Monday, June 02, 2003

Sullivan won't go there 

Andrew Sullivan links to a NYT Magazine article by Jeffrey Rosen that argues for Michigan-style quotas because the alternative preferred by the Bush administration -- the x-percent plans that allow for admission of any student who finished in the top x% of her or his high school class -- because it's even more harmful to academic standards. Writes Rosen,
According to Douglas Laycock, who has reviewed the undergraduate admissions figures for the University of Texas, the school before the 10-percent plan admitted 93 percent of all applicants at the top 10 percent of their high-school classes. Now it has to admit the remaining 7 percent of white and black students who would have been rejected under the old system. I asked Laycock to describe the students in this group. ''These are students with some serious weaknesses elsewhere in the file,'' he said. ''Either very low test scores, or they didn't take college prep courses, or their recommenders have serious reservations, or they have a lousy writing sample or some combination of those things.''

In other words, by taking a single attribute -- class rank -- and requiring the university to throw out all the other more nuanced measures of intellectual diversity and academic ability -- from test scores to musical skills to success in overcoming adversity -- the 10-percent plans guarantee the admission of white and black students who are both less academically prepared and also less likely to contribute to the diversity of the university as a whole than the white and black students they are displacing. The effect on academic standards has been tangible: Laycock said the percentage of students admitted from the top 10 percent of their classes with SAT scores below 1,000 has tripled since the 10-percent plans were introduced. To keep the new admits from dropping out, the university has had to offer remedial classes.

So the argument goes like this, it seems: We can't get rid of affirmative action in admissions because if we do, the states will adopt something worse. No doubt that's true in the case of Texas (adopted under Gov. Bush, btw), Florida (yup, Jeb) and California. But argue for something unconstitutional just because the alternative the states currently offer is worse is just poor thinking. Sullivan responds:
The assumption of his case - indeed of the entire debate - is that minorities will simply as a matter of fact always score lower in test scores. That's a given for the foreseeable future, if not for ever. Mickey Kaus once described those liberals who simply assume the permanent neediness of minorities as "Bell Curve Liberals," people who would never admit it but have internalized the notion that minorities are simply dumber than the majority. They either believing that such inferiority is in part genetic and in part environmental or entirely environmental. But the upshot is always the same: these people are helpless; and all we can do is rig the system to disguise it as much as possible and minimize social resentment and division. The only way we can have racial integration in universities is therefore by destroying academic standards. I'm sorry, but I can't go there. If the alternative to quotas is the evisceration of standards, then we truly have lost our faith in the power of meritocracy and the equality of the races. Jeff's argument, while compelling, is a counsel of despair. We should resist it. Keep the standards. Drop the quotas.