Posts Tagged ‘Affirmative Action’

White privilege and affirmative action

September 16, 2021

The late Derrick Bell, pioneer of critical race theory, used to say that white people who oppose affirmative action in college admissions were hypocritical or naive.

Affirmative action for black people, he said, has much less impact on the chances of the average student than all the preferences given to the white elite.

Special consideration is given to children of donors, children of alumnae, graduates of expensive private schools and athletes skilled in sports such as rowing or polo that only rich people participated in.

Bell died in 2011, but facts, including a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, support what he said.

Some 43 percent of white Harvard students admitted between 2009 and 2014 got bonus points for being ALDCs – athletes, legacies (children of alumni), dean’s list (from families of big donors of potential donors) or children of faculty or staff.  Fewer than 16 percent of black, Hispanic or Asian students benefited from such preferences.

The study also indicated that three-quarters of the white students who got bonus points would have been rejected if they hadn’t got the points.   Most of them come from upper-crust families.  Such families are also able to give their children the benefit of private schools or well-funded public schools in rich school districts.

All this matters because Ivy League universities such as Harvard are gatekeepers for the top jobs in banking, law, government and academia, and only about 4 or 5 percent of applicants are admitted.

So why, asked Derrick Bell, is all the emphasis on the extra help African-Americans get from affirmative action policies?

One answer is that affirmative action for rich white families is seldom talked about, but affirmative action for racial minorities is talked about constantly, both by those who favor it and those who oppose it. 

When proponents of affirmative action bring up white elite privilege, they do not challenge white elite privilege; they use it as a talking point to defend their own programs.

Affirmative action for minorities is an example of what Bell called racial fortuity, although I am not sure he would have agreed.  

Racial fortuity happens when black people’s interests and white (usually elite white) people’s interests happen to coincide.  

Affirmative action serves the function of lightning rod for resentment of non-elite white students who can’t get into colleges such as Harvard.


Who gets preference on college admissions?

June 20, 2012

Daniel Golden wrote in his 2006 book, The Price of Admission, that at least a third of the students at elite American universities got special treatment in the admissions process, and the figure was at least half at liberal arts colleges.

A typical student body, according to Golden, is:

  • 10 to 25 percent children of alumni (“legacies”)
  • 10 to 15 percent minorities
  • 10 to 15 percent athletes
  • 2 to 5 percent children of potential large donors (“development cases”)
  • 1 to 3 percent children of faculty members
  • 1 to 2 percent children of politicians and celebrities.

Preferences for minorities seem to generate a lot of outrage, other preferences not so much.  Why do you think this is?

Click on Poison Ivy for a review of Golden’s book in The Economist.

Click on The Best Education Money Can Buy for a review in the Washington Post

Click on Daniel Golden’s “The Price of Admission” for a review in the University of North Carolina’s Carolina Review.

Click on A Response to Daniel Golden for a lame attempt at rebuttal in the Brown University Spectator.

I don’t think anything has changed since Golden wrote his book (which I haven’t read).  The moral I draw from these figures is that graduating from an elite university is not a guarantee of superior intellect.

I don’t favor the government interfering with admissions policies at private universities, except to forbid them to exclude people on the basis of race, religion or national origin.  I do favor restoring the state university systems so they once again can provide a good and affordable college education to anyone capable of doing college work, while rejecting the myth that you need a college education in order to be qualified for a decent job.

Hat tip to Christopher Hayes in his article Why Elites Fail.

Edited for clarity 7/9/12.

Diversity as divide-and-rule

April 2, 2010

Allen Neuharth, who was CEO of Gannett Co. Inc. from 1973 through 1989, was a great journalism pioneer. At a time when newspapers were in decline, he founded two newspapers, Florida Today and then the widely-imitated USA Today. He combined graphics, pictures and text to present information more effectively than could be done text alone. He broadened the definition of news. He was in the forefront of advanced newspaper technology.  He built from Gannett from a regional to a national newspaper chain.

He was a strong proponent of diversity in the newsroom and in news coverage.  While demographic diversity is irrelevant in some fields (for example, air traffic control), it is definitely relevant to journalism. Newspaper readers represent a wide range of opinions, social classes, educational levels and ethnicities; having a balance between men and women, blacks and whites, Anglos and Hispanics, gays and straights ensures, at least, a wider range of life experiences than you would got from a group of straight white Anglo males.

But I am sure Neuharth was astute enough to realize that his championing of diversity gave him cover from criticism for other policies – paying wages below average for the industry; striving to crush the Newspaper Guild, the reporters’ union, at all costs; downgrading investigative reporting in favor of “lifestyle” coverage; subordinating everything except union-busting to corporate profits. The story is told that when Neuharth was asked whether the corporate name was pronounced GANNett or GanNETT, he replied, “The emphasis is on the ‘net’.”

Our “diversity training” sessions at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle seemed to me to stir up antagonism rather than promote understanding. At one such session, a guy from the art department said that gays (I hadn’t known until that moment that he was gay) should join forces with women and people of color against straight white males. Nobody rebuked him for this.  His statement was forgotten by everyone five minutes later, but it certainly was not calculated to foster teamwork and unity.

In the business news section, where I worked, we had a young black guy thrown into a job for which he did not have the experience or training. He floundered, and was given no special training or help to improve. He responded by appointing himself the enforcer of racial correctness within the section. We had a young black woman who did a good job for which, in my opinion, she never was given sufficient credit by the then-editor. At the same time higher-level editors pressed her to take a supervisory position for which she knew she was not qualified.

Eventually both these people got new jobs and quit the D&C.  The last I heard, they were doing well in the new jobs, so the problem was not with them but with the false positions they were put in.  It can be good to put talented people on a fast track for promotion so they can exercise responsibility at a young age, but if so, they need mentoring and apprenticeships to prepare themselves. It helps nobody to hire somebody, in order to meet a quota, for a job they may not be able to do, and then leave the person to sink or swim on their own.

Newspaper Guild Local 17 had a clause in our contract barring discrimination race on race or gender. We wanted to add a clause based on sexual orientation, but management refused to agree. My assumption is that they wanted gay employees to think of equal opportunity as a gift handed down from on high,, and not as a contractual right enforced by their fellow employees.


Affirmative action and me

March 30, 2010

When I was just under 16 years old, I was awarded a scholarship which entitled me to go directly from the 10th grade of Williamsport (Md.) High School to the freshman class at the University of Wisconsin. This was in 1952, during the Korean War, and the Ford Foundation Pre-Induction Scholarships were intended to allow bright boys (girls were brought in later) to complete college prior to their military service obligation.

Some years later Prof. Herbert Howe, the administrator of the Ford scholarships at Wisconsin (three other college participated in the program) told me how the selection was made. His original idea was to award the scholarships based on scores on tests given to applicants. The letter of application was also a factor; he weeded out a guy who said he would “try to be a good egg and a credit to the Wisconsin omelette mater.”

But when the test scores came in, all the highest scores were by students in two elite high schools in New York City – the Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School. Since it wouldn’t look good to give all the scholarships to students from just two high schools, he restricted them to 50 percent of the scholarships, and also allocated 10 percent of the scholarships to residents of the state of Wisconsin.

My own test scores were nothing special, he said; he chose me because I was the only applicant from the South and because I chose to be tested on my knowledge of history and English rather than the sciences, as all or almost all the other applicants had. He said he thought that just because I was so different from the others, it would be interesting to take a chance on me and see how I worked out.

In other words, I was a beneficiary of affirmative action. I was chosen on the basis of my demographic characteristics rather than my achievements. I was chosen for the sake of “diversity.”

I was glad he waited until I had a couple of years of college under my belt before telling me this. If I had known this right off the bat, it would have shattered my self-confidence.

I didn’t, and I don’t, feel bad about the reason I was given the scholarship. But because of this experience, I don’t get indignant because here and there blacks or Hispanics get something they aren’t strictly entitled to.

By the way, I never met any black Ford scholars. I don’t think there were any, but there could have been some, because I didn’t meet all of them. Prof. Howe kept us separated so that we would blend in with the rest of the college population and not come together as a separate group. It never occurred to me back then (the program ran from 1951 through 1955)  to notice the absence of black Ford scholars or wonder about the reason for it.