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race and admissions
Michigan Boosts Minority Enrollment Without Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is in trouble. The Supreme Court seems intent on scaling back the use of race in admissions in Fisher v. Texas, and even if it doesn’t, support for the practice has been declining for a generation, leading a growing number of states to ban it at their public colleges and universities. At Via Meadia, we think that this is more or less a good thing: Remedying historical injustice is a hugely important project, but we don’t see many signs that today’s militant academic diversity bureaucracy is competent to execute it responsibly. Moreover, in a 21st-century America wracked by class inequality, it makes little sense for striving immigrants or poor whites to be penalized for past misdeeds they took no part in.

That said, continuing racial mistrust in the U.S. is a real cause for concern. The year 2015 saw the assertion of a particularly strong form of identity politics. Racial gaps in employment, housing, and income persist, and, despite much progress toward assimilation, our society is still too divided along racial and ethnic lines. So we are encouraged to see that the University of Michigan has had some recent success at building a racially diverse student body—and, therefore, a more racially diverse pool of potential future elites—without resorting to racially biased admissions policies. The New York Times reports:

A year after Dr. Ishop began her new job here as enrollment manager at the University of Michigan — responsible for shaping the makeup of incoming classes — the university increased the number of minority students in the 2015 freshman class by almost 20 percent, to the highest percentage since 2005.

African-Americans gained the most. It was a significant change at an institution where minority enrollment plunged after Michigan voters banned affirmative action in 2006.

“It’s a courtship,” Dr. Ishop said, explaining the strategy.

The piece goes on to detail what that “courtship” looked like in practice; it’s worth a read. It’s too early to tell whether Michigan’s new strategy of aggressive minority recruitment combined with race-blind admissions will succeed in the long term, much less whether it is transferable to other states with different demographic makeups. Still, other colleges should study Michigan’s efforts closely, and attempt to replicate and improve on them where possible. The development of a permanent racial underclass is incompatible with America’s melting pot ideals, and colleges have an important role to play in promoting integration (given their unfortunately large role in determining access to middle class careers). Affirmative action is not the answer—indeed, there are some compelling arguments that it helps perpetuate racial divisions on campuses. And if the promising numbers out of Michigan hold up, the case against affirmative action will grow even stronger, as continued success would help show that race-conscious admissions are unnecessary.

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  • Kevin

    Ultimately the solution will have to be improving the dysfunctional primary and secondary schools and the value parents place on education which limit the number of qualified applicants.

    • GS

      You would wish, Kevin. There is such a stubborn thing as… [drumroll, please]… IQ. All attempts to raise it lastingly have so far failed, and if the answer lies in genetic engineering, we do not yet know how to do it properly or even precisely which genes to correct. And when one does not have enough of it, one’s place is not in college.

      • Kevin

        To some extent – however given how horrible many of these schools are I suspect we are far away from any frontier imposed by maximum potential intelligence of the students.

        • GS

          Kevin: I got some of my education in a foreign land which practiced a pretty rigorous streaming: the cognitive segregation unit was a school itself, understood as a separate building with a separate teaching staff and a separate student body. It so happened that I have been through both a commoners’ school and a special school, so I am in a perfect position to compare. The commoners’ school was not “horrible” [there was very little bullying, for example], but none of my schoolmates from there would be able to enter [competitive exams], let alone to flourish in, a special school or a decent college – no more than I, an out-of-shape specimen, would be able to do 100+ push-ups routinely required in the SEALs training. It was simply not there. Nor is it here, for I have seen the American schools’ products up close – I had to TA them while in graduate school, in Princeton. Trust me, I was underwhelmed by the picture. That “potential” you are talking about wistfully is pretty low. I am talking not of the factual knowledge that they do not have [that part is remediable relatively easily, we know how to train parrots], but of the capacity to think and to understand. If one is to limit the notion of “college” to the serious institutions more like MIT than an Outhouse University, then to be there one needs an IQ of roughly 120 or higher. Given the major population groups under the usual discussion and their distribution statistics, it translates into [approximately] 1 in 3 Ashkenazi Jews, 2 in 9 East Asians, 1 in 10 Caucasians, and – because their σ is a tad lower, so for them their cutoff is about 3σ, ca. 1 in 600 African Americans. This would be the picture produced by the totally blind and rigorous admission exams.

          Here is my favorite illustration:
          “Amanda wants to paint each face of a cube a different color. How many colors would she need?” – Quoted from Charles Murray’s book “Real Education”. This multiple choice idiocy was offered to the American 8- graders [in NAEP – National Assessment of Educational Progress], and still about a half of them failed to get “6” [some did answer correctly by a random guess]. This is an illustration of the “potential” when the target IQ is about 90.
          And now, also for the 8-graders [in that special school, long ago]:
          “The numbers [1 to 6] of points are distributed on the faces of a cubic playing dice, one number per face. The dice has all the numbers from 1 to 6. The points arrangements on a dice face are traditional. How many different [i.e. not superimposable by a rotation of the cube as a whole] arrangements of these points on a playing dice are possible?” – and no multiple choice, a clean sheet of paper to write the answer and the proof of it. The majority answered correctly [they found the first part of the answer], and a tad less than a half of the students noted that the “2”, “3” and “6” points as normally used do not have the C-4 symmetry, but only C-2, and therefore the answer should have 2 parts: “30 if the orientation of the points on the cube face does not matter for the dice to be considered different, and 240 if it does”.
          This is an illustration of the required capacity to think and to understand. Of course, the IQ floor there was not 90.
          Now, which type of student belongs in a college?

  • Pete

    How much were the standards lowered to achieve this?

  • Nevis07

    whoa whoa whoa. You guys forgot to warn the readers that a safe space was needed to prepare for microaggressions to follow the headline.

    • Nevis07

      Trigger warning.

      Sorry, guys had I had to type it…

  • TheCynical1

    Too many minorities can’t succeed without lots of help . . . claim both the progressive do-gooders and the white supremacists.

    • GS

      Where have you seen a white supremacist? A supremacist is a would-be slaveholder [without an opportunity], and I have not seen any such. What I have seen were the separatists.

  • Beauceron

    “Moreover, in a 21st-century America wracked by class inequality, it makes little sense for striving immigrants or poor whites to be penalized for past misdeeds they took no part in.”

    I don’t think this is in keeping with the modern academic philosophy and its reality at all. All whites are racist. All of them. No exceptions. There are only white people that accept their racism fully, partially or not at all. Talk of unfairness to “poor whites” or whites who have been abused or treated unfairly, and what you get these days are things like the “Sippin’ on White Tears” meme.

    The academic system is so skewed, so biased, and, frankly, so insane, that my first reaction to a headline like “Michigan Boosts Minority Enrollment Without Affirmative Action” is not, “Oh, that’s amazing, how’d they do it, ” which, in a better world, is what it should be. But I read that and think, they have surely just rigged the system in a way that’s more subtle, and less transparent– that or they did what the NYFD did: lower the entrance standards so much that they are now meaningless as any type of standard.

  • GS

    Well, I strongly suspect that what they have been doing is an outright violation of the Michigan voters mandate to ban affirmative action, in whatever garb [“courtship” or not] it is being presented.

  • Anthony

    The thesis or thought (Affirmative Action) is perhaps red meat for targeted Via Meadia audience. In other words, a red herring being used as an argument to prove a conclusion that may not be at issue: the dismantling of Affirmative Action renders poor whites, striving immigrants, the meritorious, etc. access to advantages to which they are entitled and would have achieved had not Affirmative Action [whatever it truly means] been an obstacle. Indeed if one needs to believe that, then nothing I write alters that reality.

    Still, the typical arguments over Affirmative Action are confused and enigmatic despite applicability of Michigan’s new strategy. The real issue – given our racial history – is what is a fair alternative. In the same way, it is never easy to do what is fair, where conscience and interest may be at fundamental odds. Moreover, it is infinitely more difficult when the costs of fairness are not fairly distributed. For this reason and under current economic dynamics, Affirmative Action looks to be a “zero sum game”. That is, in the minds of those who believe they are being treated unfairly, expecting them to pay willingly for fairness to others at the price of their own further disadvantage requires societal forthrightness.

    Beyond that, Via Meadia defaults to Affirmative Action posts as a response or purpose towards what end I am definitely unable to discern. But I have found that the reasons usually offered for supporting or opposing Affirmative Action Programs conceal more than they reveal about the assumptions underlying the reasons. Consequently, I have appropriated the phrase “ALL of US or NONE” whenever subject is broached – in recognition that the way we approach the issue may reflect assumptions so basic that they may be both unexamined and unconscious.

    • Jim__L

      – If “the costs of fairness are not evenly distributed”, then we’re not talking about actual fairness.

      – If you’re worried about unexamined, unconscious assumptions, it could be useful to consciously examine them — in direct, lucid prose.

      • f1b0nacc1

        You do realize who you are writing to? He couldn’t use direct, lucid prose if he was replying to the question ‘what is your name?’

        • Anthony

          Here’s something direct: in a society in which the results are alleged to measure individual worth and in which the stakes are income, status, and power, the loser will always confront a critical problem of self-image. The greater the emphasis on equal opportunity the greater the strain on individual self-esteem; and the greater the tendency of those of marginal status to denigrate. Unlike WigWag, I don’t have to pretend you have something to contribute – remember Scott, hedgehog thinking blinds.

          • f1b0nacc1

            “Emphasizing equal opportunity” sounds wonderful, but there are real costs involved besides simply ‘strained self-esteem’. Whether it is comforting or not, someone ends up paying those costs, and suggesting that this is unimportant is dishonest at best. There is no question that the loser will reject the outcomes, but if those outcomes are not seen to be even remotely fair, then the losers will indeed have a point…a point that cannot simply be smugly dismissed…
            From an individual whose signature phrase is ‘I am done here’, your use of the term ‘hedgehog thinking’ is especially amusing. If you are too much of a coward to engage in debate, that is fine, but don’t pretend otherwise.
            Now, I am done here….

          • Anthony

            Got it! Thanks.

          • Andrew Allison

            Well yes, you have made it very clear that, as a legend in your own mind, you don’t need external affirmation. The question is, does anybody else take your impenetrably pretentious prose seriously? The answer should be self-evident.

          • Anthony

            Go back to bed.

        • Andrew Allison

          Nailed it!

        • Jim__L

          Best to stay constructive.

          • f1b0nacc1


      • Anthony
  • Jim__L

    “a racially diverse student body—and, therefore, a more racially diverse pool of potential future elites”

    You’re attacking the problem from the wrong angle.

    The problem is that elites have too much power in this country. This country was founded on the principle that elites should have as little power as possible. Having an African-American president, or a female president that practices executive overreach and regulatory diarrhea, is no better than having the white king we overthrew over two centuries ago.

    Lower the stakes. Disempower the elites. They’re incompetent anyway.

  • Fat_Man

    Admissions by lottery is the only system guaranteed to be fair to everyone without regard to race, religion, color, or ethnic origins. Not only that but it would be really cheap to run.

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