Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Affirmative Action Hurts Minorities

Look at the picture above. What color/ethnicity/gender is the person wearing the shoes labeled "racial preferences"? Isn't it funny that a white guy is the one pictured as receiving preferences?

Back in the late 19th century, our Constitution was amended to abolish racial preferences. No longer were you allowed to pick and choose based on race. It was instantly cured, right?

Of course not. Blatant discrimination was the way of life into the 1960's, when the modern civil rights movement reached a peak, causing the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Little known about this is that there were so many Democrats opposing it that it wouldn't have passed without the Republicans.

Anyway, following that, it was illegal to pick and choose based on race. However, the "good old boys" could still find excuses to exclude those they wanted out, whether it was based on race, religion or gender.

My, how life has changed since then. But, not really. These types of activities, these racial and gender preferences and gerrymandering of qualifications, still exist. However, they are more often than not in the favor of groups who, admittedly, were discriminated against in the past.

Do these preferences help? No, says a study by UCLA law professor Richard Sander.
Easily the most startling conclusion of his research: Mr. Sander calculated that there are fewer black attorneys today than there would have been if law schools had practiced color-blind admissions--about 7.9% fewer by his reckoning. He identified the culprit as the practice of admitting minority students to schools for which they are inadequately prepared. In essence, they have been "matched" to the wrong school.
But, how can this be? How can getting admitted to law school be so bad for minorities?

When I got into medical school in the '80's, my school had a special program for black students. It was in the summer prior to the first year of school and was an intense gross anatomy course. These students were given, free, lab coats and dissecting kits. Older students, further along in school, were paid to do special dissections, or prosections, for these students to study. They were given textbooks, dissecting manuals and anatomy books.

When asked, the administration claimed that any student could have enrolled prior to the class filling. However, only the black students were contacted by the Office of Minority Affairs and notified that the course was available. It was clearly designed to give the black students a leg up.

Medical school, like law school, is damned hard. And, like law schools, there are different tiers of difficulty. Everyone in the biz knows that some schools are harder than others.

So, how is admission bad for minorities? Well, admission based on actual qualifications isn't bad. But, let's look at an example:
  • Paul is a black man, 21 years old and a college senior.
  • Paul's qualifications for admission to law school give him an "admission score" of 70.
  • Admission to Top Tier Law School in California require at least a score of 85.
  • Admission to Local Law School requires an admission score of at least 60. This school is nationally accredited and graduates are respected members of the legal community.
  • Paul is admitted to LLS and, with affirmative action, to TTLS.
  • Paul is give multiple scholarships to TTLS and a few to LLS. He elects to attend TTLS. Who wouldn't?
  • Swimming in an academic pond for which he is not prepared, Paul fails out of TTLS
  • Paul falls back on his undergraduate degree, biology, and gets a job as a customer service representative to Verizon Wireless.
Now consider the alternative: Paul is denied acceptance to TTLS, based on his lack of qualifications and attends LLS. At LLS, Paul does well and becomes a productive member of the local legal community. Or even this: Paul is denied acceptance to TTLS, based on his lack of qualifications. Paul attends another year of college and, better prepared this time, is accepted at TTLS and excels.

Is this what happens? That's what Richard Sander is arguing. However, as you can read at the linked article, the affirmative action advocates don't want him, or other researchers, to have access to the data to learn the real story.

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