[NOTE: This post has been UPDATED … twice]
The Sunday New York Times Magazine will feature a long love song to UCLA, readable now here, singing the praises of its apparently successful efforts to skirt and evade Prop. 209’s prohibition of racial preferences.
I’ll have something to say about its arguments (I’m sure that will surprise no one) within a day or two. As this delay will indicate, I’m pretty busy at the moment; daughter Jessie has just passed her qualifying exam for her Ph.D. and is home for a week of rest, recuperation, and celebration. In the meantime, I thought some of you would want to read it before I get to it in more detail.
UPDATE [30 Sept. PM]
David Leonhardt is an economics columnist for the NY Times. The best thing about his paen to the continuing racial and ethnic preferences at UCLA is that he does not shrink from admitting that they may well be illegal.
The big question that hangs over U.C.L.A.’s success [in increasing the numbers of preferred minorities], of course, is whether the university broke the law. Looking at the numbers, it’s hard not to conclude that race was a factor in this year’s admissions decisions. The average SAT score for admitted African-American students fell 45 points this year, to 1,738. For Asian, Latino and white students, the averages were much more stable. “I’m quite confident that U.C. factors race in, in various ways,” said Sander, the U.C.L.A. law professor and affirmative-action critic. “There is no way to explain the disparities otherwise.” He has filed a public-information request that would allow him to examine the data more closely.
That small detail does not, of course, diminish in any way Leonhardt’s enthusiastic admiration for what UCLA is doing. His biggest regret is that so much of this activity has to occur under the table, behind the scenes, contracted out to private groups who, arguably (but also arguably not) are beyond the reach of Prop. 209’s prohibitions against racial discrimination.
There is no point to my taking issue with Leonhardt’s admiration for “diversity” by any means necessary, but I would like to point out and take issue with one of his assertions that, unwittingly, reveals how contemporary liberalism now takes as an article of faith an understanding of relatively recent history that, not to mince words, is simply wrong — not, let me be clear, an interpretation that is different from mine, but one that is plainly, flatly, demonstrably wrong:
Since affirmative action began in the mid-1960s, it has had both an explicit role and an implicit one in American life. Explicitly, it has been about race and, to a lesser degree, sex — a policy to make up for centuries of oppression and to ensure diversity. But there has always been a broader notion to affirmative action as well. It has been the most serious effort of any kind to ensure equality of opportunity, without regard to wealth or poverty. When all else failed — the War on Poverty, welfare, public schools — affirmative action would be there to help less-fortunate Americans overcome the circumstances of their origins. “Ability is not just the product of birth,” Lyndon Johnson said when he effectively created affirmative action during a graduation speech at Howard University in 1965. “Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with and the neighborhood you live in — by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child and, finally, the man.”
There are some big problems with this approach to affirmative action. For one thing, it rests on a very rickety base of political support. Colleges often resort to huge preferences to create a racially diverse student body, especially if they haven’t been giving any advantage to low-income applicants, who are of course disproportionately minorities. And many of the beneficiaries of the preferences end up being upper-middle-class minority students, since they tend to have better test scores than poor minorities. The helping hand that goes to these relatively well-off nonwhite students strikes many people as unjust. It makes it seem as if affirmative action isn’t making good on its larger promise. Affirmative action becomes about mere diversity — and not even all forms of diversity — rather than fairness. Politically, that has made it weaker and weaker.
This view of the history of affirmative action is so wrong I hardly know where to begin. First, as I have pointed out here too many times to cite, when “affirmative action began” — not, by the way, in the “mid–1960s” but with President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 signed March 6, 1961, and repeated by President Johnson’s almost identical Executive Order 11926 signed Sept. 28, 1965 — it was “[e]xplicitly” about race only to the extent that both Executive Orders stated clearly and unambiguously that employment and contracting decisions by the government must be made “without regard” to race. In short, when affirmative action morphed into race preference, it became the opposite of what it had been originally.
Second, when affirmative action began there was no concern whatsoever by the federal government, or anyone else, with it as a means to “ensure diversity.” “Diversity” as a concern of race policy did not emerge until Justice Powell’s decision in Bakke, whose nod to “diversity” as a tie-breaker in close cases enabled a generation of lawyers to get first the camel’s nose and then entire caravans of whole camels under the tent that had previously kept racial preference out in the cold.
Third, affirmative action has not been concerned, either originally or later, with attempting “to ensure equality of opportunity, without regard to wealth or poverty.” In its early states it was intended, and for all practical purposes intended only, to ensure equality of opportunity for blacks. Women were added as an afterthought, and in later years AA was radically expanded to include them as well, but by then the focus was no longer on “equality of opportunity” but something closer to representational parity.
Fourth, Leonhardt quotes, as nearly all preferentialists do, President Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 Howard University speech, but is wrong in asserting that in that speech “he effectively created affirmative action.” As noted above President Kennedy had issued an executive order implementing affirmative action four years earlier, and the president who really put some content into these paper pronouncements was Richard Nixon, with his “Philadelphia Plan” in effect requiring racial hiring in the construction trades.
(Still) Fourth, I have had occasion before to discuss how too much is almost read into, or out of, Johnson’s Howard speech, but since that speech has assumed such a central role in the defense of racial preferences, and since it has been two years since I discussed it at any length, I think it worth repeating now what I wrote then in response to a similar misinterpretation. The error of assuming Johnson was justifying racial preference policies, I wrote, is “quite common.”
It is based in large part of what I believe is a misinterpretation of Johnson’s Howard University speech of June 4, 1965. Here is the passage, under the heading “Freedom Is Not Enough,” often quoted to show Johnson’s support of what we now would (or should) call racial preferences:
But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.
Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.
This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.
Today we are accustomed to dealing with two very different standards to evaluate discrimination: an “intent” test, which requires finding a discriminatory intent in order to determine that a particular policy is discriminatory, and a “results” test, which does not require a finding of intent to determine that some “disparity” or “underrepresentation” is discriminatory. But that distinction had not emerged in 1965 when Johnson made his speech, and when he called for “equality as a fact and equality as a result” he did not mean proportional representation or an absolute equality of goods, money, assets, jobs, whatever that people mean today by “equality of results.”
What Johnson meant by “equality,” it is quite clear, is non-discriminatory equality of opportunity. The evidence? For starters, the very next sentence in Johnson’s speech, after the oft-quoted passage quoted above, states:
For the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities–physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness. [Emphasis added]
True, Johnson then says in the next sentence that “equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough,” but in the remainder of the speech he does not really specify what more is needed, other than various forms of assistance there is no reason to assume would be conditioned on skin color as opposed to need.
Next, three months after his Howard speech, Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 which required “affirmative action” of government contractors. But note how “affirmative action” was defined:
The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. [Emphasis added]
Fifth, and finally, Leonhardt almost gets something right when he writes that heavy-handed racial preferences to upper class (and he could have added foreign) blacks
makes it seem as if affirmative action isn’t making good on its larger promise. Affirmative action becomes about mere diversity — and not even all forms of diversity — rather than fairness.
Note that I said “almost.” That’s because racial preferences, especially to rich or well off minorities, doesn’t make it seem as if AA isn’t making good on its “larger promise.” First, as we’ve seen, there has been no “larger promise.” But more important, preferential treatment doesn’t merely seem unfair. It is unfair,and is widely and justifiably so regarded.
Finally (really), the only “fairness” that affirmative action originally promised, and the only fairness it ever should have promised, is freedom from discrimination on the basis of race. In deviating from that promise it sowed the seeds of its own demise and dug its own grave.
UPDATE II [1 October]
A regular reader who prefers to remain anonymous (lest his colleagues in academia confirm what they probably already suspect, i.e., that he is capable of independent thought) sent the following comments on the New York Times article:
Even if U.C.L.A. tried to get around Proposition 209 by giving a big leg up to low-income applicants, it wouldn’t increase its black population very much. At every rung of the socioeconomic ladder, the academic record of black students is worse than that of other groups. As Taylor says: “There is a great deal of pressure to look for a proxy for race. There is no proxy for race.”
For one thing, the gap between white and black adults has narrowed significantly since 1970, according to work by the noted researchers William Dickens and James Flynn.
I think this is not Flynn’s current view and may never have been true as stated. The one standard deviation difference in the mean is constant. (See La Griffe du Leon.)
The more expansive idea of affirmative action as a counterweight to those “unseen forces” has become tightly linked to the self-image of American universities. Above all else, they are supposed to be meritocracies. To be truly meritocratic, a college must be diverse – or else accept that some groups in society have less merit than others and their underrepresentation can’t be helped.
Did this person attend a meritocratic college? So much for teaching logical thought! Merit is merit. Diverse is diverse. it is possible to have a diverse group of people of merit, but merit does not imply diversity unless merit as judged is found equally among various catagories of diversity
The University of California accepts far more transfer students, mainly from community colleges, than most colleges.
This is actually an extremely positive aspect of the California system. Students who meet appropriate academic standards in two years at a JC do have a priority for admission to UC. After all, they have proved they have the ability to do true college level work. It also allows many to have an essentially free first two years of college.
Berkeley, by contrast, had taken a more holistic approach, with a single reader judging an entire application, and Berkeley was attracting more black students than U.C.L.A. Why? Maybe the holistic approach takes better account of the subtle obstacles that black students face – or maybe the readers, when looking at a full application, ended up practicing a little under-the-table affirmative action.
Duuh, you think so?
Two applications readers I interviewed said that they had received clear, written instructions not to consider race and that they hadn’t. (There are 150 readers in all, a mix of university employees and paid outsiders.) On the other hand, applicants seemed to understand that something had changed. Daniel Fogg, a computer programmer in the admissions office and an application reader, told me that he noticed more students mentioning race in their essays this year.
And 1+1 =?
The big question that hangs over U.C.L.A.’s success, of course, is whether the university broke the law. Looking at the numbers, it’s hard not to conclude that race was a factor in this year’s admissions decisions. The average SAT score for admitted African-American students fell 45 points this year, to 1,738. For Asian, Latino and white students, the averages were much more stable. “I’m quite confident that U.C. factors race in, in various ways,” said Sander, the U.C.L.A. law professor and affirmative-action critic. “There is no way to explain the disparities otherwise.” He has filed a public-information request that would allow him to examine the data more closely.
In particular, U.C.L.A.’s experience suggests that some tension between race and class in the admissions process may be inevitable. Even as the number of low-income black freshmen soared this year, the overall number of low-income freshmen fell somewhat. The rise in low-income black students was accompanied by a fall in low-income Asian students – not a decline in well-off students. U.C.L.A. administrators say they don’t fully understand why.
Are administrators really this obtuse? BTW, the SATs average about 580, decidedly above the mean, but equally decidedly below the top 1/8 which is what UC is supposed to target.
UPDATE III [also 1 October]
See the superb long post on this article by Steve Sailer. Really, a must-read posting.