Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Some Non-Property Thoughts on Fisher

Since everyone else is talking about the Affirmative Action case today, I thought I could chip in my two cents.  Before going to law school I worked in the admissions office at Princeton University for two years.  Here's a short piece I wrote about Affirmative Action based on that experience.  The gist is that Affirmative Action is the least offensive thing that happens in a university admissions department; it affects fewer people than you think and (contra Justice Thomas) causes fewer harms.

Also, if any of you have high school aged kids, I'm more than happy to read their application essays.

Steve Clowney 


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Thanks for the fascinating essay. I would like to pick one nit...

I suspect your experiences at Princeton may not have given you a full perspective on the racial-discrimination-in-admissions problem at State flagships, which has been the real subject of litigation since Sweatt and has been a gigantic mess since Bakke. Fisher, like Grutter and Gratz and Hopwood and so-forth, concerned State admissions, not Ivy admissions.

We may pass lightly over the Fourteenth Amendment / state action problem (I could accept a compromise allowing private schools to discriminate but not State schools).

The big issue is that State schools discriminate much more vigorously than the Ivies, and the harm inflicted on unpreferred applicants is greater.

You boast in your essay that half of the black applicants accepted to Princeton would qualify for admission without racial preferences (on academic qualifications, presumably). However, nationwide there are very, very few black candidates so well qualified, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of black applicants. Per the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, in 2005 blacks were over ten percent of SAT-takers but "in [the] top-scoring category... blacks made up... only 1.5 percent of the students scoring 700 or higher on the verbal SAT [ed. note: blacks 1,205 total, whites 49,971, the rest other races]."* Once HYP-etc. accept those highly qualified black applicants, hardly any are left for the State schools who also want to fill their diversity goals. (And yes, severe gaps are present at scores lower than 700-per-section too.)

So far as academic qualifications are concerned, after the Ivies and pals cream off all the high-scorers of all races they want many tens of thousands of white high-scorers are left for selective State schools. Approximately zero black high-scorers remain, though. That fact pushes those second-tier schools to admit diverse students with very much lower scores than whites (or Asians). Not only is the racial injustice greater at State schools, but admitting ill-qualified blacks to make up diversity goals pushes the bottom fraction of university-qualified whites (like Fisher) out of selective State schools. Those applicants aren't rejected by Princeton but admitted to Cornell (or UT!); they are rejected by UT and severely handicapped in seeking desirable career tracks. The step down from Princeton (US News #1) to Cornell (#15) is much less jarring than the step down from UT (#46) to LSU (#134) (Abigail Fisher's experience).

Your experiences at Princeton may have given you great insight into Ivy League admissions practices, but I suspect they did not acquaint you fully with the much more sordid practices in State university admissions offices.

*For the mathematically-minded, SAT scores are distributed pretty much on the bell curve and the black mean is lower than the white mean overall and on every subtest by roughly 1 SD (the black standard deviation is slightly smaller than the white deviation). With respect to applicants who are not athletic or development admits, top schools draw from the right side of the SAT distribution 2+ SD out where very few blacks as a fraction of the pool or absolute number are to be found.

Posted by: Hideous | Jun 25, 2013 12:47:49 PM

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