The skewed perspective of a conservative Catholic employee-side employment lawyer living in the most exciting city in the Milky Way, Las Vegas, Nevada USA, who listens to a lot of really strange music and who, for some reason, lives and dies St. Louis Cardinal baseball

2/22/2005

Affirmative action: the love that dares not speak its name

Excellent discussion over at discriminations.us regarding affirmative action and its effects on African-American college students.

John discusses to research papers that have slithered out of the sociology department at Princeton regarding affirmative action. One is from Professor Douglas Massey, who draws the conclusion that affirmative action does not set up minority students for failure, a conclusion that follows from his research only becaue he has blindly refused to examine some of the issues arising in his research. He found that the more schools used affirmative action, the lower the over-all performance of minority students. He refused to assess the possibility that some minority students were lured into waters over their heads by admissions officers who wanted "trophy" minorities. Instead, he opined that a "stereotype threat," in which students were stigmatized as being beneficiaries of affirmative was the problem and the only possible solution: more affirmative action!

The "stereotype threat" is real. Well-qualified African-American students are assumed by too many people to be there only because of affirmative action. The thought that many (or most) could be there based on their individual achievements occurs to far too few people. Professor Massey went into his research with the politically-correct conclusion in mind and he hell-bent on reaching that conclusion regardless of where the data took him.

The other study seems to be more flawed. According to John, Professor Tienda's "research" (and, yes, I am using the ol' sarcasm quotes there) concluded that minority students who attend a minority-majority are more likely to graduate in the Top 10% of their class than those who attend fully-integrated high schools. My point is this: DUH!

If a school is 100% African-American, then the entire Top 10% will be African-American, by definition. If a school is 30% African American and, if academic performance were randomly distributed throughout the student population, then only 30% of the Top 10% would be African American. The drop-off would be substantial even if academic performance were randomly distributed. We have a problem in our culture because, for whatever reason(s), it currently is not. If I understand Professor Tienda's "research" correctly, she has merely stated a truism. Without delving into the incomprehensive academic-ese in which she has likely gussied-up her sociological findings, I don't understand what possible break-through point she believes she is making.


And her research is based on Texas high schools. Texas has a state law guaranteeing college admission for the Top 10% of each and every high school graduating class. (I will find the statute if I can. In the meantime, here's a description of the law from the Texas Tech website.) That would seem to be an important detail and I wondering if Professor Tienda willfully opted to ignore it (or if it influenced her choice of Texas as the state to be studied). So, of course, you could go to a more "selective" school in Texas merely by one's status as a graduate in the Top 10% of one's class in a Texas high school, which, in a minority-dominated Texas high school would most assuredly be a minority. Professor Tienda's conclusion thus is that if you live in a state that guarantees college admission to any student who graduates in the Top 10% of his/her high school's graduating class, then segregation is a good thing. Because you will get into a better college. This conclusion is offensive on so many levels.

Years ago, I began suspecting that there may be a problem with affirmative action when I realized that none of its defenders could speak openly and honestly about the costs and benefits. And if when one did, you would only need to see the example of Harvard President Larry Summers to see what happens when you speak truth to power about affirmative action. Like someone justifying remaining in a bad relationship, if you have to lie to justify your action or your policy choice, chances are your policy choices (like relationship choices) are a terrible mistake.

But, then again, I guess I'm just an old-fashioned liberal (albeit anti-tax) who is still naive enough to believe the old saw about equal justice under the law for everybody.


Addendum: I've been corrected on one of my basic lines of attack on Professor Tienda. The whole point of her paper was to examine the Texas Top 10% law. Still, I stand by my statement that her conclusions seem self-evident and are neither a valid line of support, nor attack, for affirmative action.

Addendum II: Courtesy of a polite commenter who shot down one of my theses over at the discriminations site, here's the link to a pdf-file of Professor Tienda research paper. I report, you decide, after reading.
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