Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mis-Match Mish-Mash

Earlier today, I linked to Professor Katherine Barnes' article debunking the claim that affirmative action causes minorities to be "mis-matched" at law schools above their level, and thus under-perform compared to how well they would do at a school more "appropriate" for their talents. Digging into the statistical data more deeply (Barnes has a Ph.D in statistics from the University of Arizona), she found that a more likely explanation for performance gaps by Black students is an environment hostile to students of color at our nation's colleges and universities.

Discussing this article, PG wonders how much, if at all, affirmative action contributes to this environment.
[I]f students and professors believe that African American and Latino students are less capable than white and Asian students, because the former were admitted under an affirmative action program and the latter on a "merit-based" system, this itself may be a significant source of discriminatory attitudes that impede minority students' learning. Even more disturbingly, if affirmative action programs cause minority students to believe themselves less capable than their classmates, the stereotype can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There's probably something to this, but not all the much, primarily because the "stigma" attached to minority students as under-qualified doesn't really seem traceable to affirmative action. As PG herself notes, when affirmative action is eliminated, conservatives simply convince themselves it is still occurring in disguise -- even when the Black population of a university drops precipitously. More generally, as Richard Delgado has noted, negative perceptions and stereotypes of students of color in America have, by and large, dropped over the 30 year period in which affirmative action was most active. Admittedly, it's certainly possible that these trends were at cross-purposes, and that the overall rising racial progressivism of the past few decades masked the harmful effects of affirmative action. But for that thesis to hold, you'd have to argue that the greater positive (or at least, not negative) perceptions of African-Americans was largely disconnected from their increased visibility in elite institutions and universities, which strikes me as implausible. It's tougher to be racist when a quarter of your college is Black -- when you can see for yourself that they can, in fact, do the work and speak proper English and are not hyper-sexed bestial maniacs. And by contrast, racist stereotypes of Black inferiority are clearly reinforced when they are largely absent from the institutions that you yourself take part in (institutions which are, of course, perfectly "meritorious").

Also on the mis-match thesis, I'd echo Professor Delgado's argument that it seems to have a rather confused idea of how people view the opportunity to attend "elite" schools. The mis-match argument
presupposes that exposure to first-rate education is not good for you but bad. Going to a school with a favorable student-faculty ratio and studying under nationally acclaimed professors is good for whites, but not for blacks. This is truly paradoxical, and I am surprised bright people assert it. Rich people of all eras have been sending their sons and daughters not to the worst, but the best schools they could get them into, sometimes bending the rules to do so. There is little reason to believe that what is true for whites is not true for blacks, Mexicans, and other minorities. [Richard Delgado, Ten Arguments Against Affirmative Action -- How Valid?, 50 Ala. L. Rev. 135, 142 (1998)]

I'm currently applying to law schools. Some of them are, without a doubt, "reaches." Harvard, Stanford, and Yale (which I'm convinced doesn't actually admit anyone, but is just engaging in a high-yield racket of applications fees) all have entering class profiles which are stretches for my numbers (for all three, my LSAT score is above their 75th percentile, but my GPA is well below their 25th percentile). By contrast, I seem to be a better "match" for NYU, Columbia, or Chicago, where I am right in the numerical wheelhouse. Nonetheless, I do not want to be rejected from any of these schools (to repeat, if any admissions officers from the aforementioned schools reading this blog -- I very much wish to be admitted!). I want the opportunity to test my ideas against the very finest minds in the land. I thirst to be taught by the most talented professors in the land, and work with the best and brightest students around. How is this not a good thing?

Back when I was applying to undergraduate schools, I was told by an admissions officer at Cornell that they could admit an entering class comprised entirely of students they rejected, and it would not look any different from a "normal" Cornell class. Past accomplishments, performance, potential -- totally the same. The reason, she told me, was that 90% of Cornell applicants have the tools to be successful at Cornell -- they are "qualified" to be there. They would not be mis-matched. Once you can past that first hurdle of capability (and the vast majority of students -- of any color -- who are applying to schools like Cornell, Yale, Harvard, or Stanford are extraordinarily capable and thus "qualified" in this sense), the question ceases to be about effectiveness, and turns into what each individual student is bringing to the table vis-a-vis his or her peers. That subjective, that's contingent on the vagaries of the applicant pool, and that's very difficult to map on to the concept of "merit". In a sense, it's unfair. But it certainly doesn't lead to mis-matches, unless something goes badly, badly wrong.


Superdestroyer said...

I think you have the logic reversed. It is very easy to mouthed the PC line about race/intelligence/achievement at a university that is overwhelmingly white because there are few examples to disprove it. Whites are overwhelmingly white, elite universities do not see blacks as competition. However, any school that is 25% black or more is definitely a second tier (or lower) school. Who do you think has a lower opinion of blacks, a white student are your university or a white student at Georgia State or Memphis University?

David Schraub said...

Shrug. My personal respect for Black people (and a corresponding reduction in stereotyping) has definitely gone up since my move from my lily White high school (>90% White or Asian, particularly in honors sections) to Carleton, which has a significantly higher (and more integrated) percentage of non-White, non-Asian students.

But if your point is that people who are more intelligent tend to have more progressive views on race, then sure, I can sign on to that. But then again, I do tend "to mouthed [sic] the PC line" on these issues.

Anonymous said...

I didn't notice many non-white non-Asian students when I went to Carleton a decade ago... glad to hear that they have upped the percentage. I wonder how it compares to the U. of Minnesota?

David Schraub said...

It's about 15-20% non-White, non-Asian I'd wager -- not great, but significantly better than my high school.

Superdestroyer said...

According to Carleton is 6% black and 5% Hispanic and 10% Hispanic. Compare that to University of Maryland-Baltimore County where the student body is 15% black, 6% Hispanic, and 21% Asian.

If you polled the students, I would guess that the white seniors at Carleton are much more progressive on race that the white students at UMBC.

What is probably more ironic is that UMBC probably does not have different admission standards for blacks and Hispanics versus whites but Carleton probably does.

If you look historically at college admissions, one of the things that Affirmative Action has caused universities to do is create the department, program admissions program. The University of Michigan was caught red handed using a separate and unequal admission standard for blacks and Hispanics but UM was careful to keep the quotas admissions out of its most rigorous programs like engineering. When UT-Austin published the results of its 10% program, it was obvious that raced based programs produce few black or Hispanic engineers, scientist, or technology majors.

I wonder if such universities would be considered a hostile environment for minorities?

PG said...

If you're trying to establish that exposure to black people reduces white people's progressiveness on race, what might actually prove your point is that white UMBC students from predominately white high schools were more "PC" about race when they are admitted to the more-diverse-than-hs UMBC than they are when they graduate. I seriously doubt that you will find that to be the case. In the absence of that finding, you're left with David's point that people at higher ranked schools (Carleton - #5 on USNWR's liberal arts college list; UMBC - not even a top 50 public U) will tend to have more progressive racial attitudes.

Perhaps a better comparison would be between two fairly equally ranked schools that were highly divergent in the racial composition of their classes. Are the white students at the school with a higher percentage of African Americans and Latinos more or less "PC" than the ones at the school with a lower percentage?

Superdestroyer said...


Your experiment will be impossible since all top tier universities have virtually the same ethnic make up in regards to blacks and Hispanics. They have a small enough number that rich, white elite students will not feel threated but that the number is high enough to demonstrate that the college is not racist and has an affirmative action program.

Elite schools make it very easy to be PC without paying any price for being PC. That is very different from the middle level public universities. They have much higher numbers of minorities and many whites who attend them feel like losers because those white students are cut off from many career fields and they have to compete on an uneven playing field with minorities for the career paths that are open to them.

The real question is can you find white students at elite universities who have ever been negatively impacted by Affirmative Action quotas, or even black on white crime? I seriously doubt it.

PG said...

The real question is can you find white students at elite universities who have ever been negatively impacted by Affirmative Action quotas, or even black on white crime? I seriously doubt it.

Then put your doubts aside, because one of my Columbia law school classmates was mugged by a black guy during the our first week of class, and another 1L student had her laptop stolen from her locker (according to the security camera, by a black person) at the end of first semester. Is CLS elite enough for you? Because, ohmigod, several elite universities (including Columbia, Yale, Chicago) are in poor neighborhoods and thus people who attend them are subject to property crime. I admit that I don't know anyone who was the victim of a violent crime, but losing all your class notes the weekend before exams is pretty traumatic for someone in her first semester of law school.

As for whether white students at elite universities are negatively impacted by affirmative action, I can tell you that the conservative ones all think they have been. One of my best friends believes that he would have gotten into Michigan Law absent the race-based affirmative action program in place at the time he applied.

So the answers to your "real question" go against what you believed they would be. Luckily, I think your real question tells us absolutely nothing useful about how either going to elite (and thus predominately liberal) colleges, or exposure to African Americans, affects one's attitude toward the Bell Curve.

Let's look at the middle level universities. Which are these? I will bet you that I can easily find some that are more diverse than others. I know for a fact that the University of Nebraska's law school has very few African American students, because I had an African American roommate who was offered a scholarship there and opted not to attend because she felt it wouldn't be a welcoming environment for her. However, I bet there's a university ranked close to Nebraska that's in an area with a lot more black people and that has a lot more black students. Let's compare those two and see if the Nebraka students are super-progressive and PC thanks to having been protected from exposure to black people.