Many, perhaps most, preferentialists oppose Texas’s “Top 10%” plan because they regard it as an inefficient way to approximate what overt racial preferences accomplish directly. Increasingly, however, the criticism sounds like this:
We need look no further than the city of Houston to provide a diverse array of schools that illustrate the downfalls of the top 10 percent rule.
For example, based on Newsweek’s 2002-2007 rankings of top U.S. high schools, out of 20,000 schools nationwide, Bellaire High School ranks in the top 0.5 percent. In stark contrast, Sam Houston High School earned Texas’ lowest rating, unacceptable, four years in a row, and has recently been reconstituted and is in danger of being closed. Needless to say, Sam Houston did not appear in the Newsweek rankings.
The students at these two schools are quite clearly not of the same caliber, yet the top 10 percent of each is guaranteed admission to the public institutions of Texas. What about the other 90 percent of Bellaire High School and students at similar schools statewide? Well, they’ll just have to compete like everyone else.
Another example of the problems with this law can be found at our rival, the University of Texas. In the fall semester of 2006, 70 percent of incoming freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their high school class. In other words, UT is only permitted to choose 30 percent of its freshmen, and is obligated to accept the rest.
Can you spot the tension (or maybe full-fledge contradiction) in the argument of those preferentialists who worry that Texas is achieving too much “diversity,” that too many bright and deserving Texas applicants from very demanding high schools are being turned away?
I knew you could. In order to promote “diversity” they are willing to lower admissions standards for members of several selected minority groups, often arguing that those standards themselves are racist or, more politely, “culturally biased.” On the other hand, they are troubled that too many students who score very high on traditional measures of merit are being turned away.
As I pointed out here and here, however, at least one prominent preferentialist, the New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen, is honest enough to admit that he supports outright quotas, and the race-norming (taking the brightest students from different racial and ethnic groups) necessary to achieve them. Racial preference, he argues, will do less damage to “merit” than the Top X% plans that replace it.
Rosen’s argument reminds me of the arguments Democrats make about creating and maintaining “majority/minority” voting districts. As I pointed out here, in awarding them the Discriminations Award for Hypocrisy, the Democrats argue
that herding too many of blacks into “majority-minority” districts was racist, smacking of apartheid. At the same time, however, they argued that placing too few blacks in a district was also racist. To the Democrats, “too many” means more than enough to assure the election of a Democrat, and “too few” means not enough. By some cosmic co-incidence, the Democrats implicitly argue, that precise balance is what the law requires.
What they seek in college admissions, similarly, is lowering traditional standards for their favored groups just enough to harvest the smallest number of minorities that will be able to provide sufficient “diversity” to the non-minority students — a number small enough, in short, to do the least damage to traditional standards of merit.