Widgets Magazine


Affirmative Action? Good, but not enough

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral argument in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas.  Brought by Abigail Fisher, a white student who claims that the University of Texas system denied her admission because of her race under its current affirmative action plan, Fisher has the potential to render race-based affirmative action unconstitutional in university admissions – especially given the conservative bent of the current Court.

The upcoming case has reignited an old series of debates, largely untouched since 2003’s Grutter v. Bollinger, about the continued relevance of affirmative action programs in higher education.  People smarter and more informed than I am have advocated various policy solutions – shifting the focus of affirmative action from race to class, doing away with affirmative action altogether, or strengthening a fading national commitment to students of minority descent by preserving the status quo – in response to what could be one of the Court’s most important rulings on race and education this side of the new century.  I’m not going to rehash these debates here.

Instead, I’d like to argue very briefly that all of this rather misses the point.  All parties to the argument seem to agree that affirmative action artificially increases the number of minority students admitted to universities; they simply disagree about whether this measure is justified.  I’d like to suggest that the very fact that African-American, Hispanic, and lower-class students of all races still continue to require assistance from the state in order to make it to college is proof in itself that this country continues to face very serious problems in educational and social equity – problems that begin long before the senior year admissions dance to which Fisher is about to set the tune.

By the time a high school senior decides to apply to college – and many, too many, never do – many of her skills, interests, talents, and convictions have already been determined by her parents, living environment, and level of educational opportunity.

The Fisher case provides instructive evidence in this regard.  The University of Texas system, in an attempt to maintain a diverse entering class via racially neutral means, has long used a “top ten percent” system to admit freshman applicants.  The system works, as the name suggests, by automatically accepting applicants from the top ten percent of their high school class.  Since a significant number of high schools in Texas remain effectively racially homogeneous, the “top ten percent” plan has had the beneficial side effect of admitting African-American and Hispanic students who have performed well by the standards of their de facto segregated high schools – even if not by state or national standards – into the University of Texas system.

But by the time the top ten percent plan has kicked in, many of these students have faced twelve years of schooling in an inadequate, segregated system.  The damage has been done.  And affirmative action has become a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

In short, affirmative action before college is too little, too late.  Tinkering with admissions numbers when a child is 18 does little to address the many underlying root causes of inequality – causes from race to class to geographic location – that this country has yet to deal with in a satisfactory, even adequate, manner.

Whatever the Court decides in Fisher will make headline news.  The countless individual stories of kids in schools with more guns than books, kids with single moms or dads whose jobs got them home too late to read before bed, kids who missed out on the elite $20,000-per-year kindergarten regime and had to settle for inadequately funded public schools – those stories won’t.

But those are precisely the stories we should be listening to.

Contact Miles at milesu1@stanford.edu.

  • Anon

    Why is there a connection between racially homogeneous schools and the “success” of the 10% plan? Are you suggesting that if the schools were fully integrated then only whites would get in the top 10%? Isn’t that in itself a racist statement?

  • rogerclegg

    In looking at the “many underlying root causes of inequality,” don’t forget the most important one, and one of many that racial preferences in university admissions will do nothing to address: Last week, the federal government released its latest figures on births in the United States, including out-of-wedlock births. The numbers are very close to last year’s: 72.3 percent of non-Hispanic blacks are now born out-of-wedlock; 66.2 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives; 53.3 percent of Hispanics; 29.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites; and 17.2 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. That’s 40.7 percent overall: a disaster. But it is, of course, no surprise that the groups with the highest illegitimacy rates are the groups that are struggling economically, educationally, with crime, and so forth.

  • TMC

    Abigail Fisher graduated 82 of 674 students from her suburban Houston high school (i.e., between top 12% to top 13%) and scored an 1180 on her SAT (i.e., good but not great). With such questionable credentials, only a person full of bitterness would sue to get into the state’s top university because “the minorities took her seat.”

  • Jason Wright

    Nobody is flooding African countries with non-Africans and giving them special rights and privileges over Africans and saying “but race is a social construct”

    Nobody is flooding Asian countries with non-Asians and giving them special rights and privileges over Asians and saying “but race is not a genetic reality”

    This is being done to all White countries and only White coutries.

    Only White people are being affected by this.
    What is happening is GENOCIDE as defined by UN Resolution 260IIIA

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-White!

  • Equality IS the social construct.

    And I agree that anti-racist is a code word for anti-white

  • Marina

    Actually, Jason, historically speaking, for about 500 years, African and Asian and Australian and even American lands have been flooded with white people who managed to assume special rights and privileges for themselves. This is how we have so many “White countries” with large populations descended from the populations of tiny little Europe.

  • pol_incorrect

    In 2009, researchers at Princeton published the result of a study that showed that with the current affirmative action system, Asian Americans are discriminated against in college admission decisions at elite universities http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2009/10/12/24103/ . “, African-American applicants with SAT scores of 1150 had the same chances of being accepted as white applicants with 1460s and Asian applicants with perfect 1600s.” This idea that somebody of a given race should be given a pass is preposterous. Stanford is no different. But here is the irony, and hypocrisy. If you take a look at the profile of undergrads http://facts.stanford.edu/undergraduate.html you see that it mimics the political correctness defended by Miles and his liberal pals. The picture of those admitted to grad school is radically different http://facts.stanford.edu/graduate.html . The reason? In grad school admission decisions are made by professors at the different departments with the sole criteria of academic excellence and research potential (otherwise the reputation of their departments will suffer). When academic excellence is the main driver behind admission decisions, the affirmative action BS falls apart. The end result is that you have underachievers of African American and Hispanic background getting an undeserved boost in life by having an Ivy League education attached to their resumes. At the same time, you have excellent students of white and Asian background, especially those coming from families of modest means, deprived of opportunities to develop their potential. Anybody who sees the current situation “fair” lives in a different universe. As I have said many times, liberal professors brainwash students to accept this alternate reality and nobody seems to care.

  • pol_incorrect

    Julian Castro was not much better and he and his brother got into Stanford unfairly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Castro “Castro has credited affirmative action for his admission into Stanford, telling The New York Times, “Joaquín and I got into Stanford because of affirmative action. I scored 1,210 on my SATs,
    which was lower than the median matriculating student. But I did fine
    in college and in law school. So did Joaquín. I’m a strong supporter of
    affirmative action because I’ve seen it work in my own life” Sure, I would be a supporter as well if I had been such a sucker (since I am pretty sure that Stanford paid for his education too) . Given that Stanford has limited resources to decide who gets financial aid (resources that were even more limited them), the Castros took away admission slots from more qualified candidates and they are unashamed about that. Talk about the evils of the entitlement mindset!

  • Oh? Affirmative Action, explicit racial quotas regardless of actual merit, isn’t enough? What would be enough? White families are too good? We should force White families to raise Black children?

    And when that doesn’t work, what next?

  • Special rights and privileges? You mean like Affirmative Action?

  • Jai

    OR special rights and privileges as outlined in D. Golden’s book: The Price of Admission.


  • I am sure the Castro brothers felt great. But what about the Asian kid who scored better but was kept out to accomadate the Castro Brothers? Did his parents own a plantation that oppressed the Castro parents? Does he have any control over his heritage or ethnicity? As far as we know, he have overcome just as much adversity in his own life. Why should he be the fault guy?
    More importantly, was America the country that values individual achievement or was this a country that shall forever focus on collective guilt of the past?

  • Affirmative Action that focus on race is fundermentally wrong.Imagine yourself an Asian kid whose parents wait in restaurants. Why should you have to score better or be kept out of the college of your dreams so others who didn’t do as well as you get in? Do you have any control over your heritage or ethnicity? Are your parents owners of a plantation that oppressed other racial groups? For all we know, your parents could be laborors in a Sri Lankan rea plantation themselves. Why should you pay for the sins of past generations who are not even your ancestors? How you you feel if you have just become the fault guy?
    More importantly, is America the country that values individual achievement or will this be a country that shall forever focus on collective guilt of the past? You want to help Latino and African American Students? Improve K-12 education by busting the powerful Teachers Unions and the politicians who are in bed with them when the kids are being screwed.

  • Jason Wright

    actually, that DOESNT explain anything about the population of Europe.

    Native american tribes created their own cultures that assumed their own special rights and privileges. The Blackfoot Indians went around stealing land from groups like the salish, kutenai, flathead tribes…. does that justify what whites did to them?

    African tribes created their own cultures that assumed their own special rights and privileges. They came into southern Europe & raped, robbed, pillaged, murdered, stole land, and enslaved the indigenous people of that area for nearly a thousand years. You would NEVER say that African children should be singled out & punished for THEIR history

    You anti-whites say that WHITE children must be SINGLED OUT & punished for their ancestors misdeeds.

    Anti-Racist is a codeword for Anti-Whites

  • pol_incorrect

    Hey Frederick, I agree with you here! The irony of your questions is that in addition the Castros did not come form an underprivileged background whatsoever, they were just underachievers who happened to have a Hispanic name. In fact, this whole affirmative craziness benefits primarily underachievers of Hispanic and African American background raised by upper middle class families. So even if there was a justification for affirmative action as a way to correct the evils of the past- in my opinion there isn’t- those who benefit from it are those who didn’t come from that background. I am giving you another example: Barack Obama. He surely got into Columbia and Harvard through affirmative action. Yet he was hardly underprivileged. Her grandmother was a Vice President at a Hawaii bank who paid for his education at one of Hawaii’s most exclusive prep schools. Instead of making the best of it, he spent his time abusing illegal drugs. And through affirmative action he became president and ruined our great country. Time to move on from white guilt!

  • Brad

    People don’t understand that we as undergraduates also benefit from having a diverse group of students to pull ideas from, work together with, and learn from. As an Asian Male, I know that I benefit from being surrounded by different cultures, instead of a school that could very well be 70% Asian. Although the one thing I don’t agree with is the concept of Pan-Asian culture. Vietnamese people are very different from the Japanese etc.

  • Seri Park

    Any law that removes race-based admissions will not increase the probability of admittance by whites, but will likely decrease it, including in Texas. Rather, removing race-based quotas will increase the acceptance of Asian-Americans.

  • Seri Park

    Asian-Americans are Americans

  • perspective2

    In-state applicants race for admission to public University of California.

    Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau ($450.000), Provost
    Breslauer ($306,000) shed thousands of eligible in-state applicants. Residents
    are replaced by a $50,600 payment from born abroad affluent foreign and affluent
    out of state students. And, Birgeneau subsidizes affluent foreign and affluent out
    of state tuition in the guise of diversity while Breslauer Birgeneau double
    (Harvard College now less costly than Cal.) resident tuition.

    Birgeneau/Breslauer hapless leadership accepts
    $50,600 tuition to displace California residents (When depreciation of tax
    funded assets, infrastructure etc, are included (as they should be), out of
    state and foreign tuition is more than $100,000 and does NOT subsidize in state

    With the influence of UC Berkeley Chancellor
    Birgeneau, Provost George Breslauer deployed excessive force by campus police –
    rammed baton jabs – on students protesting Chancellor’s doubling of resident
    tuition. Sack (honorably retire) dysfunctional Provost Breslauer. Birgeneau

    Email a message to UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu
    and Calif. State Senators and Assemblymembers.

  • Marc Wu

    Dude, what’s keeping from meeting people of different cultures out of school? It’s not like you’re locked on campus. The most qualified people should be in the best schools, Asian or otherwise. End of story.

    BTW I’m an Asian person who loves meeting people of different cultures as much as the next guy.