Michigan By The Numbers

As I wrote most recently several posts below criticizing an OpEd by NAACP LDF attorney-director Theodore Shaw (“Justification For Preferences? C’est Moi!“), one of the necessary and hence common claims of the preferentialists is that “racial preferences do not involve discrimination because most whites, Asians, etc., who are rejected from selective schools are not rejected because of race.” I called that “a canard” then, and I repeat it now. [See a subsequent reply by Shaw and my rejoinder here.]

This must be official dogma these days at the NAACP LDF, for another attorney there, Elise Boddie, recently made that argument in SLATE (an article I criticized here):

Yet opponents still equate affirmative action policies with “discrimination against whites” and draw audacious parallels between such policies and the racist practices of universities during the era of de jure segregation. The University of Michigan is at least 80 percent white, so it isn’t credible to claim that it or its affirmative action policy discriminates against whites as a group.

This argument, a foundation of the preference principle, has far more radical implications than is generally recognized, for it in effect redefines discrimination as something that applies only to groups. To say, as Ms. Boddie and Mr. Shaw do, that preferences cannot be discriminatory because the University of Michigan is still 80% white is to say that discrimination against individuals doesn’t count, until and unless it is massive enough to affect the statistical representation of the racial or ethnic group to which they are said to belong. Do “civil rights” groups really want to go there?

Forget civil rights groups. The University of Michigan itself makes this same argument. The following is from a “Q&A re University of Michigan Admissions Policies” on a Michigan web site with its legal materials:

Q: Does the University’s consideration of race hurt a white student’s chances of getting into the University?

A: No. The numbers of minority applicants are extremely small compared to the numbers of white students who apply to the University. The Law School, for example has for the last 10 years had an average offer rate of 29 percent for Caucasian applicants, and 26 percent for African American applicants. Out of the fall 2002 entering class of 352, only 21 are African American. Similarly, of the approximately 24,000 applications received each year for admissions to the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, only about 1,800 come from underrepresented minorities. It is not mathematically possible that the small numbers of minority students who apply and are admitted are “displacing” a significant number of white students under any scenario.

What Michigan is actually saying here is that there is no discrimination because there’s not much of it, and what there is affects only some individuals, not their groups. Another thing that must be said about the above quote is that it is disingenuous, at best. To emphasize what a piddling amount of preference is actually involved, Michigan mentions that there are “only 21″ African Americans in the entering 2002 law school class of 352. But what of the preferentially admitted Hispanics and Native Americans? As we shall see, including those preferred admissions makes a significant difference.

In order to determine how much actual discrimination is involved at Michigan, let’s look at some revealing numbers that Michigan itself provided in court about the 2000 class at its law school. How many applicants does Michigan itself say were admitted, and rejected, because of their race that year? (I picked that year because I found the numbers without having to look very hard.)

The following is from page 28 of Judge Bernard Friedman’s district court opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, the law school case. It discusses data on the effect of preferences presented by Dr. Stephen Raudenbush, the University of Michigan’s expert witness.

In Dr. Raudenbush’s view, a “race-blind” admissions system would have a “very dramatic,” negative effect on minority admissions but only a slight effect on non-minority admissions, due to the vastly greater number of non-minority applicants. In the year 2000, 35% of underrepresented minority applicants and 40% of non-minority applicants were admitted. See Exhibit 187. Dr. Raudenbush predicted that if race were not considered, then only 10% of underrepresented minority applicants and 44% of non-minority applicants would be admitted. If correct, this would mean that in the year 2000 only 46 underrepresented minority applicants would have been admitted (instead of 170 who actually were admitted), of whom only 16 would enroll (instead of 58 who actually enrolled). Under this scenario, underrepresented minority students would have constituted 4% of the entering class in 2000, instead of 14.5% as actually occurred. See Exhibit 189.

Bear with me because, unlike Jessie, I dropped out of math before arithmetic got hard and so don’t do numbers very well. Feel free to let me know if there are stupid errors in what follows. But here’s what I take out of the above. Keep in mind that these are the numbers presented by Michigan’s own expert, not by the plaintiffs.

  1. 170 “underrepresented minorities” were preferentially offered admission.
  2. 58 of them enrolled, making up 14.5% of the total entering class of 400 students.
  3. Under “race-blind” admissions, 46 minorities would have been offered admission and 16 of them, 4% of the entering class, would have enrolled.

Thus, according to Michigan, 124 white, Asian, or unpreferred minority applicants were rejected because of their race or ethnicity that year. The 2000 entering class of 400 students contained 42 students, or a bit over 10% of the class, who in Michigan’s estimation would not have been there if their race or ethnicity had not been taken into account.

Now, given the large number of white, Asian, and non-preferred minority (not simply “white,” as Michigan’s statement has it) applicants and the relatively small number of preferred minority applicants, it may well be true that any non-preferred individual’s chances of admissions were not dramatically affected by Michigan’s preferences to preferred minorities. But does that mean that those 124 applicants who were rejected because of their race were not victims of discrimination? Would they have been victims if there had been 150 of them? 200? 250?

In short, do these numbers add up to a significant amount of discrimination?

I report; you decide.

Say What? (6)

  1. Patrick McKenzie March 3, 2003 at 2:14 am | | Reply

    Someone once explained the concept to me like the following, and it crystallized my opposition to the concept.

    “Pretend it is feasible to rank all students from best to worst within the applicant pool.”

    A reasonable conceit given the nature of admissions decisions, and it only serves to heighten the following example, not change its content.

    “A small college with 10 students admits the nine highest members on its list then decides it needs another AA advantagee. It skips over students 10 through 11 (Abe, Bert, and Connie) and picks David. The remaining 86 members of its applicant pool are not affected by AA at all”.

    “Conclusion : AA has a very detrimental effect on Abe, given that but for AA he would have gotten into the school. Add another AA admittee and Bert gets equally screwed. Then Connie. Then who ever comes after David.”

    “Undeclared major premise : The right to not be discriminated against accrues to individuals, not groups. Even if Abe is the only person unjustly hurt by this arrangement, Abe is still… unjustly hurt by this arrangement. Or, to put it another way, if Microsoft fired ONE engineer with the explicit rationale “You’re insufficiently white for our company”, the rest of their conduct is and should be meaningless in determining the imorality of that action.”

    Patrick McKenzie

  2. cobb March 3, 2003 at 3:32 am | | Reply

    i find it interesting that we remain so focused on the travails of several thousand graduate students in this blessed nation.

    as fascinating as it is, i wonder if you might do us a favor and cast your searchlight over to the caseload of the EEOC, which handles those discriminations which might be deemed criminal.

    it’s late and i’m thinking somewhat fuzzily, but it occurs to me that we are so fortunate to have precise regimes like the U of M to quantify exactly how much racial discrimination is going on. it’s like legalized marijuana in the hands of brilliant marketers like philip morris.

    if we are just saying no to racial discrimination as a blanket zero-tolerance policy, is it a better thing or a worse thing that it is managed with such efficiency at our nations’ finest universities? because from where i stand the mote of university affirmative action has distracted us from the many beams of racism in american society, most significantly those outlined by glenn loury.

    i understand the rationale for making the case against university affirmative action, what i don’t understand is the lack of proportionality evident in this relentless struggle on behalf of students so close to the top of the food chain.

    have you never heard of redlining?

  3. Xrlq March 3, 2003 at 1:51 pm | | Reply

    It’s comforting to know that according to U Mich, there aren’t very many people like me, therefore I don’t exist.

  4. Anonymous June 10, 2003 at 7:41 pm | | Reply

    I find very interesting that many white people feel that they have been discriminated against as a result of affirmative action policies. Form where does this idea arise? I have pondered this question for many years. The conclusion that I have drawn is that white people feel that they are entitled to certain “goodies” in life, a high quality education being among these. However, it is ironic that while some believe that they have the right to attend the top institutions of higher education, many students of color cannot even get a mediocre level of instruction in their underfunded and blighted schools. Is this the playing field from which we are to draw students on an allegedly objective basis? Is this the foundation of “meritocracy”? Sadly, the answer to both questions is yes.

    People of all races seem to forget or ignore the fact that black people were being openly discriminated against in this country less than 30 years ago. Just because the forms of racism are now more subtle does not mean that they do not exist at all. As long as that is the case…and as long as the playing field remains unequal, affirmative action will be necessary. As Stanford University President Gerhard Casper said in a May 29, 2003 speech, “Barriers continue to exist in society, and therefore affirmative action asks us to cast our net more widely to broaden the competition and to engage in more active efforts for locating and recruiting applicants.”

    I have no allusions that higher ed. affirmative action plans consider race, often explicitly. However, one must distinguish notions of individual “fairness” from the power of “justice”. Discrimination occurs as a group dynamic. It takes two to tango, so to speak. Therefore, the remedy must also be in the realm of a group dynanic. Conservatives are always talking about individual rights and that kind of nonsense. This is merely an attempt to gloss over facts and let an individual horror story be drowned in a se of successful stories about overcoming obstacles and achieving the American Dream.”

    Is it fair if one student is excluded in order to include another? No. But I do not believe that this is how most affirmative action programs operate. Rather than excluding someone b/c of race, the programs actually include those who may otherwise be excluded under an arbitrary and rigid notion of “merit”. We all should know by now that SATs and LSATS are meaningless. LSATS in particular have no predictive validity for success as an upper-level law student or as a practicing attorney. Yet, those who score high on the LSAT think they are entitled to attend the best law schools. And, at the same time, the same people do not really care that the ancestors of Black Americans were not allowed to attend school and htat it was a crime to teach them (then enslaved Africans) to read and write.

    Yes, privilege knows no bounds….

  5. [...] myself here each time I say something I’ve said before, but most of what follows is drawn from here, here, and [...]

  6. Anonymous February 2, 2014 at 9:39 pm | | Reply

    Let’s focus on reasons why there are not more African Americans and Latinos applying to big universities. They need to do better in preK-12. They need to apply to big universities.

    Once these folks apply, they need to do well at university. Then they need to be encouraged to serve their respective communities and explain how to succeed.

    Clues might include decent behavior, trying one’s best, persevering, getting help where one can, aiming high, and valuing education even when it’s free. These are important values often lacking where they do matter, leading to a persistent achievement gap. I have seen millions of extra dollars aimed annually at underperforming public schoolchildren, to no avail–even after decades of public school systems’ best efforts. Every year, we throw more good money after bad, because we haven’t been able to really reach targeted populations of underperforming students.

    We need to shift the conversation away from race and get to the heart of the matter.

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