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Liberals, liberals everywhere, and not a name to drop

by: Eric B.

Tue Apr 29, 2014 at 13:48:29 PM EDT

"With the growing problem of a relatively small percentage of white males on U.S. campuses, do these egalitarians want to push out women in favor of men?" -- Chad Selweski

Chad Selweski says that liberal defense of affirmative action approaches "off the charts" stupid. Which liberals are offering criticism that approaches "off the charts" stupid? It gets no more specific than this.

Over the past week, we’ve heard countless liberals argue that, if minority students cannot gain acceptance into U-M and other Michigan public universities, then maybe the standards should be reformed (lowered) for kids who received an inferior K-12 education. 

How many liberals have argued that acceptance standards be lowered to accommodate inferior students? Countless. So countless, in fact, that Selweski declines to provide any names of any specific liberal who has made this argument. Or even a link to where said argument is made. When pressed on Facebook over this, he just kind of waved it all off that he wasn't interested in a scholarly debate, and later told people to watch MSNBC and the Free Press ... saying that the Freep had argued as such as recently as last Sunday.

So with affirmative action out of the picture, it’s important to start talking about — and dedicating more money — toward programs and policies in the K-12 system that increase the number of nonwhite Michiganders earning college degrees.

Unless I missed something, that's the entirety of what the Freep had to say about this Sunday. Now, Stephen Henderson -- a recent winner of the Pulitzer -- wrote a column about this saying that he benefited from affirmative action, and saying that investment in the building blocks for a quality education is uneven. In other words, not only are there not countless liberals demanding that college admissions standards be lowered so that unqualified minorities can attend prestigious universities, one of the outlets Selweski accused of saying so did not say so. He goes on. Those of us who attended a reputable institution of higher education with a reputable journalism program (CMU; Selweski is an alumnus of Stinking Cow College) recognize a strawman when we see one.

Another absurd conclusion is that public universities must assemble a student body that matches the demographics of their state, or of the United States. Really? Do these do-gooders want to throw out the entire process of upholding a university’s academic standards in favor of a numbers game? Do they want to cut back on the number of Asian students in college based on the U.S. Census? With the growing problem of a relatively small percentage of white males on U.S. campuses, do these egalitarians want to push out women in favor of men?

For a guy who called people stupid, there's an awful lot of it packed into this one paragraph. For starters, the last sentence, which I led this post off with so everyone could marvel in it. I'm not going to spend a lot of time going through enrollment statistics to find out what percentage of Michigan's college students are white males. I'm not going to do a lot of research sussing out whether a lack of access is preventing a large percentage of white males from attending college in the first place. I'm not going to do that because that sentence, on its face, is perhaps the most absurd, dumbest thing written about higher education anywhere in the state of Michigan this year. I invite Chad Selweski to visit any campus of any of the state's public universities and spend half an hour people watching to see if there's really a shortage of white dudes.

But, let's head back to the sentence that kicked off this paragraph, which is the second dumbest, second most absurd thing written about higher education anywhere in the state this year. The goal isn't to create student bodies that represent exactly the American population as a whole. The goal in pointing that out is to illustrate that access to opportunity is not equal to everyone. It's almost as if you'd have to only half-listen to someone making this point and arrive at a knee-jerk reaction rather than thinking it through to conclude that anyone wants U of M's student body to resemble the population of Michigan (also, U of M draws students from all over the country, so there is that).

Eric B. :: Liberals, liberals everywhere, and not a name to drop
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If this guy has 48 journalism awards, then the field is in even worse shape than either of us thought
I mean, after I poked Chad about how his lazy blog posts indicated he'd veered into Rick Redfern in "Doonesbury" territory (an award-winning WaPo reporter in his early 60s suddenly put out to pasture and forced to be an unpaid Blogger, and thus no longer able or willing to devote his full talent to the thankless task), Mr. Selweski direct messaged me on Facebook to tell me he was still employed by the Macomb Daily Whatever, AND that he'd won some SPJ award in 2013.

I guess he broke the news of Goat Killer's racism or something.

Or got the credit for it.

Probably the latter.

"The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity." ~ Harlan Ellison

He didn't break that news
He had it spoon fed to him by the same person who spoon fed it to everyone else ... including me.

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
University of Michigan: two-thirds white
That's according to National Journal. About evenly split between men and women.  5% of UofM's students are African-Americans from Michigan. 19% of African-American Michigan residents are college age.  

Only one-third
are white guys? No wonder he's upset.

[ Parent ]
Everyone mentions the what, no one mentions the why.
A few Socratic questions:

Does racism exist in America?
Certainly. Without a doubt.

Does racism have the effect of giving poorer opportunities to those in the affected minority?
Of course, that is a symptom of racism.

Assume two college applicants had identical credentials, but one was white and one was black. Is it fair to assume that the black student had to work harder to achieve the same grade?
Affirmative Action proponents would say yes. Despite racism holding them back in both subtle and explicit ways, they were able to match their white counterpart. Their tenacity therefore makes them more fit for university.

Opponents would say no, but they would be lying so instead they would say racism doesn't matter, grades are grades and affirmative action is some kind of racism against whites.

That's the thrust of the idea of taking affirmative action to make sure the experiences of black students are taken into account. In my personal view I piss everyone off, because I am completely on the fence -- I've heard enough white collar workers mutter "she was only hired for one reason" to believe that maybe it's doing more harm than good at this point.

I've heard enough white collar workers mutter "she was only hired for one reason" to believe that maybe it's doing more harm than good at this point.

Are you being serious?  Are you this easily led?  I'm honestly shocked at that comment, that because you've heard anecdotally some white collar workers (I assume you mean white white collar workers, BTW) utter something borderline racist that maybe you agree with them.  I guess I can see why you get the reaction you so often do on this subject.

"With the growing problem of a relatively small percentage of white males on U.S. campuses..."

The stupid; it burns.  No words.

[ Parent ]
Agree with them?
Don't put words in my mouth, it's irresponsible to imply I agree with racists. Be more careful.

If the stated goal of affirmative action is to achieve societal parity of minorities and white males, and to increase minority access to power (political/financial/etc), then it is extremely relevant if affirmative action is counterproductive to such goals.

The results of affirmative action since the 60's have been underwhelming, to say the least. Where's the data? I don't expect things to move at breakneck speed, but at a certain point we as liberals and progressives need to reevaluate if the policies we advocate are working.

I'll reiterate that I am mostly on the fence about affirmative action, though doing something is probably better than doing nothing. It just saddens me after more than 50 years we have a black president... And one black senator (who is a right-wing nutcase, fyi). Is that it? That's the best America can do?

I'm not a sociologist so I don't know what the alternative might be, but minorities are hurting bad.  

[ Parent ]
I did not such thing.
Put words into your mouth?  I did no such thing.  Again, this is what you said:

I've heard enough white collar workers mutter "she was only hired for one reason" to believe that maybe it's doing more harm than good at this point.

I don't get why you don't see how this is offensive.  you're essentially admitting to hearing pretty blantantly (and unfounded and blanket) racist comments, and then thinking that they might have a point.  That's probably something you should have kept to yourself, but I guess I also appreciate the offensive honesty of it all.  This is something I'd expect a conservative to admit to.

Am I personally offended?  You bet I am, and I let you know.  I won't belabor this any longer; I just thought you should know.

[ Parent ]
Please reread his entire post
There's a whole bunch of post before you get to the point that offended you. To me, it reads as if he is arguing that affirmative action gives racists an excuse to doubt that someone earned their spot or whether it was handed to them by affirmative action. It's okay to argue that in doing so affirmative action is counterproductive without it being bigoted.

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
One thing
I've heard enough white collar workers mutter "she was only hired for one reason" to believe that maybe it's doing more harm than good at this point.

When I've heard that

(a)  The implied reason wasn't usually race.
(b)  It was more of a personal insult -- I didn't hear it about other (minority) people in the same workgroup who were considered more competent.

I won't say that racism doesn't affect the competence judgment, but when I've heard that sort of muttering directed at individuals, it really does seem to have an individual component.  

Or maybe I'm just sheltered.

[ Parent ]
There is a presumption that race or gender played a role very frequently
Right after college, it was very common for me to have conversations with other recent college graduates who blamed everything on women and minorities. They didn't have the cushy, high-powered job because they all went to women and minorities. Heard it while on the job, too, especially in the Navy where there was a concerted effort to make the officer corps better represent the enlisted ranks (lots of black enlistees being led by lots of white officers). No one ever believed that a black woman who was an officer had, in fact, earned their rank.

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
facts vs courts
I actually worked (as a file clerk, not an admissions officer) in the UM law school during one of the relevant periods.  It was sort of amusing to see how unrelated the "facts" as determined by the court were to the true facts.

Yes, there were effectively different admissions standards for different demographics.

No, that didn't lead to unqualified students -- judging by only the information available (including LSAT and GPA, along with tie-breaking subjective criteria like how hard their undergrad school or major was in the first place), there were a few hyper-qualified candidates (who got in regardless of demographics) and a huge pool of clearly qualified candidates (who made up most of the acceptances, and thousands of rejections).  I'm not saying that no one unqualified ever got in, but ... the one clear case I saw was not because of demographics.

No, it didn't lead to any white males being rejected for a less-qualified minority.  The school wanted some diversity in classes, and so did profs, and they were willing to teach classes that were "oversubscribed" to get it.  Students with a particularly good story or interesting experience were also helped by this; minorities are only singled out because they didn't have to work as hard to prove that they would add an interesting perspective.

Eliminating the "special admits" would have reduced their incentive to teach above the contractually required class sizes, and instead of admitting another generic applicant, the class would just have been smaller.  (I don't remember whether the intentional overage exceeded the total number of minorities, but it clearly exceeded the number of admits who would probably not have been admitted without demographic preferences.)

So, am I saying that no one was harmed by the "quotas"?

Not quite.  Here are the actual groups that were harmed by it:

(1)  Out of state students.  This discrimination was freely acknowledged, but I list it first because it was so huge; you really could make a case that significantly less qualified individuals were displacing the more qualified.

A fair number of appeals were from students begging for dual-status; they would happily pay the out-of-state tuition if they could get admitted as in-state.

(2)  White women were slightly harmed in favor of white men.  

At various times in the process, new acceptances would be sent out to the top remaining applicants and new rejections to the bottom remaining applicants.  For fairly generic students, this was done strictly by the GPA/LSAT, but the cutoffs were different for different demographic groups.  

The percentage of applicants who were treated as non-generic was also higher among minorities, but when I peeked at the the reasons for treating an applicant as non-generic, the barrier to being "special" actually seemed much higher for minorities.  I believe this is because there were so many more white students that the objective differences -- even between different pool cutoffs -- were utterly tiny, and anyone who wasn't pretty generic had already been lifted into a higher pool.  Dividing the minority pools that finely would have been nearly a total ordering, which wasn't worth the effort unless/until it was time to send final decisions.

The cutoffs for men and women were pretty close, but men did have it easier.  Because the cutoffs moved as the cycle progressed, it would be difficult to identify individuals who would undeniably have had swapped outcomes.  But at any given time, there were still enough white applicants of each gender that the discrimination was visible at the group level.

I believe that minority males also had an advantage relative to minority females, but the number of applicants was so much smaller that a relatively small difference wasn't clear discrimination.  (Small effects require larger samples to demonstrate significance.)

More subtly, the school would have preferred to change the balance between LSAT and undergrad GPA; the LSAT counted twice as much, but its predictive usefulness certainly didn't justify that.  Unfortunately, males tended to do better on the test, and females tended to have better grades.  Therefore, a more accurate predictor would have either made discrimination in favor of males far more blatant, or resulted in classes that were wildly gender-imbalanced.  The improved predictive accuracy wasn't considered sufficient to justify either of those outcomes.

(3)  Non-legacy applicants at the cutoff.

Legacy students got special handling, particularly if they were rejected.  So for the great mass of applicants right near the cutoff, where credentials were close enough that the decision was almost unavoidably arbitrary, there was a slight pressure to accept legacy students, and a strong pressure to not reject them.

Since many offers were intentionally sent out fairly late (as the school learned more about the yield rate for that year), staying in the pool longer was equivalent to getting several extra lottery tickets.

(4)  Legacy applicants just below the cutoff.

If things progressed to the point that they obviously wouldn't get in, there was still a strong desire to procrastinate on the extra work required for a legacy rejection, so several who were going to be rejected spent longer than they should have in limbo, and later spent longer "on the waitlist" without any real chance of being called.  

Note:  many people -- including legacy applicants -- were accepted late in the season or were called up from the waitlist.  But not all late news was good.  A non-legacy applicant on the waitlist did have at least a slim hope.  A legacy applicant on the waitlist might have at least a slim hope, or might just not have been told yet.

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