Grades And Fairness

On June 22, 2002, in the 2nd posting on Jessie’s and my new blog, I had the following to say about the practice of blind grading (the professor does not know the identity of the student whose paper/exam is being graded) that is prevalent in law schools:

Blind grading … seems like something of an anomaly, a little island of (color+)-blindness surrounded by a virtual sea of color-consciousness. There are racial preferences for admission to selective and some not-so-selective colleges; there are racial preferences for admission to law school; and after graduation there are racial preferences in hiring in many firms and organizations. Given all that, why NOT have race-conscious grading as well? I’m having a hard time imagining what the argument against it — especially a principled argument — would be from people who support racial consciousness everywhere else and, indeed, are sometimes heard to argue that it is racist NOT to take race into account.

On the other hand, these are the same people who, curiously, vehemently oppose racial profiling….

And in a post just a few days ago on an article in last Sunday’s New York Times about racial diviseness at the University of Michigan law school, after referring to the objection of some students to a criminal law professor who gave early tips about questions on the final only to minority students (he abandoned the practice after the criticism), I commented:

But once the non-discrimination principle equal treatment has been abandoned, is there any principled reason why the minority students should not have been given a leg up on law review editorships and even grades? If race conscious admissions and law review editorships are fair, why not race conscious grades?

Thus, in posts at the beginning and end of this blog, and several in between, I have wondered aloud why the practices of racial preferences in admission to colleges, professional schools, and in employment have not carried over to race preferences in grading. Or maybe they have, but I’ve not seen any principled defense of the pracitce.

Now, thanks to Erin O’Connor, we can all see that Prof. Mike Adams of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington has put these musings into practice (in a manner of speaking). Erin reprints much of a letter that he sent to his students, but it is so interesting that I’m going to do so as well. (The full text is here.) Prof. Adams mentions that he had always opposed racial preferences, but after paying attention to the arguments in behalf of Michigan’s practices he had changed his tune, and so was changing his grading:

Students in my classes will continue to have their final grades based principally on test performance. Students will also continue to have a portion of their grade determined by class participation and/or a final paper depending on the class in which they are enrolled (please consult your course syllabus if you are one of my students).

After I compute final averages, I will then implement the new aspect of the grading process which is modeled after existing affirmative action policies at the university. Specifically, I will be computing a class average which I will then compare to the individual performance of all white males enrolled in my classes. All white males who exceed the class average will have points deducted and added to the final averages of women and minorities. A student need not have ever engaged in discrimination in order to have points deducted. Nor must a student have ever been a victim of discrimination in order to receive additional points.

I expect that my new policy will be well received by some, and poorly received by others. For those in the latter category, please contact Human Resources for further elaboration on the concept of affirmative action. You may also contact the Office of Campus Diversity for additional guidance.

I understand that many of you may consider my new position to be unprincipled. Please understand, however, that the university has long abandoned antiquated principles of “fairness” in favor of identity politics. Also understand that my job as a university professor is to prepare you for the real world.

After all, no one promised that life would always be fair.

I should add that Agape Press, which published Prof. Adams’s letter, described him as “an expert in satire and is prone to occasional bouts of excessive sarcasm. He is also frequently chastised for telling the truth at the expense of people’s feelings.”

Say What? (3)

  1. The Tortured Artist April 18, 2003 at 11:54 pm | | Reply

    UNC-Wilmington: Not Entirely Insane

    Mike Adams teaches at… (wait for it)… UNC-Wilmington! That’s right, the very same university that practices racial discrimination when deciding what music to censor on campus. I just hope Prof. Adams has tenure…

  2. Caerdroia April 22, 2003 at 1:06 am | | Reply

    Race Preferences

    This post includes a great letter from a professor to his students, explaining why it is that he will be deducting points from high-scoring white students, and giving them to lower-scoring black students.

  3. Color-Blind and Just Plain Blind December 23, 2015 at 12:38 pm |

    […] asked the same question in two posts last spring, here and […]

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