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Preferred Practices for Affirmative Action in Universities:

I posted this in the comments, but I liked it enough to decide to make a post of it:

I don't have a blanket objection to affirmative action, but I do think it's important to (a) have a theory as to which people you are giving preferences to, and why, rather than just give a preference to anyone who meets rather arbitrary ancestry rules (e.g., why should a the child of white immigrant physicians from Bolivia be preferred (as a "Hispanic") over the child of dark-skinned poor religious refugees from Iran?); (b)have some transparency, so that students are more or less aware of the scope of the preferences they may be benefiting from, and can choose whether to attend with reasonably full information (this is especially important at law schools, given the extremely high rates at which black matriculants at lower-ranked law schools either fail out or never pass the bar); and (c) do serious analysis every once in a while to ensure that whatever programs are established are meeting their goals (which should be established as part of (a)), and are not just continuing to exist out of bureaucratic inertia (or dogma) despite being counterproductive.

UPDATE: I should note that some or all of these "preferred practices" may be inhibited or prevented by the Supreme Court's affirmative action jurisprudence, which allows preferences only for "diversity" purposes. Of course, no one really takes this seriously, least of all the Court itself; if this had been taken seriously, Grutter would have had to come out the other way, because the district court found as a factual matter that despite Michigan's denials, the law school gave preferences only to select Hispanics (Mexican-Americans and mainland Puerto Ricans). Taking the tenth Mexican-American over the first Cuban or Columbian-American may make sense from a redistributivist perspective, but it hardly contributes to "diversity." Nevertheless, universities must at least pretend to obey the law.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Conflicting Rationales for Affirmative Action in Higher Education:
  2. Preferred Practices for Affirmative Action in Universities:
41 Comments
Conflicting Rationales for Affirmative Action in Higher Education:

I agree entirely with David Bernstein's previous post: affirmative action in higher education should not be categorically forbidden, but it should be both more transparent and better designed. As David writes, "it's important to . . . have a theory as to which people you are giving preferences to, and why, rather than just give a preference to anyone who meets rather arbitrary ancestry rules." This is particularly important in light of the fact that different rationales for affirmative action imply very different admissions policies. If affirmative action is based on the "diversity" rationale, which holds that students benefit from having classmates with varied backgrounds, then it might make sense to give affirmative action preferences to white immigrants from countries such as Sweden or Russia. Such people will, on average, contribute more to diversity than native-born American whites. The same goes for black immigrants from Africa or the Caribbean relative to native-born blacks.

By contrast, if the justification for affirmative action is compensatory justice - trying to redistribute wealth to groups that have suffered from discrimination in this country - then a very different set of affirmative action priorities is called for. The issue cannot be avoided by saying that we should pursue both goals at once. Given a limited number of affirmative action admission slots, places allocated under the diversity rationale will not be available for compensatory justice purposes and vice versa.

I discussed these issues in more detail in this post, which addressed the controversy raised by the fact that a substantial proportion of black affirmative action admittees at elite schools are African or West Indian immigrants.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Conflicting Rationales for Affirmative Action in Higher Education:
  2. Preferred Practices for Affirmative Action in Universities:
120 Comments