"Affirmative action era is over, longtime foe says"
DavidEBernstein at aol.com
DavidEBernstein at aol.com
Sun Nov 26 15:38:08 PST 2006
In a recent article in New York magazine (don't have the link handy), a
Manhattan admissions counselor (one of the people who get big bucks to help rich
kids get into the college of their choice) was asked about the admissions
prospects of various candidates. One of the candidates was a young woman with
perfect score on her SATs, a desire to go to MIT, and a strong interest in,
and talent for, math and science. The counselor was a bit dubious about her
prospects, in part because she was competing with many other math and science
types for admission, "in particular other Asians." Is their any industry
other than academia where it would be not be considered scandalous to suggest
that the industry is limiting opportunities for Asian-Americans based on their
race? And talk about "Eurocentrism", I don't recall what ethnic group the
applicants' name suggested, but I find it rather appalling that in university
admissions, apparently Chinese, Hmong, Vietnamese, Koreans, Phillipinos, etc.,
all of whom are from different linguistic and ethnic groups, and whose
ancestors lived thousands of miles away, are all simply considered "Asians."
Admittedly, this admissions advisor is only one person, but given that her job is
to read the minds of admissions staff at elite universities around the
country, I think we can safely assume that this attitude is widespread.
In a message dated 11/26/2006 6:27:08 PM Eastern Standard Time,
SLevinson at law.utexas.edu writes:
I recommend that people read the following article in today's Boston Globe,
concerning a lawsuit filed by a Yale first-year student, Jian Li, against
Princeton (which rejected his application). He claims systematic discrimination
against Asian-Americans. For almost three decades now, white students have
been explaining their failure to get into, say, the University of Texas Law
School on the basis of our having preferential programs for African-Americans
and Mexican-Americans. (It should be immediately obvious that very few of
the rejected white students would actually have been admitted even if there
were no African-American or Mexican-American admittees, simply because there are
so many more of the former than the latter, but that is irrelevant to the
victimization narrative that white rejects like to portray.) I'm curious what
the response will be if the consequence of getting rid of affirmative action
will be a giant leap in the admissions rate of Asian-Americans and the
continued difficulty of many whites to get into the relatively few selective
universities that actually practice race- or ethnic-oriented affirmative action (as
opposed to the far more important legacy and athletics preferences).
Indeed, I wonder what will happen in Michigan if an increasing number of
Arab-Americans from Dearborn choose to apply and gain admission to the University.
None of this is meant as an argument against getting rid of affirmative
action, though I continue to be an ambivalent supporter. My own view is that its
life is limited far less because of Ward Connerly than because of the
increasing presence of "mixed race" persons who bring out the problematic features
of how we decide who is eligible for such preferences in the first place.
(The most powerful critique of affirmative action, in my opinion, can be found
in Justice Stevens's Bakke opinion evoking the Nuremberg and South African
laws regarding racial definition.)
In the late 1980s, in response to complaints, the Office of Civil Rights
investigated whether Harvard had been discriminating against Asian-Americans.
It found that while Asian-Americans faced longer odds than whites at
admissions time (a 13.2 percent acceptance rate, compared with 17.4 percent for white
students, from 1979 to 1988), the difference could largely be explained by
the fact that few were legacy kids or recruited cornerbacks. The investigation
did, however, turn up some embarrassingly stereotypical descriptions of
rejected Asian students in Harvard records ("he's quiet and, of course, wants to
be a doctor").
To bolster his case, Li has cited work by two Princeton researchers, Thomas
Espenshade and Chang Chung, that was originally framed as strengthening the
case for affirmative action. In articles published in 2004 and 2005 in Social
Science Quarterly, Espenshade and Chung analyzed the admissions fates and
qualifications of 45,500 students who applied to three very elite, unnamed
universities in 1997.
The chief finding, according to the authors, was that ending all admissions
preferences -- for athletes, legacy kids, and minorities -- would cut the
number of black students at elite colleges by two-thirds, and Hispanic
enrollment by one-half. Ending just legacy and athletic preferences, meanwhile --
something often proposed by egalitarians -- would, on its own, not help black
and Hispanic students much.
But Li's complaint draws attention to other aspects of the study:
Asian-American students faced by far the lowest admissions rates of any ethnic group
(17.6 percent, compared with 23.8 percent for whites, 33.7 percent for blacks,
and 26.8 percent for Hispanics). What's more, contrary to the Office of Civil
Rights report from 1990, legacy and athletic preferences trimmed
Asian-American enrollment by only a few percentage points. But if preferences based on
race, legacy status, and athletic talent were all done away with,
Asian-American enrollment would jump 40 percent (while white enrollment would drop by 1
percent). To Li, it seems Asian-Americans alone bear the burden of affirmative
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