Re: Affirmative Action: Should Race Still Play a Role in College Admissions Decisions?
posted at 6/25/2013 10:17 AM EDT
We can only hope it opens up real and candid dialog about the supposed pro's and con's of the affirmative action law.
The Supreme Court's narrow decision Monday keeping alive a challenge to racial preferences in admissions at the University of Texas may open the way for a healthy shift in the debate from legal abstractions to whether these preferences are working as advertised.
That should bring attention to the growing body of evidence that large preferences harm many intended beneficiaries and reduce socioeconomic diversity.
The seeds of a potentially rich debate in future lawsuits and around the country about how racial preferences operate in practice and their effects on students can be found in Justice Anthony Kennedy's spare opinion for himself and six other justices.
They overturned the decisions of two lower courts for having upheld the university's heavy reliance on race in pursuit of diversity "without closely examining how the process works in practice."
The Constitution, the justices held, requires that universities bear "the burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classifications, that available, race-neutral alternatives do not suffice."
The most obvious race-neutral alternative, although Kennedy's vague opinion didn't discuss it, is to try harder to bring in working-class and poor kids of all races -- a form of diversity to which most universities have given short shrift -- while reducing the weight given to race.
Under the current racial-preference regime, Texas and other universities routinely admit many wealthy and middle class (and a few poor) black and Hispanic kids while rejecting Asians and whites who are (in many cases) both less affluent and better-prepared.
More broadly, the logic of Kennedy's opinion implies that courts should focus less on abstract, all-or-nothing constitutional and moral arguments about whether race can be considered at all and more on whether racial preferences are working as advertised.
If such evidence becomes the focus, courts and policymakers will have to confront an outpouring of studies showing that large racial preferences set up many black and Hispanic intended beneficiaries for academic frustration.
These students are brought without warning into highly competitive settings where they are likely to struggle academically, become demoralized, abandon any aspirations to major in the rigorous courses necessary to become doctors, scientists or other professionals, and barely squeak by or even fail.
These students are victims of what we call academic "mismatch." Many or most would do much better academically, and perhaps in their careers, if they attended somewhat less selective but still very good schools for which they are well prepared.
An outpouring of studies show that many students admitted via large preferences, after being assured that they are well-qualified, end up abandoning science and other tough courses in highly disproportionate numbers; getting low grades, with half of black students ranking in the bottom 20 percent of their classes in college and the bottom 10% in law school; and that more than half of black law students (the best data suggest) never become lawyers because they cannot pass the bar exam.
Careful surveys and other evidence show that all this takes a heavy toll on the self-confidence of many of these students. Large racial preferences also stigmatize even the most capable black and Hispanic students by fostering the stereotype that all of them are academically sub-par "affirmative action admits."
We hope that evidence like this will be given due attention in future litigation over racial preferences, and will force universities to reduce the size and scope of racial preferences while seeking more socioeconomic diversity and making their highly secretive racial-preference regimes more transparent.