Double Standards On “Diversity”

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.

Say What? (18)

  1. K June 11, 2007 at 4:59 pm | | Reply

    “In other words, UT is only permitted to choose 30 percent of its freshmen, and is obligated to accept the rest.”

    I don’t care if they can’t select any.

    The UT is not some person in agony because he/she does not select all the students.

    UT is a school funded by taxes and students. If the UT administrators want to make their own rules they can move to a private school.

    The current 10% scheme probably works as well as anything is going to work.

    The problem really isn’t who gets into the UT but what happens before.

  2. ACF June 11, 2007 at 8:33 pm | | Reply

    ‘The “problem” really isn’t who gets into the UT but what happens before.’

    K, What problem are you referring to?

    As far as I am concerned, the problem is that China graduated 700,000 engineers last year. The US graduated one tenth that amount because it is pre-occupied with matters other than identifying the best and brightest for attendance at its universities.

    When our adversaries effectively take us over in the next 20 years, do you think they are going to give a crap about anything that you think is a “problem”? (Note that during the same time that China ramped up their production of engineering and science graduates, they de-funded their arts and humanities programs. Think about it and wake up.)

  3. FreeMan June 11, 2007 at 9:15 pm | | Reply

    Bush says Learning to Read is a “Civil Right” people that want to delay Social Justice claim that if Society invested more in High School & Grade School – the results would occur because then people who are qualified would achieve – that is a lie that depends on the morality of the society – but qualified Women & People of Color would still be discriminated against in this Sexist & Racist society – $ & Training before College is to delay Social Justice – Didn’t the Segregationists say – “Equality Never – Segregation Forever”

    But Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said WHY WE CAN’T WAIT – Social Justice Now – Affirmative Action is needed

  4. K June 11, 2007 at 10:24 pm | | Reply

    ACF: I have no idea why you tell me to wake up. I never said one word about what students are taught at UT. Or the Chinese.

    It is possible I know something about China.

    You first admitted you don’t know what I referred to and then you strongly implied it is wrong.

    My before remark alluded to the preparation years and public schools.

    As groups the Asians and whites are best prepared academically. And others less so. That is why anyone cares about the admission ratios.

    If groups come out of HS unequally prepared then the damage is already done. Remedial work and sheer talent can only then help a few.

    We do have a society that is rewarding people for avoiding technology and science. I don’t see what that has to do with admission jugglings at UT.

  5. Winston Smith June 12, 2007 at 1:27 am | | Reply

    Why don’t you just IP ban FreeMan? Everyone knows the bullshit that will spew from his keyboard, so there’s no need to allow him to comment on every post. The white man is evil, affirmative action forever, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

  6. John Rosenberg June 12, 2007 at 12:38 pm | | Reply

    Why don’t you just IP ban FreeMan?

    For partly principled and partly partisan reasons. PP1: because I decided early on that I would ban commenters only for over the top personal attacks; PP2: because it serves my agenda for readers to see how silly typical arguments in favor of racial preference really are.

    Everyone knows the bullshit that will spew from his keyboard, so there’s no need to allow him to comment on every post. The white man is evil, affirmative action forever, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

    Well, yes. But if I banned people for being repetitive I’d have to ban myself as well….

  7. David Nieporent June 12, 2007 at 5:48 pm | | Reply

    I’m not sure that it’s relevant to this thread, but ACF’s numbers are completely bogus. (I’m not calling him a liar; I’m saying he’s citing numbers which are little more than urban legends. See here for a debunking of the claim that there are 700K Chinese engineers.)

    What I like about FreeMan is his apparent insistence on the idea that grammar and spelling are just tools of “the man.” (Random capital letters?)

  8. ACF June 12, 2007 at 8:05 pm | | Reply


    The numbers I quoted were from “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” Your link draws the exact ratios into question. That’s fine (and interesting).

    But it really doesn’t matter for my point. That is, other countries that are/will be adversarial to the United States are busy getting things done while we are busy spending an outrageous amount of time/money/admissions slots trying to select people for the necessary education to compete in the world by using skin pigmentation and genital shapes.

    K, I as a taxpayer care who UT selects to educate. I care that they reserve the majority of their slots for the best students regardless of skin pigmentation or genital morphology. THIS best ensures US competitiveness in a “global economy,” among other things.

    In this light, the “problem” has nothing to do with what happens before college admissions. Rather, the real “problem” is who gets into the best research universities.

  9. superdestroyer June 12, 2007 at 9:13 pm | | Reply

    Anecdotally but I would say that the diversity in the sciences and engineering is probably one of the causes of not having enough engineers and scienctist in the U.S. When white (or black) students show up as freshmen in the eigineering classes, they will realize that they are in the minority versus the Korean, Chinese, Indians, and Vietnamese. They suburban white kids will quickly learn that they are outsiders in such classes where the Koreans or Chinese sit as a group, study as a group, and cheat in a massive way.

    Many white (and black) kids quickly learn they are better off majoring in economics or finance instead of trying to overcome the disadvantages of being one of the few Americans in a class of foreign students.

  10. DrLiz June 12, 2007 at 9:16 pm | | Reply

    As a native Houstonian, I’ll just note that (1) Bellaire is a math/science magnet school (I’m assuming this hasn’t changed recently); (2) Bellaire has always had more Asian students than any other school in the district. Yes, I’m sure these are related, but the causal order isn’t necessarily clear (in other words, the order may well be that having a large concentration of Asian families in the Bellaire area made it the natural choice as the math/science magnet school of the district).

    So, in this case, the 10% plan discriminates in much the same way as an explicit affirmative action plan: Asians suffer statistical discrimination in order to try and undo statistical discrimination of Blacks. Sam Houston, unless things have changed radically in recent years, is largely Black (it is definitely majority ‘minority’).

    Of course, often it’s these same ‘preferentialists’ who are against NCLB (which may have more than a few problems, but at least it makes an attempt to use data to fix public schools instead of just throwing money at them and hoping that makes it better!).

  11. Winston Smith June 12, 2007 at 11:14 pm | | Reply

    Yeah, I understand the need to let FreeMan make a complete ass of himself. He just gets so boring after a few days in a row of listening to his bleating.

  12. K June 13, 2007 at 12:09 am | | Reply

    ACF: If you regard this as part of a national battle with other nations then we have no need to talk.

    That may be an interesting subject. But it strays too far from the article. The topic for me is in the article.

    I responded in kind to your arrogant remark about being awake.

    And your implication I must be stupid to not to share your world view before you even stated it.

    And that my new masters won’t give a crap about anything I think is a problem.

    I said what I believe: the root cause is the unequal academic levels of the groups before they apply.

    To put it another way: boxes on an admissions application won’t fix that. Happy thoughts by UT administrators won’t. Nor will a rewording of law.

  13. James E. June 13, 2007 at 5:39 pm | | Reply

    I kind of like plans like Texas’. It is a rationally based, race neutral bright line rule that applies to everyone. The top 11th percentiler from a great school will have a lot of options, public and private. Students with lower grades who excel in sports can qualify for athletic scholarships. And, who knows, maybe talented students will game the odds and choose to attend lower-performing high schools where they will be able to make the top 10% and at the same time diversify the student body. UT gets the benefit of an easy to administer rule that makes it simple to process tens of thousands of applications. At the same time, students are assessed as individuals based on their performance relative to their peer group. And many thousands of spots are still available to the bottom 90% who didn’t make the cut, but have great test scores or other achievements. What’s wrong with any of this?

    Programs like this seem to have a great chance to actually bestow the public education benefit on the kids who have been working hard in school and doing well. Maybe it is this group of students that we taxpayers should invest in. Somebody’s going to have to pay the taxes to pay for all of our retirements, and we may as well place our bets on the top 10% of students, regardless of race, etc., and start investing in them now.

    The high income, well connected, second-generation minority student will not get this benefit unless he/she steps up to the plate academically. And many of them will do exactly that, which is great. Same with whites and asians. But those who do not will still have a lot of options if their applications reflect individual merit.

    Imagine what would happen to racial stereotypes in an environment where nearly every student graduated at the top of his/her class and was admitted into UT based on race-blind factors.

  14. ACF June 14, 2007 at 12:04 am | | Reply

    James E.,

    Your perspective takes as premise a particular assumption about the purpose of a top ranking research University. Consider two potential missions:

    1) The mission of a top ranking research University is to effect social change, improve society, correct past injustices, reflect the local/in-state skin pigmentation distribution in its students and faculty, and provide for full personal expression of one’s self.

    2) The mission of a top ranking research University is to provide the best possible education to students who will make the most effective use of this education.

    The 10% plan was created to discriminate based on skin pigmentation without directly saying so. If I recall, there were similar schemes in the past that used land rights to limit voting by people with certain skin pigmentations without explicitly barring voting rights of people with certain skin pigmentations. (I think these schemes were ruled illegal, but I’m not sure). These plans provide some of what you claim, and they might satisfy some of the desires in category 1 above.

    I argue that 10% plans are not well suited for mission #2. Note that mission #2 does not imply accepting everybody (like at a community college). There is a finite number of cutting edge research Professors/labs in this country, and the most effective use of their time (if one wants to satisfy #2) requires matching them with those who can most effectively use it (bright/motivated students).

    When the United States is competing in a “global economy” with necessarily finite resources, we need to be smart. Graduating mathematicians who can’t do math (but who have favored skin pigmentation) doesn’t ultimately help people of any skin pigmentation.

    On a related note, many diversiphiles say that we MUST admit students based on skin pigmentation precisely BECAUSE it is a “global economy.” That is, there are various skin pigmentations around the world, so we have to have a workforce with lots of these skin pigmentations. Then, our people can go around the world and work with other people. I am perplexed by this argument. Successful workgroups have as their essence competence. China, and MOST other highly competitive countries have an extremely narrow distribution of skin pigmentations in their workforces, and they seem to be ferociously competing with others in the world.

  15. superdestroyer June 14, 2007 at 6:59 am | | Reply


    The problem is the top 10% is that the students who are in the to ten percentage at places like Dallas Carter would probably not even be in the top half at a school like Plano High School.

    The other question is if the University of North Texas is good enough for a student who is in the 11% at Plano then why is it not good enough for the top 10% student.


    the diversity game does not create mathematicians who cannot do math. It creates failed mathematicians/engineers/biochemist who end up getting a degree in black studies or sociology. Thus, students who could have been successful math majors at UT-Austin end up majoring in something else at Texas Tech or North Texas because their math programs are not as good and the U.S. ends up with fewer mathematicians/computer programers.

  16. ACF June 14, 2007 at 11:24 am | | Reply


    Your point is well taken. Indeed, I’d bet that there are a larger number of affirmative action admits who drop out or change majors versus the number who graduate to go on to be incompetent professionals.

    However, I assure you that a number of organizations (public and private) regularly hire incompetent affirmative action graduates who are incompetent. All the people around them then have to do their work. Unfortunately, this can lead to loss of life.

  17. James E. June 14, 2007 at 1:50 pm | | Reply

    Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to public universities, I would be happy if each state had a standardized test based on the state’s high school curriculum, that anybody with a #2 pencil could take. Let the Scantron machine decide who gets into UT! Unfortunately, in this day and age, that’s just not a political reality.

    ACF-I don’t know why you think I am drawing general conclusions about “top ranking research universities.” They can do whatever they want, by and large, especially the private ones. I am talking about public schools, funded by taxpayers and run by state employees for the benefit of the students and the public at large.

    What if the purpose of UT is to provide further educational opportunities for the top 10% of the high school graduating classes in the state, plus whatever meritorious candidates show up after that 10% takes their places? That’s a perfectly legitimate use of taxpayer money, isn’t it? Incidentally, it’s a lot closer to my ideal Scantron rule than the system of preferences that has evolved over the past few decades.

    ACF-I just don’t buy the kid at Dallas Carter vs. kid at Plano High business. And even if I did, it isn’t a very sympathetic hypothetical.

    Does a speed limit discriminate against BMW owners more than 1975 AMC Gremlin owners, people who ride the bus, and bike riders? Well, yes and no.

    But the state has to draw a line somewhere, and the BMW drivers in general have quite a few options available to them.

  18. superdestroyer June 16, 2007 at 9:00 am | | Reply


    The Carter vs Plano is a good test of the top 10% rule. The top 10% at Carter are getting automatic admission to UT-Austin because of where they live instead of their academic performance. Such a program fails what I call the Shannon Faulkner Test (If I change one thing on my application that has nothing to do with performance, do I greatly increase by chance).

    The students in the top 10% at Carter would have the same alternatives as the students outside the top 10% at Plano (UT-Arlington, North Texas, Texas Tech, etc)

    The real question is why does a kid at Plano have to perform at such a higher level than a kid at Carter to gain admission to one university but the same criteria is applied at all others.

    There are several majors in Texas that are only available at UT-Austin. Why should the high school attended by students take career choices off the table for bright students to make room for blacks/hipanic students?

Say What?