cause to be admitted than otherwise. If that’s the debate you want to have, fine, I don’t have any particular insight other than that it is going to be very hard to figure out what is causing drop-outs in general, how to calculate the utility of some college attendance even if short of graduation, opportunity cost, etc. If your point is that the university institution tends to take its utility as a given, you are of course correct. But then, many, many, many people enroll in college and don’t graduate. It doesn’t take affirmative action to give us that “problem” (if it is a problem), and it doesn’t follow from a dropout that an applicant admitted partly via affirmative action was net harmed by having been.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I believe Kowal was arguing something larger than simply university admissions.
                That whole thing is a sideshow.
                I’m more concerned about whose money they’re using to get in.
                I would prefer to see three years of military service as a requirement for these deserving candidates, but that’s just me.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Okay, fine. Kowal is a racist who is worse than Hitler. He’s as bad as the people who get Beck’s _The Christmas Sweater_ as a Christmas gift and are genuinely pleased.

                Now that we have that out of the way, it doesn’t follow from a dropout that an applicant admitted partly via affirmative action was net harmed by having been

                I think that if there is debt involved, we *CAN* measure that.

                If the kid at the margin gets in without much of a scholarship and/or grant but instead gets X dollars in loans and drops out and still has to pay that loan back, then we are talking about harm done.

                Right? Or am I thinking about that wrong?Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                JB… OK, OK, I know you’re only joking. And yeah, we’ve all heard the “as bad as Hitler” crack. But… as bad as the people that liked getting The Christmas Sweater? Dude…

                There are some things you can’t just walk back.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                That is simply the claim that paying for a semester of college without graduating is a bad investment. Maybe that is aclear harm on the harm side of the ledger (or maybe the value of that semster’s learning was a straight-up worthwhile thing to spend the money on, okay, j/k on that one). But my claim was net harm. It doesn’t literally follow that the opportunity to matriculate didn’t provide the person the opportunity to do something else, discover a talent, meet a group of people, that more than make up for that semester’s worth of tuition. It all depends what the kid does with the opportunity, and the quality of the opportunities that matriculating at a given university actually creates for students.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Mr. Drew, you just moved the goalposts into the parking lot.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I would also point out that we would only see admitting a student who then goes on to drop out as having a “harm done” to them if we think of them as fatalistically destined to fail. But as I pointed out, I think we can only say that universities are doing this if they admit clearly unqualified students. But that is not what they do. They have a pool of qualified applicants, from who they choose admitees. The fact that a student the university saw as qualified to attend was given an opportunity they sought to attend partly via a boost over some other qualified applicants then drops out, does not mean that they were harmed by being admitted partly due to an affirmative action program. we wouldn’t say the students who were admitted without affirmative action were harmed by being admitted if they dropped out: we’d say they, by their actions, did not maximize an opportunity given to them. but if students admitted by affirmative actions were not unqualified, bu simply given a leg up, then we can hardly say they were any more harmed by being given the opportunity they sought than were their non-affirmative-action-aided coeds.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                No, Tom, I actually did say “net harmed.”Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                On the drive home, I did some numbers in my head.

                Let’s say that it costs 10 grand to go to school for a year. Sure. On top of that, let’s say that everyone who drops out, drops out after one year. No more.

                Let’s say that a college graduate makes 1 Million Dollars more over his lifetime than a person who only has High School/Some College.

                That means that there can be 100 dropouts for every college graduate to achieve parity, right?

                Just looking at the numbers. Right?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                No, because I don’t accept that a year’s attendance at a university even absent graduation is an axiomatically zero-value thing in the aggregate for all such attendance experiences, or on average for the purpose of this accounting.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Are there numbers for the purchasing power of “Only High School” vs. “Some College”?

                You’d think there would be.

                We can use those numbers then.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to Jaybird says:

                @Drew, you make some interesting points and indeed the goalposts have certainly left the playing field, but I’ll play along. My son’s experience above means he could be one of the “statistics” against AA by some measure. His later success in life another.

                We could use the case of a non AA student named Steve Jobs. He dropped out of school but /then/ started auditing classes and one of those classes was calligraphy. That class gave him his subsequent insights into design, fonts, typography, taste, art and many more that he’s documented over the years in speeches (usually at graduations ironically). Whether we’d have ever had Apple and all the things it delivered to us (including me using a Windows browser with kerned fonts to type this) if Jobs hadn’t gone to college even for a bit is a rather large unknown.

                That’s the problem, statistics by their very nature can never capture all the nuances of the human condition and experience. The best we can hope for is a general idea of direction and even then they fall far short. Perhaps anecdotes are our best bet, at least for framing the issues.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Generally, I am not calling for a CBA on AA, JB. So you might as well just do whatever one you want. It will have to be quite rigorous, using real numbers to convince me to move away from my operating assumption articulated above, but perhaps a less rigorous one will convince other readers.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Can you come up with any thing even in theory that could get you to change your mind on this?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I have no idea where the goalposts started, and I don’t really care. But if the goalposts’ original position was defined in tim’s post, then I would suggest that i did not move them. Jaybird did, and I went along. From there, I have simply questioned his valuations of various opportunities, possibilities, and outcomes.Report

              • wardsmith in reply to Jaybird says:

                Drew, you and JB seem to be talking past each other on at least one point. The cost. If tuition is free and someone drops out, no blood no foul. On the other hand dropping out AND having to repay student loans for instance is doubly difficult because of the divergence in present and future income. That’s also the kind of graph JB wanted I believe.

                So it isn’t just the student who wasn’t accepted due to someone on AA getting ahead in line, but if the AA student drops out because he/she can’t keep up they face further hardship then they might have otherwise. Yet the Creon link shows something else, that the highest rated schools seem to take better care of the lowest rated students, shepherding them on to graduation. There could be a number of reasons for this, including smaller class sizes, more personal attention, better counseling or simply the prestige factor of sticking it out for that sheepskin from an Ivy League school. It doesn’t matter, the college experience is valuable regardless.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                There are any number of intangibles in any debate and it only makes sense, to me, to argue that a policy is good (or bad) based on the intangibles is if there’s some sort of 50/50 thing going on for measurables. Yes. It is at *THAT* point that the intangibles push something this way or that way.

                Without numbers and basing things only on intangibles, however, you may as well be arguing theology.

                (Don’t get me wrong, I love arguing theology.)

                It’s just that it seems that hard numbers are available in theory for this stuff. The hard numbers change the debate, if we get them.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                A really rigorous CBA using actual showing that on net a great deal more harm than actual advancement results (as I suggested it would). I’d have lots of different kinds of cross-examination of it to do before it had that effect (i.e. does it answer the questions I think relevant), but in theory it could.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Fair enough.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                At this point, Mr. Drew, you and AA proponents have the burden of proof to show it’s worth its societal divisiveness.

                Me, I’d be OK with AA if it were actually undoing the harm of 100s of years of discrimination, but at this point, the defense is a pretty nebulous “diversity” or “dropping out of college is better than never having gone atall.”

                It beats a poke in the eye. Can’t really dispute that, if that’s all there is to the issue.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Response to various: Basically on this question of “harm,” my view is that, even prior to the data Creon linked, this notion of linking the harm caused by dropouts to affirmative action is essentially a non-sequitur. Not graduating and being stuck with the cost of attending is a risk every enrollee takes; moreover very, very many “ordinary” enrollees end up facing this outcome one way or another. This is really a legitimate line of criticism for post-secondary education overall, and to implicate affirmative action in particular in this overall problem/situation isn’t in my view much of an indictment of affirmative action. I continue to maintain that the students admitted with affirmative action as a consideration were in any case potential cnadiadtes for admission in a flat scheme, i.e. they are qualified in an absolute way to attend Unviersity X. (Where this is not the case, I concede the wrongness of that policy facially, not contingent on any evidence.) Given this, there is no particular reason to see dropouts among those enrollees as a product of affirmative action. They’re simply a part of the overall dropout rate at the university, absent clear evidence to the contrary (How are we proposing to show that someone dropped out “because” they had benefitted from affirmative action in admissions?)

                But say that we could isolate all cases in which affirmative action led to an admission that in some straight-line way was destined to be an eventual dropout. And say this could be shown to have a negative value somewhere around the positive value of the admissions that occurred that wouldn’t have without AA. What would this mean? Would it mean we should immediately give up AA? It seems to me it is a more a question of whether making these admits remains a decent gamble to take to try to advance (actual, outcome-measured) equality over time, since that is the whole point of the policy in the first place. And here it’s worth just looking at the overall performance of college education in doing this thing you want to judge affirmative action. As I’ve mentioned about ten times now, people of all kinds dop out of college and have loans to pay back. White people, even! Moreover, a college degree isn’t a full ticket to a better life in all cases. College is a bit of gamble for everyone. So we’d need to compare apples to apples by understanding that we’re not just looking at all the costs of AA while comparing to an imagined baseline where everyone else graduates easily. What we’re doing is comparing rates where one set might have a graduation rate of X and the other (1-a)(X) or something like that. I guess my position is that that a needs to be something fairly eye-popping, and then the cost to those who drop out also very clear and compelling to negate the whole idea that giving these kids this opportunity amounts to a bad gamble for the sake of social advancement. Because that’s what it has to negate: not just a bare CBA, but the whole idealistic, hopeful initial justification of the policy. Affirmative action wasn’t started (I don’t think!) based only on a strict claim that it would materially advance those it benefitted in terms of admissions, though certainly its promoters must have thought it probably would (and my strong suspicion is that a CBA would show them to be right). It was started based on a hope it might do that, but also belief, contra everything Kowal here says, that higher education, as a matter of fact, is the engine of advancement in our society, and giving meritorious students from disadvantaged communities seeking admission to their universities (no one is being inscripted here) a leg up in admissions is simply a justified way to open that engine to groups who are undeniably disadvantaged in terms of some merit-based schemes of admission.

                If the policy is clearly harming those people it admits under that justification on the whole more than helping them, I’ll certainly consider that a strong reason to end the policy. But, again, it would have to be rather clear, striking evidentiary case for that in my view, for two reasons. First, I personally just find the likelihood that this is the case highly unlikely and unintuitive. I would need a clear case to convince me it was the case. And second, simply showing that the policy narrowly costs its beneficiaries more than it helps them would not, automatically, in my mind defeat the entire justification for the policy (though it would certainly greatly alter my view of it in any event). The policy also rests to a good extent on precisely the negation of exactly what Tim lays out in this post, taking university admittance (just because you’re admitted doesn’t mean you have to finally decide incurring the tuition is a good choice for you) as an assumed good (one after all, that each admitted student sought for him or herself).Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                TVD, I didn’t realize you were in a position to say what burden is on whom. Oh yeah, that’s cuz you’re not.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Isn’t telling someone “You shouldn’t aspire to fly so high. Trust us, you’re better off with lower ambitions.” a bit, you know, nannyish?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                The flip side of that would be “sure, take this loan! Imagine how much more money you’ll make after you graduate!” as something that an unethical lender might say to someone without really caring about whether the student could graduate or not.

                Take away the ability for student loans to be discharged during bankruptcy and you’ve got a recipe for predatory lending writ large.

                In theory, of course.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Clearly you’re shifting all burden of proof, Mr. Drew, so like, whatever.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m saying what it would take to convince me, Tom. You can differ. None of us gets a veto, just a vote. We don’t have to capitulate when some burden has been met; I’m not saying you can’t oppose affirmative action. Burdens of proof really don’t make much sense at all in this context. So, while I really don’t care at all about the social divisiveness that you (apparently) claim affirmative action causes, it can be your number one public policy concern in the entire world for all I can do about it, no matter what burden I do or don’t meet. And you can vote that view, and I can vote mine. And nothing can change that.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                My main point to Jaybird is that if you are concerned about tuition costs and the resulting possibility of predatory lending to students and the total certainty of catastrophic debt burdens on ex-students, dropouts and grads alike (Grads are having plenty of their own trouble realizing the employment promises they were [maybe arguably] implicitly made contingent on graduation), then you should just be concerned about that, period, full stop. Because it is, truly, a huge problem for everyone seeking a “quality” higher education.

                I think it is amore pressing problem on its own merits in its own right than it is a particular concern for the effects of affirmative action. Moreover, if you fix the overall problem, then you probably have largely ameliorated the effect you are concerned about wrt affirmative action.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                All true, Michael. I’d hoped for a better affirmative case for AA. Mostly it’s feelings and ether here.

                You decline to make the case how AA helps; dismiss all objections how it hurts.

                But it is fundamentally unjust and contrary to the colorblind ideal that is our goal. Tim Kowal writes “according to my argument this story would have to be extremely compelling to overcome the moral principle against racial discrimination.”

                I agree, in the larger sense. If AA were achieving some great good that created some net good, then it might be worth the harm and fundamental unfairness. Your standard of “no net harm” is a) subjective and b) is set so low as to be without value.

                For the record,

                American voters say 55 – 36 percent that affirmative action should be abolished, and disagree 71 – 19 percent with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s ruling in the New Haven firefighters’ case, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

                More than 70 percent of voters say diversity is not a good enough reason to give minorities preferential treatment in competition for government or private sector jobs, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University survey of more than 3,000 voters finds.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Because it is, truly, a huge problem for everyone seeking a “quality” higher education.

                If I were to suggest we abandon the concept of “disparate impact”, would you be cool with that, then?Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                TVD: I don’t have a no-harm standard. I’m just addressing Jaybird’s concern that there is harm. I don’t view AA as an affront to a colorblind ideal that has never existed. If I did, perhaps I would need a strong material case for AA, as you do but I don’t. But you do. And that’s just fine. I’m not trying to defend AA to you; I’m just trying to address Jaybird’s specific concern.

                Jay: Now you’re just assuming that AA even has a negative impact, and you haven’t demonstrated it. So I’m just going to shut this down. If you want to attack the problem of tuition cost and student lending, it’s right there for you to attack.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jay, you know what, I’m sorry to have been short there. Flesh that out for me a bit more if you want. I’m getting fatigued here a bit and my nerves are a little jangled (it was something of a wild night in Major League Baseball in case you weren’t watching), and I’m just having trouble recalling exactly how that doctrine works in the law, what specific fact patterns it was used to resolve, and how the analogy here would play out. Go to town if you’re inclined.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Lemme sleep on it. I’m sure it’s not a comment that will be better for being written at midnight.


              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Agreed. Meant to add that, whatever you wrote, I wouldn’t be able to consider it properly until tomorrow. Sleep tight!Report

              • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:

                TVD (and others)-

                Speaking only to education, there is ample evidence that a more diverse student body is a net positive for all students. “Diverse” is not limited to race, but obviously that is a primary component of diversity.

                There are studies that show the opposite, but this effect was largely a function of explicitly forced “diversity” (i.e., busing programs) where the gains of diversity are outweighed by the costs, such as increased travel, teachers unprepared for teaching a diverse student body, etc.

                So, all-in-all, most attempts at thoughtfully constructing a diverse student body are ultimately beneficial for all or most members of that student body. As such, it is perfectly reasonable to consider the non-academic credentials of an incoming student. In much the same way international students, students with military service, or others who bring a unique and otherwise minimally present perspective to the community might have these factors in, the experiences of people of color and specifically how their race has impacted their perspective might also be duly considered.

                Why do we seek out smart kids for college? Not only because they are likely to succeed there but because they are also likely to contribute to the success of their classmates. Which is why a smart, social, driven student will likely be selected over a brilliant savant. If we’re going to give bonus points to a student who spent time studying abroad because they have something unique to offer to their classmates, why not make the same consideration of a black student from rural Virginia applying to a California school?

                Again, it matters much HOW you do this. “Bonus points” in the application process are less-than-ideal (though studies have pointed out to “bonus points” offered implicitly to members of majority groups). Quotas even worse. But a thoughtful approach where the experiences of a student are taken into account, and how those experiences might contribute to the learning environment of the student body as a whole is a boon to all.

                Of course, there are other rationales in support of AA, but I’ll leave those for another day.Report

              • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:

                To take a slightly different angle, there are also studies that point to the impact of teachers’ race and gender on student performance, with better representation of the student body among the population correlating to higher student achievement for traditionally marginalized groups.

                Considering this, would it be wrong for a school to use race as a factor in hiring? If the race of a teacher has a measurable impact on student performance, why is this any less legitimate a desirable trait than a Masters degree or years of experience? Obviously, it should not be the sole criteria, but certainly it would be legitimate to consider, no?

                So why can’t this be done when looking at students? With evidence that a more diverse student body makes for a better learning environment, why not consider the criteria that would lead to a more diverse group?

                (I apologize for referring to sources without citations. I have hard copies of these studies at work, which I am without until Friday because of the holiday tomorrow.)Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:


                Just to step in for Jaybird, (and I was going to make this same point, but it would actually amplify the import of his concern if he could demonstrate that it is well based), while I agree this is a very legitimate part of the justification for affirmative action at large, if affirmative action actually on net harms the life chances of those it purports to benefit by admittance (apart from the universal benefit of diversity in the student population), then it would be wrong to improve the educational experience for the entire (majority majority) undergraduate body at the expense of doing harm to people’s lives by admitting them to universities they should not be invited to attend. That’s the concern. For my own part, I am highly skeptical absent a strong factual showing to the effect, that this harm occurs on net to a greater extent as a result of affirmative action. In fact, I don’t even think that people who are not clearly qualified get admitted to universities as a widespread practice – rather affirmative action is used to choose between clearly qualified applicants. But if it were the case that unqualified students were widely admitted to schools they should not attend in order to diversify the student body, resulting in harm to many of those admitted for that reason, while improving the educational experience of the rest of the university, this would be wrong. I just don’t think it happens.Report

              • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:


                GREAT point. If there is evidence that AA harms applicants of color, that is a major concern. I’m not sure that is the case though, as you speculate.

                I think the larger reason for people of color, African-Americans in particular, underperforming in college has more to do with their high school experience than with AA. In many predominantly African-American schools, particularly those in the inner city, standards for excellence are lowered. Sometimes this is well-intentioned (though wrong) and sometimes this is very poorly intentioned (and still wrong). What ends up happening is students earn higher grades than they deserve, making them appear prepared for a college experience they may not actually be ready to handle. Subsequently, when they arrive on campus, they are simply ill prepared for success because their high school failed them. I’ve got a book I can dig out on the experience of one such student in DC. Obviously, it is but a single anecdote, but it speaks to this very phenomenon, which is also documented in other ways.

                Another reason for underperformance also has to do with a lack of support for these students. They may be academically and intellectually prepared for the rigors of college, but not socially or psychologically or emotionally prepared. I don’t mean to suggest that they are lacking or weak in these areas. Rather, it can be quite a jarring experience to go from being a black youth in a black school in a black neighborhood in a diverse city to being a black youth on a white campus in a white neighborhood in a white suburb, with few black faculty and few people with whom you can connect with to deal with these issues.

                As a diversity practitioner at a private school (primary), one of the things we have to constantly remind people of is that promoting diversity is not just about getting certain people in the door, but supporting them once they are there. People’s experiences prepare them for different things and, subsequently, leave them needing different things. Many schools simply lack the ability, willingness, or urgency to address these needs, thinking they’ve done the job once the college brochure is colorful enough.

                So, yea, this is a long way of saying that if AA is harming the applicants it is most intended to help, that is a major concern. But I’m not sure if the difficulties that SOME students of color face upon landing on campus is actually a result of AA pulling unprepared students.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                BSK – quite right, and I’m sure this is just what Jaybird is talking about. My only point is that it’s not clear to me how much these kids are being harmed, even if they are underprepared (though if many are, that would be evidence against my understanding of how affirmative action works, where unqualified students are not admitted). I’d just say that merely because a student ends up facing a steep learning curve and perhaps ends up not meeting it, does it mean that they were necessarily not qualified to enter the university (college is supposed to be a challenge), nor does it necessarily mean that being given the opportunity was a net harm to the student.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                So, BSK, you recruit blacks so the whites get a better education in “diversity?” It sounds like I’m being snarky or sophistic, but your defense of AA here has nothing to do with what’s good for the black student. So “diversity for diversity’s sake” really has nothing to do with this atall.

                At least you acknowledge in another comment that black students often struggle from the culture shock. Perhaps they’d do better somewhere else, where they’re not simply window-dressing or curiosities for white students to learn “diversity” from?

                I respect that you’ve been open about the potential problems with AA, BSK. I think its very existence puts a pall over genuine black achievement.

                Not just in white eyes. What does one of your black kids think when he realizes he was graded on lowered expectations all through high school? It must hit like a ton of bricks.

                This is the stuff that troubles me, not that a handful of marginal white kids get gypped in favor of a few marginal black ones. As we all know, life isn’t fair. Deal with it.Report

              • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:


                I agree. I’m not saying that any of that should impact AA. Only that these are realities that exist that should be dealt with one way or another.


                You are twisting my words. I said that it improved the learning environment for the entirety (or near entirety) of the group. I was offering this to refute your point stated here: “If AA were achieving some great good that created some net good, then it might be worth the harm and fundamental unfairness.” There is a net good. Whether that is enough to justify the program is another question. But to ignore the data that a more diverse learning environment (and, again, using diverse in its myriad of possible definitions) is generally a good thing is wrong.

                The problem is that we are talking about AA as if it is one thing. It is not. Both in ideology and methodology, it functions very differently.

                I think there are some practices that would fall under the umbrella of AA that are undeniably a boon to the people it is intended to help. There are others that probably detrimental. Ideally, we would promote the former and cease the latter. Arguing AA as one blanket policy if foolish and ultimately amounts to nothing.

                Yes, lower expectations (offered referred to as the patronizing racism of the left, with *some* accuracy) do more harm than good for a variety of reasons. At the same time, getting more black kids into college, even if they struggle and/or fail when they get there, is a good thing. Going to college may not be the right decision for every student (black or white) that ends up there, but such efforts help turn the tide that, for a long time, has said that the college experience is not one for blacks. That doesn’t mean we should offer up this generation of black students as sacrificial lambs to this cause, setting them up for failure at the collegiate level. But the potential for failure alone is not enough to say we should stop encouraging pursuing this route if it makes sense for the student.

                So, in the end, I think AA is not only right but is a moral obligation our society has because of the persistence of racial discrimination in our society. And legal arguments to the contrary are fundamentally founded on a complete refusal to acknowledge the existence of nuance in our laws. Ideally, the laws would be better written, but they’re not. And relying on poorly written, overly generalized laws to promote the status quo, which is one that was and continues to be founded upon a system of white privilege and supremacy, is straight up ignorant.

                (Not saying you are necessarily doing all that, TVD… got a bit ranty towards the end there.)Report

              • Tim Kowal in reply to Jaybird says:

                And as I mentioned in the OP, the “diversity” rationale is all that’s left—ameliorating “societal discrimination” is not a compelling state interest that can constitutionally justify racial preferences.

                I might as well mention, since the issue of burdens of persuasion came up earlier, that the approach to evaluating whether racial discrimination (e.g., affirmative action) is constitutionally permissible is to determine whether a compelling state interest exists, and next to determine whether the scheme of racial discrimination is narrowly tailored and the least restrictive means for achieving that interest.

                In the Bakke case, the UC Regents offered four reasons it contended affirmative action was a compelling state interest:
                (i) “reducing the historic deficit of traditionally disfavored minorities in medical schools and in the medical profession,” (ii) countering the effects of societal discrimination; (iii) increasing the number of physicians who will practice in communities currently underserved; and (iv) obtaining the educational benefits that flow from an ethnically diverse student body. The Court rejected all but the last. That it accepted “diversity” as a compelling interest has left scholars and jurists bewildered, since in all other cases in which it has been asked to justify racial discrimination, the Court has accepted only national security concerns, and rejected even the best interests of a child.

                At any rate, this burden most certainly is on the state, i.e., the party defending the racially discriminatory scheme.Report

              • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:

                The government already engages in racial discrimination. It just calls it something else.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Tim, this is why I said that burdens don’t really make sense to discuss in this context. I’m not offering a constitutional justification of affirmative action. I’m offering/explaining my personal view on affirmative action. The court can say what burden must be reached to meet its tests for constitutionality (and, in fact, I can differ, but that is beside the point), but the point is that this is just us, discussing what we think does or doesn’t justify the policy in our views. What the law is really doesn’t matter for that discussion. Clearly, yes, cases like this have been decided, and produced burdens that actors must satisfy under the law. It would be odd for me to suggest that burdens don’t matter if constitutionality were what we’re discussing. But it’s not (and please don’t say that it is because that’s what your post is about, because I vociferously made that point to Jaybird before changing the terms of the discussion, precisely because i knew if I followed him without making that change in terms crystal clear, then I would be misunderstood to be addressing your views in what I had to say in response to Jaybird’ very different concerns). The tests the court has created to determine the constitutionality of affirmative action programs have nothing to do with what burden might be relevant to me in forming my own personal view of justification for AA at the policy level, nor is it particularly relevant in a discussion where I am not saying that you or Tom even ought to have the same requirement as me, but merely discussing what the consequences for my view would be if someone (Jaybird) were able to produce a particular set of data.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Closing the possibility you’re screwing up the black kids you bring in for your white kids to play with in the name of “diversity.”

                Neither is the academic establishment interested in finding out.


                But although the California bar was initially enthusiastic, one of its committees recently rejected the study proposal. Its stated reasons are implausible; it expressed concern, for example, about disclosing confidential information; but the proposed study includes the bar’s own in-house expert, thus mooting the need for any data release.

                It seems more probable that the bar, like many law schools, is simply queasy about touching a delicate area. The Society of American Law Teachers captured this sentiment in a letter it sent the California bar, cautioning it against releasing the information because, it said, “SALT is concerned about the potential negative impacts upon minority bar applicants and attorneys” who “already face a variety of misperceptions about their qualifications.” By this reasoning, no one should seriously attempt to get to the bottom of racial disparities in bar performance because the attempt itself would make more people aware of the disparities!

                We know of no serious scholar who has denied, or reasonably could deny, that the study we’re proposing would shed some important light on a vital public policy issue. It would not be the final word on mismatch theory, no doubt, but it would be an important step that would advance understanding of the subject. We hope the bar’s board of governors, which oversees what is, after all, a public agency, will reconsider in the coming weeks and decide to make its make its information available for research.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                For my part Tom, I’ll say that I am far from rock-solid convinced that affirmative action must stay in place for undergraduate admissions, and I am more or less entirely open to the idea, in fact I probably lean slightly toward the idea, that affirmative action has little place in graduate and professional school admissions. In everything I wrote above, I was thinking in terms of undergraduate admissions.Report

              • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:


                Interesting article. I will say from the get-go that a refusal to consider the question is, at the very least, problematic.

                I also agree with Michael that the situation at graduate schools is different than undergraduate. And my focus has largely been on undergraduate.

                That being said, if what the article hypothesizes is indeed correct, than the system of AA in place that would lead to such a situation is not well thought out or thoughtfully implemented. No school should accept any student, for any reason, that does not have a reasonable chance of success. And, if they do, they should be fully prepared to offer the necessary support to give them a reasonable chance of success. If this article is right, that is not happening. And that is a failing on the implementation of AA and not necessarily on the idea of AA itself.

                So, yes, it is entirely possible, maybe even likely, that the current system of AA is doing more harm than good for the people it is intended to benefit. Which is bad. And it is a travesty if the people running that system have reasonable evidence to consider that question and don’t. But just because this current system is flawed does not mean that a better system is any less justified or needed.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Given the numbers that I’ve seen (thanks, Creon!), I’d say that AA is not anywhere near the problem that I suspected it was (though Tom also provided numbers for Law Schools that were troubling enough to confirm my suspicions with regards to those).

                With that behind me, I think that it’s safe to say that if a policy creates disparate impact on one gender or one group then we need to look at what’s going on and if it’s, at its core, a bad law.

                The law in its something something, and all that.

                It seems to me that if AA admissions result in people failing (where they otherwise would have likely succeeded) and being forced to pay off loans that, otherwise, would be smaller and easier to pay off, then we’re doing harm not only to the kids who were borderline cases for the college but also the kids who would have been happier in the middle of the pack somewhere else… and there is harm done to the kid who washes out of the school that let him in despite not meeting spec.

                I suppose you could argue that it’s better to have gone to MIT for one year than Cornell for four (or whatever… I have no idea about colleges anymore) but that isn’t readily apparent to me.

                And since the majority of this harm will be done to people who got accepted into the school despite not meeting spec (on paper, anyway), this will have a disparate impact on AA students.

                In theory, anyway.

                That’s why Creon’s link was so interesting. (If you haven’t read it, you should)Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Mend it don’t end it, a great man once said. And no doubt another one will again, then another and another.

                But this was a good discussion. Thank you, gentlemen. I’m for what works without bending our principles beyond recognition. I’m concerned that this is not the case at present on either count.Report

              • BSK in reply to Jaybird says:

                At the risk of being argumentative for argumentative’s sake and ruining what has been a very worthwhile and congenial conversation…

                Tom, what exactly ARE the principles we ought avoid bending? My hunch is you are referring to those that look down up race-based discrimination, which I most assuredly agree with.

                However, I am always bothered by people (not necessarily present company, but other, more disingenuous folks) who oppose AA on the grounds of anti-discrimination while remaining silent or actively promoting discrimination in a myriad of other forms. I consider it… puzzling… that non-discrimination has become an unbendable principle when faced with the prospect of race-based discrimination being used against whites when our nation (as a whole, certainly many, many individuals and groups fought vehemently against it) had no problem using the most ugly and violent forms of racial discrimination for a few hundred years.

                I’m not assigning those views to people here. I’m just bothered by the sudden embrace of non-discrimination in much the same way I’m bothered by the sudden embrace of inalienable property rights that occurred just AFTER we bilked Native Americans out of miles and miles of legally negotiated land. Whoops!Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jay –

                I see where you’re going with DI. I don’t want to speak to it as though with knowledge or authority, cuz I hain’t got’ny, but if I understand at all correctly, I think DI has to be measured at the social-group level. So it would (might) be relevant if more black students than white students ended up in debt without degrees because of affirmative action – and obviously that must be the case, since affirmative action, whatever else it does, increases the number of black students who start college. On the other hand, presumably, the entire group impact of the policy would have to be taken into account, at least to the extent of accounting for whatever degree the policy actually produces its intended outcome. So, fully consistently with your line of inquiry yesterday, if AA produces a benefit for black students as a group that is great enough to offset the harm it does to any whom it mis-assigns, then presumably there is no issue of disparate (negative) impact wrt the students AA purports to aid. I don’t know if the concept was created before or after the major university affirmative action SCOTUS cases, nor whether it is situated in the jurisprudence such that if those cases were re-heard today, it might be a relevant concern wrt to the effects of AA on white students’ chances of being admitted to university.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Well, if Creon’s story is accurate (and why wouldn’t it be?), then we know that the numbers are on this side of beneficial and we can all sleep easier.

                The kids who are stuck going to Cornell instead of MIT will be fine. The kids who get into MIT are fine.

                No blood. No foul.Report

            • Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird says:

              Jaybird, I’m not sure if this is the kind of research you’re talking about but here’s a piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education on Bowen and Bok’s the Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Creon Critic says:

                I’ll check that out when I get home… To Be Continued…Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                That is a great story. Thank you, Tom.

                It brings up something else that I had not considered:

                Let’s say that someone gets into Biiiiiiig College under these rules and drops out when they could have gone to Mediiiiiium college and graduated.

                Should *THAT* be considered a cost?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Chris says:

                Very good, Chris. How the academy has closed ranks against Sander tells us much.

                As Henderson writes:

                I am inclined to speak honestly and not indulge the belief that I am somehow rolling the dice. If I get run out of the academy for engaging in sincere, thoughtful dialogue on matters of public importance and personal conscience, then this job is not a good long-term fit anyway.

                Geez. This is what we’re up against.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Creon Critic says:

                Hey, Creon.

                That’s exactly the kind of data that I was looking for:

                The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (Princeton University Press), the most comprehensive look ever at how students who benefited from racial preferences have fared both during and after college, is based on a study of 45,184 students who entered 28 selective colleges in the fall of 1976 or the fall of 1989

                About 75 per cent of the black students who entered the 28 colleges in 1989 graduated within six years — almost twice the graduation rate of black students at 305 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I universities (40 per cent). Black students with the lowest SAT scores had the best chance of graduating if they attended the most-selective colleges. Of the black students with combined SAT scores below 1000 who attended the eight most selective colleges in the data base (such as Williams College and Princeton), 88 per cent graduated. Only 65 per cent of the black students with SAT scores below 1000 who attended the six least-selective colleges in the data base (such as Tulane University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) graduated.

                Good enough for me.

                If I had quibbles, I’d ask “why those two years in particular?”

                That’s really minor, though.

                Black students with the lowest SAT scores had the best chance of graduating if they attended the most-selective colleges.

                That floored me.

                But… hey. My main question would be whether the policies were actually harming instead of helping. Looks like they aren’t.

                Fair enough.Report

              • RTod in reply to Jaybird says:

                The bit about performance at the selective colleges at the very least suggests that there is indeed an environmental aspect, true? That “they aren’t smart enough” isn’t the issue. Or am I reading that wrong?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to RTod says:

                There must be!

                I wouldn’t have thought that “they aren’t smart enough” would be the issue as much as “the culture/pace of such a place would be alien to someone who could not get in on the merits… alien to the degree that it would actively harm the recipient.”

                The article that Tom posted about law schools matches up with what seemed most likely to me to be the outcome, to be honest. I thought such would happen in many, many more places.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                Hey, no sarcasm needed.

                I thought the ‘not smart enough’ was the central issue. I thought it was the whole point of the “merit” issue – that it was unfair because the smarter kids were being kicked to the curb for those not bright enough to gain entry on their own volition. If there is a merit argument surrounding AA that has a it’s unfair “because they will feel out of place” I have not heard it.

                But the law school thing is interesting, and makes me wonder what the difference is. You would think the alien part you mentioned would be lessened by law school. Like, do law schools try to attract too many minorities, even ones that are not good fits? Is it a Cali thing? I’m interested to know why the disparity between the two studies.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                In fact, I’m going to go and expand on that. Is it possible that AA works well on the college level because part of what it is designed to do is level an unfair playing field, that is in fact quite unfair? A poor African AMerican kid might well have gotten better grades and SAT scores had he grown up in a upper middle class neighborhood with a well funded school. But the effect at Law School isn’t nearly as positive, because now you’re generally taking kids from much more homogeneous circumstances, so there is a greater possibility of giving a chance to someone who might not be up for the challenge you are presenting them with.

                I’m thinking out loud here, so I’ll ask – where did I just fish up there?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I didn’t think I was being sarcastic…

                When it comes to “merit”, there are one thousand ways to deserve something. Someone who busts her ass and does five hours of homework every night who gets As is going to look a lot like someone who is one sigma to the right who merely pays attention in class and does her homework and does the readings in an hour and aces the course more on smarts than on determination.

                Talking to them, of course, you can tell the difference.

                If you’re admitting them into your college and all you have to go by is the 4.0 and the 30 on the ACT?

                But, in this case, we’re not even talking about the 4.0 kids. We’re talking about the 3.2 kids who got 24s on the ACT.

                How can you tell the difference between the one who drug herself across the finishline and the one who didn’t give a shit but, at least, didn’t have to work to get that grade? On paper, I mean.

                The former is always going to do better in college than the latter, mind. Well, 99.44% of the time, anyway. Maybe there will be a kid who never felt challenged until she took a Phil101 course and then decided to blossom into an awesome student… but that only happens in the movies.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                “The former is always going to do better in college than the latter, mind. ”

                So true it deserves to be cut, pasted and reposted. This is the lesson I most want my kids to learn in life.Report

              • Creon Critic in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, I’m not sure how this impacts the point you are making, but I just wanted to share something I came across in looking through scholarly journal reviews of the Shape of the River, from the Academe review (ungated), “As the title of the Bowen and Bok book implies, the issues involved in higher education admissions are densely complex. At the Berkeley campus of the University of California, for example, where over 29,000 high school students applied for 3,500 spots in the fall 1998 first-year class, more than 14,500 of those students had 4.0 grade point averages.” I think the discussion has not mentioned how fine some of the distinctions admissions officers are making.

                Selective college admissions for the general public* is a crapshoot, whatever your ethno-racial background.

                * – Not legacy, not billionaire, not connected to key faculty or trustees, not on the Z-listReport

              • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                If anything, I think that that highlights the perspective of the Majority students who apply but don’t get in because it came up “tails” for them.

                “Man, you just know that some Native American who had a 3.6 and no extra-curriculars got *MY* spot!”Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                Black students with the lowest SAT scores had the best chance of graduating if they attended the most-selective colleges.

                There has to be something going on there.

                If they were encouraged to apply to a more selective college with bad SATs, they had something else going for them?

                If they got in to a more selective college with bad SATs, they had something else going for them?

                The most selective colleges made sure they got the help they needed?

                Dunno. But something.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                figure it’s that selective colleges are doing better at selecting (or that the kids are self-selecting, also possible) the shmart cookies.

                Ya give me ten people, and only five of them have done something creative — those are the five that deserve the education.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

      Not all minorities are historically or presently underserved (e.g., Asian Americans).

      We have a benign history of how we’ve treated the Asian Americans?

      When it comes to blacks, there are some pretty obvious arguments. But when it comes to immigrants, you’re not separating them by how we’ve treated them. You’re separating them by how well they have collectively done.

      The problem isn’t just minority enrollment, but underpriveleged minority enrollment.

      Except that it doesn’t focus on “underprivileged minorities,” at least as individuals. It focuses on entire groups. Being a young black kid from the suburbs trumps being a poor white kid from the sticks. This is where having an economically based program (which I know Jesse and others support) would be more worthwhile. It would disproportionately favor minorities, but in a way that a lot of people would find less objectionable.

      There is no evidence that the top 10% rule gets anyone into college who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get into college.

      Anybody with a high school degree or a GED can get into college. The question is whether or not they would have been able to get into the University of Texas at Austin or Texas A&M in College Station. There it obviously had an impact because UT had to cap Top 10ers.

      If being accepted into college is the extent of the goal, there’s no problem anywhere with or without affirmative action. The question is… who gets into the school(s) of their choice? If that doesn’t matter, then what are we debating, exactly?Report

      • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

        There it obviously had an impact because UT had to cap Top 10ers.

        Yeah, but those kids weren’t minorities, and they weren’t black or hispanic in particular.

        We have a benign history of how we’ve treated the Asian Americans?

        Historically? No. Presently, we’re talking about less underserved, or perhaps not underserved at all (depending on where in Asian people descended).Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

          Yeah, but those kids weren’t minorities, and they weren’t black or hispanic in particular.

          I can think of two reasons as to why not, both of which are problematic:
          (1) These students tend almost never to be in the top 10% of their class, even at minority-dominated schools. In which case, without Top 10% and with AA, we’re reaching below the top 10% to pick minorities who did not perform as well at schools with the same resources and taking the same classes. Or, alternately, with AA we’re picking black kids well outside the Top 10%…. from good schools.

          (2) Poor minority kids can’t afford to go. In which case, without Top 10% and with AA, we’re primarily benefiting minorities from families of means and not the poor ones from less-than-stellar high schools.

          One of the rationales behind AA is that the minority kids don’t get a chance because they come from crummy schools. If Top 10% does nothing to counteract that, then that’s not a particularly good justification to have affirmative action in terms of college admittance.Report

          • Will H. in reply to Will Truman says:

            The way that I remember it, from a report from the University of Michigan, was that affirmative action programs helped more African students into US universities than it helped American-born blacks.Report

          • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

            Will T., the purpose of the top 10% was that, in some schools, minority students (in Texas, latino in most cases, but in some areas, black) make up more than 90% of the student body. So statistically, some would have to be in the top 10%.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Chris says:

              chuff. sure. but in my city, the schools tend to be more mixed than that. And people get sorted into different “grades” — sure, occasionally there are kids from the projects (whoops, diff city) in the AP class, but rarely.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

              Yes. And if true… then I don’t think it can be said that Top 10 doesn’t help underprivileged minorities, which is what you are suggesting.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

          Historically? No. Presently, we’re talking about less underserved, or perhaps not underserved at all (depending on where in Asian people descended).

          Then our efforts are best served focusing on people from underserved areas, no? Perhaps with something that takes the top 10% from every school in the state. Or economically-based affirmative action that doesn’t treat a poor white kid from Podunk County as having more access than the kid of a wealthy Cuban family in the posh suburbs.Report

          • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

            I think a lot of people who support AA would prefer or support a move to more class based AA and move away from ethnicity based AA.Report

            • Tod Kelly in reply to greginak says:

              I would guess this to be the case as well.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

              If we went to a class-based system, it would certainly remove the vast majority of reservations I have about AA more generally.Report

            • Chris in reply to greginak says:

              I don’t think that’s true, in large part because while a disproportionate number of black people are poor, the majority of poor people are white. I suspect that most people who support affirmative action would want both.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

                This is only a problem if there are quotas. If the system were designed so that “being from this economic group is the equivalent of adding this much to your SAT score” (or whatever), it wouldn’t matter how it broke down. A poor black kid and a poor white kid would receive the same benefit.

                Which, of course, troubles some people.Report

              • BSK in reply to Will Truman says:

                Are you referring to people who’d be bothered that poor white kids were getting the same benefit? Or people who’d be bothered by any type of black kids getting any type of benefit? There are likely to be folks in both camps, but I think many more would look at the scenario you’ve described and be up in arms that ANY benefit was being given to a black person. In part because that is already what is happening. People hem and haw over affirmative action, but ignore all the other benefits offered to other groups of people.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to BSK says:

                I am referring to people that think that you need race-based AA in addition to class-based because the poor black kid needs more help than the poor white kid.Report

              • BSK in reply to Will Truman says:

                But what if the poor black kid DOES need more help than the poor white kid?

                Or, more accurately, what if the discrimination faced by the poor black kid is greater than that faced by the poor white kid?Report

              • Then that’s a reason to have affirmative action (though, like every other argument for and against, does not seal the deal). See my comment below. I’m not unsympathetic to the “racism persists” arguments. I am less sympathetic to the resource-based argument.Report

              • BSK in reply to Will Truman says:

                Thanks, Will. See my comment down at the bottom, in response to Tim, as to how I would ideally see AA function. The “automatic” benefit, which seems to be what you’re describing, is indeed faulty. I advocate for one based on being able to consider the contexts in which an applicant arrived at where he/she is. Included in that context is race (among other factors). If we are prohibited from considering race in this way, we are essentially discriminating all over again because of all the ways in which we do consider race, specifically being white, in other, positive ways.Report

              • The main issue I have with using race is that it requires us to tell an Asian-American that they need an extra 100 points on their SAT and telling them “You have to understand, racism in this country persists…” (that and the resentment it can cause more generally)

                I should add that this isn’t concern-trolling on my part. As a middle class white guy, I’m willing to take a minor hit on my (and my children’s) college applications. It was an Indian-American acquaintance that changed me from tilting in one direction to tilting into another.

                I should also add that my allusions to wealthy Cuban suburbanites is not hypothetical. Two members of my group fell into that category and got very, very favorable treatment when it came to college admissions (as did a friend who I’d had no idea was 1/4 Cherokee). I got into the colleges I was interested in, so no complaints, but I do look at them and look at some people I knew from the “wrong side of the tracks” and have a bit of difficulty with that.

                Taking a more wholistic approach alleviates that (the previous paragraph, I mean). I think that part of the issue with AA is that it *seems* that it’s separated from other favorability criteria (the programs for the poor that Chris alludes to, the program in Kentucky for rural kids). It would be better, at least perceptually, for it to be all housed under a broader “preferred admissions” tent so that supporters can more easily point to the larger umbrella, which includes poor whites, men where applicable, and so on.Report

              • BSK in reply to Will Truman says:


                Cosign completely to your last point. Viewing race-based AA as wholly different from other forms of preference (and I’d also throw legacy kids in their, geography preferences, among others) is problematic, both in terms of determining an appropriate methodology and in terms of framing our conversations around it.

                The appropriateness of considering wealthy Cuban suburbanites as AA candidates depends on what you view the ideal goal for an AA program. Is it to promote a diverse student body? If so, then those kids make sense. Is it “payback” for wrongs of the past? If so, I’d need to know more about the particular experience of those kids and their families (When did they come to America? Are they of European, African, Native, or mixed ancestry?). Is it to account for the unique obstacles that those students faced as a function of their race ethnicity? If so, its unlikely they would be ideal candidates, though you would still want to examine how race could have impacted their educational history, such as through educational tracking.

                My gut is that the last justification for AA is indeed the strongest and where I would start and, most likely, end. The second one doesn’t do much for me, except insofar as we examine the historical legacy of prejudice and how that directly impacted the candidate. The third one is an admirable goal, but I think best achieved through other means.

                So, yea, I think we’re trending more towards agreeing than disagreeing, at least in the abstract. I share your concerns about many of the current AA practices. Most are lazy, patronizing, ineffective, countereffective, or some combination of these.Report

              • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

                Individually, yes. But black students, as a group, have disadvantages that poor white kids do not, as a group.Report

            • Chris in reply to greginak says:

              To expand on that: black students (and black people more generally) face barriers beyond poverty that, as a group, white people don’t face. This is why affirmative action isn’t just a program for poor people: a program for poor people won’t help with many of the underlying problems.Report

              • BSK in reply to Chris says:

                The problem, Chris, is that many people simply don’t believe that to be true. Many think we have reached a point of being “color blind” or “post racial”. And many others think we’ve moved even further to a point where white people face more barrier than blacks as a result of their race.

                So, in attempting to argue that affirmative action is less about discrimination or giving blacks and other POCs an advantage and more about attempting to level a still uneven playing field, it is an uphill battle to convince people of the initial premise.Report

              • Chris in reply to BSK says:

                BSK, you’re right. Even Tim seems to feel this way, as evidenced by the way he approaches the topic.

                I wish people would get out more, that’s for sure.Report

              • BSK in reply to Chris says:

                Well, the problem is that the persistence of racial (and other forms of) discrimination doesn’t fit the current narrative that many like to maintain about our society/country/world.

                The flip-side of discrimination is privilege. If discrimination exists, privilege must exist. What does it say about the accomplishments of white men (disclosure: I’m a white man) if we benefit from a system of privilege? It is very hard for people to accept that they may have received benefits when we are raised with a myth that our nation is a meritocracy. Going further, many people might acknowledge this but say, “Well, I didn’t ask for it.” Maybe you didn’t. But you still got it. It’s still there. It is also hard for people to realize that just because someone isn’t shouting the N-word or “Hang ’em high”, doesn’t mean that race isn’t a factor in what’s happening. The assumption is that all racism is explicit, overt, and deliberate. False. Which is why I try to stay away from terms like “racism” and “racist” because of the visceral response they conjure up for many people, much of it predicated on defensiveness.

                When African-Americans, regardless of dress, profession, marital status, or income are offered car prices over $1000 more than whites with the same dress, profession, marital status, income, etc. it is hard to argue that race is not a factor in what is going on. But because the dealers aren’t saying, “Well, this is the black guy price and this is the white guy price,” people try to justify it through other means. But they can’t.

                I think some people involved in the discussion are deliberately ignorant and/or purposefully promote falsehoods on the topic. These people are probably few and far between, but unfortunately often hold positions of extreme influence. I think many people are unaware or unwilling to consider the experiences of another, especially if it forces them to reflect on how race has influenced their own experience, likely in a positive way.

                No one wants to be told that they have something they don’t deserve. And everyone loves to paint themselves the victim. Naturally, this makes it hard for white folks to see just how privileged most of us are and, consequently, how disadvantaged most POCs are.

                And, yes, there are a variety of privileges and discriminations at play. A white women has white privilege but not male privilege. A black male has male privilege but not white privilege. Who is more privileged? I try to stay away from “oppression olympics” since A) it serves little purpose and B) the existence of one type of discrimination say nothing about the claims of the existence of another type.

                But, yea, Tim seems to be solidly in the camp that racial discrimination is a thing of the past OR that racial discrimination may exist but that the government ought not attempt to remedy it. To this last point I say, A) the government is often the propagator of continued racial discrimination and B) even if not now, the government’s role in explicit racial discrimination and the legacy of that role does not excuse it from its current responsibility simply because it stopped acting in that role.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to BSK says:

                … or when lawsuit after lawsuit conclusively proves taht blacks are being discriminated against in terms of home prices…. A Fact that might have stopped this latest bubble if someone had blasted well paid attention to some academics for a change…Report

              • Kimmi in reply to BSK says:

                male priviledge in the underclass is overrated. remember that black women graduate much more than black men from college. by the numbers, man.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:


                No doubt. Privilege/discrimination isn’t a simple plus/minus. Various privileges and discriminations work in conjunction and in opposition to another.

                Being a black male is not as simple as subtracting for black discrimination and adding for male privilege. I was making a more general point that identity is complex with a variety of factors going into the privilege or discrimination an individual faces.Report

              • Chris in reply to BSK says:

                I remember Chris Rock saying, at one point (paraphrasing here) that all black people want is to be able to fail like white people. I think that boils it down pretty well.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:


                The problem is that blacks (or women or Muslims or insert-traditionally-marginalized-group-here) fail as a group and succeed as an individual, whereas whites (or men or Christians or insert-traditionally-privileged-group-here) fail as individuals and succeed as a group.

                What this means is that when a black guy fucks up, people immediately what is wrong with black culture, and ascribe his failures to the group as a whole. When Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, much of the commentary was on the idiocy of “thug culture” and athletes, instead of simply commenting on the idiocy of one man. Yet when Barack Obama wins the presidency, does anyone revise their views of black upwards? Does anyone say, “Hey, maybe I was wrong to think that black people were inferior.” No. He is seen as an outlier.

                For whites, does anyone look at Jared Allen’s (to stick with football players) repeated DUI’s as indicative of problems with the white race or hunting culture (Allen is an avid hunter) or wonder what is wrong with country music? No. But every time a white person finds success, it encourages the narratives that to be white is to be inherently successful, and all whites are, by proxy, offered greater standing.

                My hunch is that is what Rock was getting at. Only funnier and less long-winded. But it is a point I think worth making, since we so often fall into this trap without even realizing it. I think we’d all do better to reflect on our reactions rather than just have them. To say, “Why did I immediately jump to thinking about black people as a whole when considering the actions of one black person?” Unfortunately, we are a species reticent to engage in such reflection.Report

              • Chris in reply to BSK says:

                The problem is that blacks (or women or Muslims or insert-traditionally-marginalized-group-here) fail as a group and succeed as an individual, whereas whites (or men or Christians or insert-traditionally-privileged-group-here) fail as individuals and succeed as a group.

                I believe that’s exactly what Chris Rock meant. You can’t really fail as an individual unless you have a reasonable opportunity to succeed.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:


                That is an oft-quoted sentiment from “diversity practitioners” (or whatever term du jour we use for such people), so I can’t take credit for it. What I can take credit for is turning Rock’s short joke into a long-winded diatribe! I like your addition at the end. Very well put.Report

          • Chris in reply to Will Truman says:

            Will, you know, there are all sorts of scholarship and other go-to-college programs that are race blind, designed to help rural and poor students. I’m not sure why you would think there aren’t.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Chris says:

              I think the main issue is the one that focuses strictly on race, namely that gives the son of a wealthy Cuban suburbanite a leg up on the Podunk County resident or, for that matter, a white kid from a lower income bracket that went to the exact same school as a minority.

              The argument in favor of affirmative action is basically “racism persists.” I understand that, which is why it is not an issue that I am really all that excited about in either direction (up until a couple of years ago, I was softly in favor of AA, now I am softly against).

              The argument that minorities should be treated favorably because they do not, in the aggregate, have the same resources as whites (and other minorities), in the aggregate, is not a particularly compelling reason, in my view. Because there are better metrics that are less likely to cause racial resentment.Report

  2. Creon Critic says:

    Perhaps that is because, whatever its economic and social benefits, it offers few rewards to politicians, activists, and intellectuals or to those who wish to seem morally superior by denouncing society. The heroes of these groups’ rise are anonymous individuals, not public figures. Here is some history worth repeating—but only if the goal is the advancement of the less fortunate, rather than the aggrandizement of those who would be their guardians or spokesmen or elected officials.

    This has to be one of the least constructive passages I’ve read in a long time. Aside from giving me a hearty laugh, this in particular, “seem morally superior by denouncing society”. Really! Because the current state of society doesn’t deserve some denunciation? Everything’s hunky-dory. We recently discussed executions of possibly innocent people, but everything’s alright. Child poverty in the US, upwards of 20%, most of western Europe, around 10% with some countries at under 5% (with threshold as 50% median income of population, OECD pdf).

    But really, I’m pointing out poor US performance with respect to child poverty for my own moral aggrandizement. Having worked at a human rights NGO, myself and my colleagues, really in it for our own benefit. Yep, we’re doing it to feel a sense of moral superiority and the “economic benefits”. Because for a long time, human rights NGOs have paid far, far more than Wall Street. I can’t tell you the bonus I received for report writing on human rights conditions in Mali. I’m sure the first question that comes to mind: Was it six figures or seven? Of course actual concern for the well-being of people in Mali didn’t factor into the situation. Mr. Sowell’s life must be particularly easy when people who disagree with him are so monstrously narcissistic as to not actually give a damn about the well-being of others. (His telepathic abilities must come in handy too.)Report

  3. Mike Schilling says:

    This has to be one of the least constructive passages I’ve read in a long time.

    Compared to some of his other work, it’s the Sermon on the Mount.Report

    • Yeah, I’ll be sure to steer clear of Sowell.

      I was interested in the international dimension of affirmative action and thought it had gone under-remarked upon here. I know offhand of praise for Norway’s quota program to get something closer to gender balance on corporate boards. So initially, I was interested in seeing what Sowell had to say on the topic. Looking at scholarly journals’ reviews of Sowell’s book length treatment, Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study, Sowell appears to disappoint.

      Patrícia Jerónimo in the Journal of Black Studies,

      There are several troubling aspects about Sowell’s comparative survey, the least of which being the almost complete absence of Western democracies from the picture…

      So, Sowell’s exploration of far-away countries – most interesting as it certainly is – ends up by telling us very little about what are the practical implications of affirmative action around the world. His hurried and disingenuous analysis makes us doubt that he was ever seriously interested in those other countries. Although Sowell travels very far, he never quite seems to leave home. His main concern is, here as in his previous work on the topic, the implementation of affirmative action policies in the United States

      Sterba writing in Stanford Law Review (emphasis in original),

      Yet while Sowell’s comparative analysis of affirmative action is quite interesting and informative, it is also incomplete both empirically and analytically.(3)

      [Note 3] Approaching Sowell’s study with the goal of completing it is a neutral and useful way of considering the study. It could have led to supporting the conclusions that Sowell wants to draw from his incomplete study, or it could have led to not supporting them. In this case, I argue that it led to not supporting many of Sowell’s conclusions.

      Cecilia A. Conrad in the Journal of Economic History,

      A text on affirmative action in five nations [US, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Nigeria] is an ambitious undertaking, particularly if one strives for a balanced and thorough examination of the available scholarly research. But Sowell does not bind himself with such constraints. Instead, he presents only the unfavorable evidence. His arguments are familiar…

      Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study might have been more accurately titled The Case Against Affirmative Action Around the World. The book succeeds in establishing the costs of the policy are similar around the world, but it fails as an overall assessment of affirmative action. It is sure to provide fodder for conservative pundits, but it offers little to advance economic scholarship on this issue.

      Conrad goes on to compare Sowell’s work unfavorably to that of Thomas Weisskopf (Weisskopf’s book Affirmative Action in the United States and India). Conrad highlights the different way Sowell and Weisskopf treat the specific case of scheduled castes and tribes in Indian university admissions, finding, “Weisskopf acknowledges both the positive and negative information about affirmative action, whereas Sowell uses an old statistic to present a particularly bleak perspective on affirmative action’s impact.”

      Once again, I’ll be sure to steer clear of Sowell.Report

      • Very wise. Stick with the echo chamber.Report

        • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          Yes, we all know. Academic journals are echo chambers unless there’s an article in one that happens to agree with your point of view.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke, what you describe as an echo chamber I’d describe as benefiting from the expertise of professionals who’re more familiar with the current state of scholarship on the topic. Three reviewers from pretty different journals come to similar conclusions about Sowell’s work – I happen to believe there’s a low likelihood that the Journal of Black Studies, Stanford Law Review, and the Journal of Economic History authors are all thoughtlessly copying one another. For me, it is pretty useful to consult those who’re better read in the relevant literature to assess whether a piece of scholarship is particularly important, adding something new, or leaving some crucial information out.

          I could not tell you about the most up to date studies on Indian scheduled castes and tribes in the Indian Institutes of Technology, Conrad can point me in the direction of what Sowell has left out of his work. Here’s Conrad (all ital. in original),

          In contrast, a recent book by Thomas Weisskopf Affirmative Action in the United States and India (London and New York: Routledge, 2004) accumulates evidence on both costs and benefits of affirmative action policies citing empirical studies not referenced by Sowell. The case of reserved seats at Indian universities for scheduled castes (SC) and tribes (ST) offers an illustration of the differences between the two books. Citing a 1986 paper by Suma Chitnis (“Measuring Up to Reserved Admissions,” in Reservation: Policy, Programmes and Issues, edited by Vimal P. Shah and Binod C. Agrawal. Jaipur, India: Rawat Publications, 1986), Sowell writes, “None of the students preferentially admitted to six highly selective engineering schools progressed through these schools on schedule and most did not maintain a high enough grade average to continue in these institutions” (emphasis added, p. 31). Citing a 1999 study by Kirpal and Gupta (Equality Through Reservations, Jaipur, India: Rawat Publications), Weisskopf reports that the graduation rate for preferentially admitted students at the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technologies (ITT) was 84 percent compared with 94 percent for general entry students and concludes, “Clearly, and not surprisingly, SC and ST students lag well behind general-entry students in their performance on ITT examinations. Moreover, those who graduate as a rule take more years to do so than those general-entry peers. Still, the fact that graduation rates for SC and ST students are now over 80 percent at the elite ITT suggests that these beneficiaries of reserved seats – and the institutions that are admitting them – are achieving important successes” (emphasis added, pp. 171-72). Weisskopf acknowledges both the positive and negative information about affirmative action, whereas Sowell uses an old statistic to present a particularly bleak perspective on affirmative action’s impact.


          • Tim Kowal in reply to Creon Critic says:

            Creon, We can probably take as stipulated that there will not be consensus—even among academics!—on such a contentious issue as affirmative action. In fact, as Harvard professor Stephan Thernstrom and Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Massachusetts State Board of Education boardmember Abigail Thernstrom observe in their critical review of William G. Bowen and Derek Bok’s The Shape of the River (a favorable review of which you linked above):

            William Bowen was provost at Princeton University from 1967 to 1972 and then president until 1988, when he became head of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Derek Bok served as dean of the Harvard Law School from 1968 to 1971 and then as president of Harvard University for twenty years.

            …. The authors concede that they both had “worked hard, over more than three decades, to enroll and educate more diverse student bodies.” …

            [I]t must have occurred to them that it would have been acutely embarrassing if their evidence had revealed that racially preferential admissions policies had not achieved their objectives or had produced unanticipated negative consequences. Critics would have legitimately asked why they had never studied the matter before. At any time in the many years they spent in charge of two fabulously wealthy universities, either one could have commissioned a careful analysis to assess precisely how race-conscious admissions had worked at their own institutions. They did not do so, however, and were thus left with the strongest incentive for giving high marks to a vital part of their own legacy as leaders in American higher education.

            The authors had unique advantages that other scholars are unlikely to have in the future. The deep pockets of the Mellon Foundation provided virtually unlimited financial resources. Even more important was their access to student records that schools have never made available to investigators before. Why did these institutions cooperate with Bowen and Bok in the project? It is reasonable to surmise that university administrators agreed to contribute to the foundation’s “restricted access database” because they knew preferential policies had come under serious attack, and were confident that the authors could be trusted to view the evidence in the most favorable possible light.

            In doing research for our book, America in Black and White, we had quite a different experience. We knew that SAT scores broken down by race at many of the nation’s leading colleges and universities were in the possession of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education. In theory, the Consortium’s data are available for research by faculty members at any member school. Although one of us is a professor at Harvard, a member institution, our request was flatly denied.

            Opponents of affirmative action are racist.  Proponents have skin in the game.  Appeals to unassailably neutral and indifferent authority won’t work because, on this topic, none exist.  Each camp sees the other as an echo chamber.  Make your best arguments. 


            • Creon Critic in reply to Tim Kowal says:

              Tim, even if everyone involved has biases (and I agree, they do), there is still such a thing as good scholarship. We aren’t just swimming in a sea of relativism (or appeals to authority), even when the scholarly disciplines involved are public policy and the social sciences. Part of the habitus of the scholar is engaging with the work of those who came before you: Have you dealt with the relevant literature? Even if you’re going to criticize it or dismiss it as incorrect for reasons you’ll describe, the other studies on a topic are of importance (and the topic Conrad points to is Indian scheduled castes and tribes in Indian higher ed). It is fair to have someone draw to less informed readers’ attention studies that have been left out of a book length treatment of a topic. Conrad alleges Sowell leaves out chunks of the literature and provides a vivid example to illustrate the point. Conrad sought a presentation of the potential costs and potential benefits of affirmative action, Sowell’s subtitle is after all “An Empirical Study”.

              I did skim various reviews of the Shape of the River and descriptions of it as a “landmark” work kept coming up. Reviews also remarked upon the fact that the Shape of the River presents takeaways for both advocates and opponents of affirmative action. All work need not aspire to balance, balance itself may leave an incorrect impression, but I have a better idea of the dimensions of the work Sowell presents and the dimensions of the work Bowen and Bok offer by looking through the reviews.

              I’m genuinely sorry the Thernstroms didn’t have more success in accessing materials they felt they needed to conduct their research. The LA Times piece Tom Van Dyke references makes a strong case for access when appropriate privacy considerations have been addressed. I favor researchers having access to more data, I have had difficulty accessing something that would’ve helped a research project, I know being denied access stinks. However, that frustration does not justify not so veiled accusations as to motivations. First Sowell with the self-aggrandizing advocates and now the Thernstroms and the supposedly devious, well-heeled Mellon Foundation… Are there conspiracies around every corner?

              Opponents of affirmative action are racist. Proponents have skin in the game…

              I think the exchange you and BSK are having demonstrates that this final paragraph is an overly pessimistic estimation as to the level of discussion that is possible (especially BSK at 10:08 and your reply at 12:16, haven’t read all of it just yet but look forward to doing so). When operating at its best, this site stays well clear of the usual internet mire of ascribing malicious motivations, name calling, and the like. I also welcome good argument, but these are not they.Report

              • Yep, an edit feature would come in handy, the start of the blockquote is Tim’s the final paragraph is mine.Report

              • BSK in reply to Creon Critic says:

                FWIW, I’m white, male, Catholic/Christian, middle-class, have a college-educated parent, am college-educated myself, grew up in the suburbs of a major city, straight, etc, etc, etc.

                I am a proponent of AA. However, I struggle to see how I have skin in the game.

                I’m hoping/guessing that Tim’s statement there was meant to offer how each side views the other?Report

              • Tim Kowal in reply to BSK says:

                BSK, yes, the observation was about perceptions.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK says:

                BSK, you wrote you’re a ” diversity practitioner at a private school.” I don’t know what that piece of newspeak actually means, but it sounds like skin in the game, up to the eyebrows.

                As for “sides” in this matter—and this goes to Creon Critic as well—finding errors on “the other side” doesn’t justify one’s own stance.

                What we have here is a reticence [or refusal] by AA proponents to take a hard empirical look at the thing, and a offhand rejection of the philosophical or “poetic” [“soft,” if you will] objections/reservations to the concept.

                What goes through the young black kid’s mind when he learns of AA, that his victimhood as a result of his race is taken for granted by society, and that the best way forward is to cash it in?

                And don’t tell me that AA hasn’t put a pall over genuine black achievement. Trying to pry out any poll data is likely a fool’s errand, but I’ll guess that even black folk look at a black doctor with some reservations about how he got his M.D.

                At the University of California at San Diego, for example, the average student accepted through affirmative action had scores comparable to the lowest 1% of his white and Asian counterparts.


              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                As a white guy, I don’t care if MD if my doctor is white, black, brown, or yellow, because the guy still had to go through umpteen years of medical school!

                I don’t see how I have any skin in the game either. I’m a white male. Yes, I’m a social democrat and been poor for most of my life but going by ‘skin in the game’, I should be for class-based AA only. But, yet I am not.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:

                Thanks for clarifying, Tim. That’s what I figured, since clearly not all opponents are “racists” and not all proponents have skin in the game.


                Chicken and egg. I became a diversity practitioner because of my belief in the need for programs like AA. I am not a proponent of AA because of my role as a diversity practitioner.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK says:

                Well, you’re invested in its defense now, BSK. The spitstorm that Richard Sander’s getting from the academic establishment shows just how entrenched the ideology of AA actually is.


                And it’s an ideology at this point, make no mistake. It refuses to reassess its metrics and is willfully deaf to the societal aesthetics as well.

                Because one thing the data does show is that the qualified black student does just as well as the white. It’s his achievement that suffers most of all: AA puts a cloud over genuine excellence.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:


                That is unfair. You are fulfilling the stereotype of AA opponents that Tim offered to a T.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK says:

                Are you playing the racist card, BSK? Because you’re not making a substantive argument on any level except “diversity is good.” I’m just not following you here, and you’re not engaging any of my or anyone’s arguments.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:

                How the hell do you get that from what I said, TVD?

                You are falling into the stereotype of assuming that all proponents of AA support it because they have skin in the game.

                I *do not* have skin in the game. Not in any meaningful sense of the word. The existence of AA does not directly benefit me because I, nor are my children likely to be, a member of any group that would benefit from AA. I support AA because I believe it to be right and good. Not because it stands to benefit me. Which is what “having skin in the game” is all about.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK says:

                BSK, there is an entrenched “diversity establishment” that zealously if not ruthlessly guards its turf. A friend of mine who’s on faculty wrote me he fears professional repercussions if he were to speak his doubts here about the efficacy of AA programs.

                I do not doubt you’re honestly committed to the AA ideology, sir, but neither do you offer much more than boilerplate “diversity is good” and “black people are victimized by society and the system.”

                This is no way validates the AA regime. The middle is missing.

                As is my custom, my primary concern is of epistemology: in this case the near-impossibility of an honest examination of the net value of the AA by the academy itself, or even by we the living, since they withhold the data. Sander and Henderson [see above or below, I forget which] have got a lot of guts to take on the establishment like this.

                Since you have no argument to offer, no engagement of the previously listed reservations and repercussions of the AA ideology, we’re not really having a discussion atall; neither do I expect to budge your moral certainty about the righteousness of your work, that you’re on the side of the angels and doubters are not.

                As a pluralist, I don’t mess with another’s religious beliefs. Rock on. But you definitely have skin in the game, both literally and figuratively. This makes principled discussion unlikely if not impossible.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:


                I’ve responded to several different points and done far more than you’ve given me credit for. Perhaps not in my comments to you, but I’m not interested in repeating myself in every post.

                You have a tendency to misrepresent your opponents by focusing on their worst, most extreme elements (or perceptions thereof). It is this disingenuous and unwillingness to engage the opponent as legitimate that leads all discussions with you to end as this one is about to.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK says:

                Not atall, BSK. I’m interested in your best arguments, but you decline to give any but your worst.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:


                I’m going to ask a simple question and hopefully you can provide a simple answer:

                Is there anything that would convince you that AA is good/right/necessary/justifiable?

                Is there any form of AA that you would consider good/right/necessary/justifiable?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK says:

                Sure, BSK. If AA works more than minimally or cosmetically. I don’t give a shit about the Allan Bakkes. He should have studied harder. It ain’t about that, it’s about doing more harm than good. AA feeds the entitlement and lowered-expectations mentality, and puts genuine black achievement under a cloud, for like the seventh time.

                Plus, on the empirical end, demand from diversity warriors like yourself can [for all but the top guys, who will excel anywhere] put black candidates into a Peter Principle regime, where they end up just above their true level of competence, and fail more often than if water had been permitted to find its own natural level.

                This is what Sander means by the “mismatch” phenomenon. The “opportunity cost” here is where a kid might have excelled at a place where he was a natural fit, instead of got discouraged and dropped out of a place he wasn’t. This is a huge gulf between success and failure, and the diversity establishment needs to find out pronto just how much it’s contributing to or even creating it. I think you guys got some soul-searching and serious work to do.

                Saying society screws blacks is not enough. You might be making things worse.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:

                While I appreciate your answer, I bristle at your increasingly divisive rhetoric. Now I am a “diversity warrior”?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK says:

                I’m sorry, BSK. Too much self-indulgent fun there; I get bored sometimes when it seems I’m banging my head against the wall. But you must admit it fits. 😉Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:

                Well, seeing as how I don’t put on fatigues or battle dress or warpaint and every conversation I’ve ever had surrounding the issue has been civil, I don’t know that I’d attach the term “warrior” to myself. But it does make it so much easier to disregard my position when I’m painted as a rabid, dogmatic pugilist ready to beat my opponents into submission, no?Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:

                And TVD, if you read my other comments, you’d see that I do oppose the patronizing racism of lower expectations often put forth by the left. I discussed the myriad of circumstances that lead to some students of color struggling upon arriving on campus and what the repercussions of these situations are. I don’t support AA solely because “diversity is good” or to undo past wrongs. In fact, I offered a pretty clear and concise definition of what I think AA ought to be just a bit farther downthread. But none of those fit the narrative you’ve constructed about me and the people on my side of the aisle. So you disregard them.Report

  4. Tod Kelly says:

    Tim, I find it telling that when looking back at history that talks about how much better blacks and other minorities had it prior to AA, Brown Vs Board, etc. you have chosen not a historian, but a conservative columnist.

    Can you back up this claim with a historian?

    The notion that blacks were doing quite well and were impoverished and hurt by the civil rights movement is – I think even you will admit – so extraordinarily outside most thinking today that I would think it would require a more extraordinary level of proof.Report

    • Tim Kowal in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Sowell is an economist.

      And you’ve so badly misrepresented my claim that no, I suspect I would not be able to locate a historian, or anyone else for that matter, to back it up.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tim Kowal says:

        Your claim is that progress was much faster and better before the advent of the civil rights movement, or at least the govt intervention that it created… is it not?Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Tod [and other intelligent folk], check this out.

          I’m not in the mood to get douchebagged on this by the usual suspects. But there’s a live point here via Douglass and Booker T., that relying on white people’s decency or sense of shame is a bad strategy.

          Without getting into indignities part, separate water fountainsReport

          • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Thanks, TVD. Wright makes a pretty good point, and one worth noting: For every action there is certainly a reaction. You can’t make a change in society – or agree to not change society – without having some winners and some losers. And the notion that integration was a win for all blacks is as much of a fallacy as the notion that it was a loss for all white.Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

              To me, the point is to dig into the history for its lessons. I make it around the time WEB DuBois’s became the dominant philosophy [yes, he tommed Booker T., and took over as philosophical leader of “Black America”] that politics became more important than self-empowerment.

              To me, Black America 2011 is all there with DuBois’ takedown of Washington. Poke around: it’s one of the great untold stories.


              “Was Washington the kind of person that you might want to go to dinner with? Probably not. But hell, Du Bois wouldn’t want to go to dinner with you.”


              • Jib in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                To me, Black America 2011 is all there with DuBois’ takedown of Washington.

                Well, what ever else you know, you clearly know very little about Black America in 2011. If you think Black America is accurately represented by whoever the media has designated as HNIC this week, you have done very little reading of any blogs with black commentators. In fact, if you think there is anything monolithic enough to be designated as Black America 2011 you really have not been reading enough. Based on this thread, blacks are having much more interesting and advanced debates on AA than whites are. Starting a AA debate by quoting Sowell is kind of like starting a debate in international economics by quoting Thomas Friedman. Middle brow is I think the kindest description I would have for it.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jib says:

                Since I’ve just cited the blogs of black commentators, that’s hardly fair, Mr. Jib. If you have a point outside the ad hom, pls make it.Report

              • Jib in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                To me, Black America 2011 is all there with DuBois’ takedown of Washington.

                My point is, this is a ridiculous statement due to the fact that there is no such thing as Black America 2011.

                DuBois position that was most in opposition to Washington (and they agreed on much) was that blacks should be political active. They should not accept Jim Crow but should push for political rights and power just as any other ethnic group in America. That blacks were the equals of any other group and should demand the same rights.

                Washington, living in Jim Crow south, was more cynical about the ability of America to accept blacks as equals and more cautious on the dangers associated with political activism. He emphasized that blacks should push for personal fulfillment through their own hard work.

                Many people over the years have adapted a ‘think globally, act locally’ take on the debate. Live your personal life according to Washington but collectively follow Du Bois. They are not mutually exclusive and the fact that Du Bois won the major point is a testament to the optimism of blacks. That even at a time when the KKK was rising in power, Jim Crow was in full force and when there were still large numbers of people alive who had actually lived in slavery, even then blacks collectively thought they could join America on equal terms.

                And it is wrong to think that Washington and Du Bois were enemies. They were allies or at least in the modern term frenemies, the debates they had were mutually agreed upon, they both worked on the “Negro exhibition” at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

                Marcus Garvey was the enemy of Du Bois but that is a whole other post.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jib says:

                Mr. Jib the admission of many black commentators that their impressions of Booker T. Washington were negative until they learned more about him illustrates my point.

                Booker T. is not part of the Black America 2011 consciousness, at least not nearly as much as the lingua franca of DuBois and political activism [if not redistributionism], not nearly as present as The Autobiography. [“Of Malcolm X” doesn’t necessarily need but be added.]

                Booker T. remains “out.” As for Marcus Garvey, true, he in turn tommed DuBois. So it goes in the radical game, which tends to eat its own.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                His point is that this discussion might be better discussed on Field Negro’s blog. And, I do believe he’s right. As a bonus, you might just be able to get some perspective on Law Schools and minorities. And on “African” versus “American” versus “whatever you want to call united states since that ain’t all of america” blacks.

                Can you get Field Negro to guestpost on here? that’d be fun.Report

              • Tim Kowal in reply to Jib says:

                I hope you will share these perspectives you’ve alluded to.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                … bounce over to skeptical brotha, field negro — there are a bunch of black bloggers, and a lot of them are fun and cool.Report

          • greginak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            One might wonder if Douglas and Washington may have, for some reason, been somewhat under informed about living conditions and the racial situation in the US in the 1950’s and 1960’s.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I believe the claim was concerning the rate of progress.Report

  5. Will Truman says:

    In 1998, the first year in which affirmative action was abolished in California following the passage of Prop 209, the UC system reported just a 2.2% drop in minority admissions. Around the same time, the rate of minority enrollment in private four-year institutions increased.

    I’m not sure the relevance of that last sentence. That minorities have somewhere else to go? Is anybody denying that?Report

  6. greginak says:

    To add to my above comment. The Douglas quote is from 1865. This was before the hopes, dreams and, often, lives of AA’s were crushed by terrorists. Douglas also was president of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, a gov sponsored institution, and pushed for the Fed’s to stay in the South to protect AA’s from the klan. Douglas was a supporter of Federal Reconstruction. This quote is missing quite a bit of context and is misleading about his beliefs.Report

    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to greginak says:

      The beginnings of a rebuttal there, Mr. Greginak, were you to do some followup research.

      Ironically [or perhaps not ironic atall]:

      In 1870, the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company moved to Washington, D.C., into a very expensive new building. Shortly after the move, the bank’s solvency came into question. By 1874, the directors recruited Frederick Douglass to head the bank. He invested $10,000 of his own money before he realized that the bank was in trouble. In June 1874, Douglass petitioned Congress to close the failing bank. African Americans had deposited $2.9 million in the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, representing 61,131 depositors. Eventually the depositors or their heirs received about half of the lost deposits.

    • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

      This is a very good point, Greg.

      Just so’s you know.Report

  7. Will H. says:

    It seems to me that the basic principle behind AA is the idea that the oarsman must steer slightly upstream to allow for the current in order to cross the river at a point directly across.
    However, this does not change the fact that to denounce preferential treatment according to race (or other qualities), then propose that it is this very same preferential treatment according to race which is the answer to the problem is morally blind and inherently monstrous.
    AA seems more to me like spending all night at the blackjack table, then pooling the winnings to divide them equally.
    It makes no sense at all.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Will H. says:

      However, this does not change the fact that to denounce killing, then propose that it is this very same killing which is the answer to the problem is morally blind and inherently monstrous.

      Put like that, I have to agree.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Will H. says:

      Right, because the ultimate point of both human society and the casino is to realize and consecrate inequality! In fact, come to think of it, the history of human society really is just best conceptualized as nothing BUT a really big, old casino, isn’t it?Report

      • Will H. in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I prefer to think of it as a chessboard.
        That really had to do with denouncing equality of outcomes as a measure of success.
        There is no equality of outcomes.
        It can also be argued that we lack adequate information to judiciously determine precisely what the outcome is, but only disjointed data.Report

  8. Jakecollins says:

    Thomas Sowell: the right’s favorite house negro, always willing to give psychological comfort to those like tk who just plain hate niggers.Report

  9. BSK says:

    Much of the conversation I’ve seen here (though I haven’t read EVERY comment) has really been about the goal of AA. And there are many different goals of very different value.

    If you are going to say that AA is failing, you have to outline the goal against which it’s being measured?Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to BSK says:

      But we can’t talk about whether AA (opps “reverse discrimination”) has failed or succeed. Because according to Mr Kowal, that would be as bad as asking whether the abolition of slavery has failed or succeed. Both things (“reverse discrimination” and slavery) are IMMORAL, so you can’t base your arguments on their efficacy – they are WRONG on first principle basis alone.Report

      • sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

        And bravo Mr Kowal for repeating the 2.2 minority admission numbers ad nauseum, and ignoring it every time someone pointed out that the issue is with the very large drop in African-Americans enrollment. He could play the numbers game all day by clouding the issue.Report

        • Tim Kowal in reply to sonmi451 says:

          I cited the numbers for the entire UC system. If you think there is a story to be told in analyzing the stats for each individual school, that’s what the comboxes are for. As you acknowledged, however, according to my argument this story would have to be extremely compelling to overcome the moral principle against racial discrimination.

          Incidentally, I am looking forward to reading the study Creon linked above.Report

          • BSK in reply to Tim Kowal says:

            “As you acknowledged, however, according to my argument this story would have to be extremely compelling to overcome the moral principle against racial discrimination.”

            This ignores all the other forms of racial discrimination that factor into the college admissions process.Report

          • sonmi451 in reply to Tim Kowal says:

            God, he’s not smart enough to understand when someone is making fun of him, he thinks I’m actually agreeing with his premise!Report

      • Tim Kowal in reply to sonmi451 says:

        I did not equate or compare the acts of slavery and affirmative action. But yes, they are prohibited by the same basic moral (and to some degree, legal) reasoning.Report

        • sonmi451 in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          No, of course you did not ‘equate’ them, because you know how crazy that would make you sound. But you brought it up as an effort to shut other people up (oooh, can’t possibly disagree that slavery is IMMORAL), just like you are bringing up Washington and Douglas now to try and shut people up too (oohhh, even the black intellectuals feel like that, can we disagree?). Unfortunately for you, most people are not that stupid to fall into tricks and traps.Report

          • sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

            It’s a cheap rhetorical ploy, bringing up slavery, like an all-American Godwin’s law – bring up the worst episode in American history to get sympathy for your pet cause. I guess in your OC enclave, you harbor some delusions that bringing up slavery might bring tears to the eyes of old-timers African-Americans and make them feel for the plights of those that have been oh-so-cruelly reverse-discriminated in favors of theor undeserving progenies.Report

        • sonmi451 in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          The morality against owning, chaining and whipping other people is the same as the morality against remedies for past discrimination? Wow, I admire your moral framework.Report

          • Will H. in reply to sonmi451 says:

            Is that what’s known as a ‘false equivalence?’

            Because if the problem here is that not enough college students are being chained and whipped, we can take care of that, ya know.
            I’m all for it.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Will H. says:

              There are more appropriate sites for you to discuss that kind of thing.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Do you mean the false equivalence or the emotional appeal?
                Or maybe the idea that AA is the only available option for “remedies for past discrimination?”
                Or the concept that remedies are possible to be enacted?
                Or that remedies even exist?

                Because I question all of those things.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

                And while we’re at it, slavery per se isn’t really so much a race-based issue.
                You see, it was John Smith who instituted unions in America, at the Jamestown colony, because he recognized that there was a shortage of skilled craftsmen. That’s where the American system of apprentices, journeymen, and masters comes from, even though some trades have since dropped the masters.
                There were also slaves, freewillers, and prisoners. Freewillers served for 4 years, and prisoners served for 7. But slaves were able to buy their freedom. They owned property. And most of those early slaves were Scots.

                But what we’re really talking about here is handouts; why some people feel so entitled to them, and why some people feel so entitled to give them.
                But a handout by any other name is a handout.Report

              • BSK in reply to Will H. says:

                Oh, we’re talking handouts, are we?

                So the mortgage interest deduction is on the table?
                Using pre-tax dollars for medical expenses and childcare is on the table?
                Agricultural subsidies?
                Tax breaks for “green” technology?


              • Jaybird in reply to BSK says:

                Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Please! Eliminate every single one of those!Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to BSK says:

                Great. Now, find me politicians who want to eliminate all of the above _and_ also don’t want to give massive tax cuts to rich people and eliminate large parts of the social safety net.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BSK says:

                Well, there’s Obama…

                HA! I’m just kidding.Report

              • BSK in reply to BSK says:

                Clearly Jaybird cares nothing about our country’s guarantee to not discriminate against white people.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BSK says:

                Don’t forget to get rid of tax deductions for charitable donations.

                If you leave those on the table, it’ll be off to the races for other deductions too.Report

              • Will H. in reply to BSK says:

                I just came back to check the replies, and I see that Jaybird beat me to it.
                Good work.
                Really, I was thinking of this because I have an apprentice that’s going through the Heritage class now. But there’s this song, an old protest song from the 1880’s, that has the line:
                Equal rights for ev’ry neighbor
                and it occurred to me that this embodies the heart of the disconnect between today’s crop of current Leftists and the traditional Democrats.
                And there definitely is a serious disconnect there. Look, you’re talking to a guy here who sees a visit to the home of Eugene V. Debs as a very moving experience that says that he has severe moral reservations for voting for any Democrat.
                Somehow or another, the concept of ‘equal rights’ got twisted around to ‘preferential treatment.’ That was never the goal. If it’s wrong on the one hand, then it’s wrong on the other.
                At the very least, it means picking someone other than the most qualified candidate for the job. It means that inherent qualities as race and gender are themselves job qualifications.
                AA is true situational ethics, where it’s evil if Peter does it, but holy if done by Paul.
                It is the action and not the actor which should be considered when determining right & wrong. And to claim otherwise is simply offensive to common decency.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to BSK says:

                Prisoner Number 9653.

                Once, I tried to explain the importance of the First Amendment to someone on my left using Debs and Schenck as examples. They yelled at me and told me that I was “Becking up”.

                The more I interact with the Left, the more I miss the Communists.Report

  10. clawback says:

    Are you really that ignorant of history, or were you just hoping we are? The context of the Douglass quote provides absolutely no support for your assertion that he was against affirmative action. Even the piece you linked to tells us as much: “Gen. Banks instituted a labor policy in Louisiana that was discriminatory of blacks, claiming that it was to help prepare them to better handle freedom.” Banks believed blacks needed “guidance” to transition from slavery to freedom, and instituted policies in Louisiana that amounted to a continuation of plantation slavery. Douglass was speaking out against this policy, which amounted to discrimination cloaked in paternalism. His “Do nothing with us!” clearly meant “do not discriminate against us.”Report

  11. So if I’m understanding this post correctly, were he alive today, Douglass would definitely be a right-wing Republican.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      Well, old people do tend to trend that way.Report

      • wardsmith in reply to Kolohe says:

        A good read.
        As for the premise, until baby-boomers it was almost universal, but here we have a youth-worshiping demographic that refuses to acknowledge age has any effect and miracle drugs (ala Viagra) to belie that fact. The hippies may have cut the hair (that hasn’t fallen out) but they haven’t cut the BS they trotted out in the 60’s that continues to this day. I can’t stay liberal more than a few minutes at a time because I can’t keep my head in the clouds that long.Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      Maybe even a member of Federalist Society.Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to Elias Isquith says:

      YES! Elias, all sound thinkers are Paleos!
      Seriously dudes, I do believe Mr. Douglas nailed it. For cryin’ out loud can’t you white people leaves these folks alone? Ever? Just once?
      I’m pretty sure they’ll do just fine!
      It’s you guys who are the racists. You believe the black man is so incapable that he can’t make a way for himself and his family unless some white ass clown gets him and his family in some pogrom.Report

      • Matt in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        Seriously. No one has even responded to Douglass’ argument. The white do-gooders can’t stop thinking about themselves and their guilt to listen to an actual ‘person of color’. AA, whatever the useful idiots believe, isn’t really about helping minorities. It is about getting rid of the wrong kind of white people.Report

        • greginak in reply to Matt says:

          Actually i did. Douglass was a supporter of Federal Reconstruction. His quote was from 1865 before the active campaign of terrorism and murder against blacks and he really had little info about conditions in the US in the 1950’s and 60’s.Report

          • Tom Van Dyke in reply to greginak says:

            Mr. Gregniak, I’m sympathetic to your objection to quote-mining Douglass here. But you need more substance before it’s an actual rebuttal, like quotes from Douglass advocating reparative policies. [He did mention that the Russian serfs were given 3 acres upon emancipation; I’m not saying you’re wrong here. But to contribute to the discussion, it takes more than a point behind the curtain.]

            Further, what’s been bypassed here is the success of black society on its own before desegregation: the businesses, the HBCUs, etc. In this way, “leaving blacks alone” did indeed have a salutary effect. I meself would rather take Booker T. Washington’s argument here than guess at what Douglass’s may or may not have been.Report

  12. BSK says:

    We’ll have “colorblind” admissions as soon as we have “colorblind” admissions. Which is to say that removing AA is not going to turn a color-conscious process into a colorblind process when there are many, many other aspects of the process that are vigilantly color-conscious and generally in favor of white Americans. Just because they aren’t named policies doesn’t mean they don’t exist.Report

  13. Tim Kowal says:


    Great contributions. I’d like to engage some of your points. Upthread, you say:

    So, in the end, I think AA is not only right but is a moral obligation our society has because of the persistence of racial discrimination in our society.

    Assuming for the moment your premise is true (i.e., “the persistence of racial discrimination in our society”), I could agree that society owes some sort of moral obligation to right that moral wrong.  Getting to that premise, you also say:

    But, yea, Tim seems to be solidly in the camp that racial discrimination is a thing of the past OR that racial discrimination may exist but that the government ought not attempt to remedy it. To this last point I say, A) the government is often the propagator of continued racial discrimination and B) even if not now, the government’s role in explicit racial discrimination and the legacy of that role does not excuse it from its current responsibility simply because it stopped acting in that role.

    I certainly don’t think that all racial discrimination has been obliterated, so the latter position is a closer fit:  it is my impression that racial discrimination exists, but not in the nature or extent to which government has a legal or constitutional duty to remedy it, or to which society has a moral obligation to remedy it.  This is because I am not convinced that any significantly injurious racial discrimination that still persists is systemic in our social institutions.  Instead, the remnants that persist are largely exercised by individuals and private institutions.  For these, we impose private legal remedies, which comport more robustly with legal and moral reasoning than do byzantine programs like affirmative action.

    But let me not breeze over the point of contention.  Can you or anyone else disabuse me of what I assume you contend is a false impression that no significantly injurious and systemic racial discrimination persists in our social institutions?  For example, covering your point (A) above, how, specifically, is the government “the propagator of continued racial discrimination”?  Similarly, under your view, how has the average black candidate for racially preferential consideration in undergraduate admissions been systemically injured by societal (rather than individual) racial discrimination? 

    Moreover, and getting to your point (B), I cannot follow your moral reasoning here without more qualification. For example, even assuming government had a “role in explicit racial discrimination” in the past (it surely did), do you put any sunset clauses on the moral duty it supposedly owes? Surely the government also owes a competing duty to also treat people equally irrespective of race. When does the latter duty finally prevail over the former, in your view?

    These are not sandbagging questions.  Booker T. Washington believed the federal government owed a duty to black people “to make some provision for the general education of our people in addition to what the states might do, so that the people would be the better prepared for the duties of citizenship.”  Social moral duties do exist when society has only recently disengaged such a grave moral sin as slavery, for instance.  And I would grant that the same society that serially ignored the moral injunction to treat people fairly irrespective of race will be hard pressed to escape, by dogged citation to that previously ignored injunction, its moral duty to make amends to the very subjects of its unjust and injurious treatment. 

    But as to the extent of this duty, I suspect there is a wide expanse between us.  In short, I believe the idea of an ongoing moral duty imposed on society is problematic, if not wholly unsound, particularly once the generation of those directly injured has passed, and once the gravely injurious systemic wrongdoing has been eliminated.  At that point, yes, there will still be vestiges of the wrongdoing of ages past.  But we will do more injury to other moral injunctions, such as racial nondiscrimination, than we can counterbalance by endless tinkering in racially discriminatory programs.  Why do you not believe we have already reached that point?


    • BSK in reply to Tim Kowal says:


      Thanks for responding.

      I think it is pretty easy to look at our legal/criminal justice system, our education system, and our tax system and find ways in which the government has taken actions that are almost uniquely injurious to people of color. Some of that happens at the local level, some at the state, and some at the federal. The fact remains: it happens. As such, seeing as how their roles as propagators of it continues, I do not think we are yet in position to argue for sunset clauses.

      Even if we only go so far as to deal with explicit government discrimination, there are still a great many people who were directly impacted by such policies (the Civil Rights Act is younger than many people reading this, I’d reckon). And I think it is wrong to assume that the injuries afforded to earlier people do not still resonate with individuals today, even if they were not directly impacted by such laws and policies.

      How much does wealth correlate to education? How much does home ownership correlate to wealth? How far back do we have to go to find times when the decks were legally stacked against home ownership by blacks (to say nothing of the de facto discrimination that remains)?

      How much does the education of the parents impact the education of the children? How far back do we have to go to find times when black people were essentially legally barred from a quality education?

      The biggest issue is assuming that Affirmative Action is discrimination, “reverse” or otherwise. I do not view it as such. Thus, I do not think it violates prohibitions on racial discrimination. As far as I’m concerned, Affirmative Action is an attempt to correct for ongoing racial discrimination. It is intended (or, better, ought to be intended) to account for and correct for the context in which an applicant developed. It should not be an automatic preference for blacks. Rather, it should be a way of accounting for how one’s circumstances have impacted their candidacy on paper and how other factors ought to be accounted for when considering the rightness of fit.

      If a black student raised himself out of a poor, fatherless home in a failing school district rife with poverty, crime, and drug use to score a 1100 on his SATs and a white student raised in the suburbs with two college-educated parents scores a 1200 on his SATs thanks in part to college prep courses and SAT tutoring offered at his private school, I consider the former candidate’s accomplishments far greater and, assuming he meets the necessary minimum competency for academic preparedness, he would be my pick. Now, perhaps you wouldn’t coin this “affirmative action” because it doesn’t take the form we often prescribe to it (as a blind tie-breaker; bonus points during the application process; etc.), but that is how I ought to think the system be. In that light, I struggle to see how my ideal of AA is discriminatory to whites.

      So, if you must, consider my defense of AA as more a defense of my ideal vision of AA than any current application of AA in practice. I’m okay with that distinction.

      Still, I challenge you to demonstrate how the racial discrimination that continues to exist A) is something the government is, in no way, shape, or form, responsible for, B) generally limited in scope and frequency, and C) is not directly related to the government mandated discrimination of a mere 50 years ago.Report

      • Tim Kowal in reply to BSK says:

        I think it is pretty easy to look at our legal/criminal justice system, our education system, and our tax system and find ways in which the government has taken actions that are almost uniquely injurious to people of color. Some of that happens at the local level, some at the state, and some at the federal. The fact remains: it happens.

        I suppose I could try to guess what specifics you might be thinking, but I was hoping you could come right out with a bit more detail.  Can you paint me a picture of an exemplar minority student who, in your view, should receive racially preferential consideration in undergraduate admissions and how, specifically, he has been systemically injured by societal (rather than individual) racial discrimination?  And if you are inclined to go further, can you explain why race-based preferences are needed rather than other criteria (wealth, geography, school district, etc.)?


        • BSK in reply to Tim Kowal says:


          In all honesty, if I have to point out the ways in which many of our educational, legal, and financial systems are discriminatory against people of color (blacks specifically), I’m afraid our starting positions are too far apart.

          This is what boggles my mind. People look at AA and have no problem invoking our country’s anti-discrimination principals. But when they look at disparities in educational funding between predominantly black and white schools, the rates of special education references for black and white students, the sentences handed down to black and white defendants, the behaviors that are given preferential tax treatment, all of which break down quite harshly along black/white lines and which there is ample evidence that this is often deliberate, suddenly the discrimination becomes too hard to see.Report

    • Chris in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      Tim, the disparities are not necessarily the result of, say, racism in the admission process itself, but in everything leading up to then, and making admission more likely.Report

      • BSK in reply to Chris says:

        Great point.

        Whites get a head start from birth. AA ought to be designed to recognize and account for that fact as best as possible.Report

        • Chris in reply to BSK says:

          I linked to some data on an earlier thread showing that educational disparities that are not accounted for by parental income or any of the other variables that influence educational outcomes start showing up between black and white students as early as pre-school. Add to that access to fewer quality teachers and materials, cultural issues (which have been a hot topic of debate for the last 20-30 years, of course), lack of access to test prep (in the form of advanced courses and actual test prep), and direct discrimination, and the barriers to getting into college are pretty friggin’ high.Report