Sunday, March 10, 2013

Affirmative Action: Targeting the Wrong Students


In a recent classroom activity, we discussed with various partners advantages/disadvantages of living on the North Shore, and with our own racial identity. This sparked discussion regarding affirmative action.

A decade ago, in the Supreme Court case Grutter vs. Bollinger, upheld affirmative action as an admission policy practiced at the University of Michigan Law School.  One of the dissenting opinions from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy argued that race should be “one modest factor among many others” — and that universities were instead treating it as “a predominant factor,” which was unconstitutional.

Now, with a new Supreme Court case involving the University of Texas, the dean of admissions, Stuart Schmill, wrote in an email to The Tech at MIT, "“Because we know that students learn quite a lot from each other, we want to bring to campus students who will add to the entire campus learning environment. This also means bringing together students from different backgrounds.”

Many of our nation’s elite universities such as the eight Ivy-league schools, and six others reported, in an amicus brief supporting UT,  that they sought a student body that was “diverse in many ways.” While many are still skeptical that race plays an important role in admissions, a recent study of elite colleges by Thomas J. Espenshade, a Princeton sociologist, finds that an African-American student with a similar application to a white student received the equivalent of a 310-point lift in SAT scores, on a 1,600-point scale. The study also encompassed Latino students and found the margin was 130 points. The rest of the article, found in yesterday’s paper (New York Times) can be read here.

While I believe, diversifying campuses is a critical way for students to broaden their horizons, I DON’T believe the current affirmative action policy allows students to achieve this goal. Associate editor of The Atlantic, Jordan Weissman puts: “One of the criticisms of race-based affirmative action is that it too often assists upper-middle-class and upper-class African Americans, or wealthy black students from Africa or the Caribbean, instead of truly disadvantaged students.” This is problematic as the economically disadvantaged students that are supposed to be helped by these admissions policies aren’t receiving the benefits. As cruel as it is to say, not only is a university an institution for higher learning; but it is also a business. If the goal is to diversify their campuses, admissions officers would rather choose a minority student who can pay their full whopping-tuition, rather than provide tens of thousands of dollars of financial aid to students coming from lower income. Do you think this is a just way for schools to diversify? Please comment your thoughts below.

12 comments:

  1. Of course it isn't just, if all of that is true. I don't see that as the real question. I would ask Is it more just than the alternative(s)? And I find the answer to that question to be Yes, because if they're looking for people who can pay the tuition, then it's a choice between a school with a bunch of wealthy white kids and a school with a bunch of wealthy kids of all races. If they were accepting poor white applicants, but not poor applicants of other races, then that would be less just than other scenarios.

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  2. The point I was getting at is whether or not it is more just for schools to look at race over socioeconomic status, not whether affirmative action in general is just or not. I believe if you really want a diverse school it is more important to have students from different economic backgrounds.

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  3. Noah, I agree with your point that today some higher institutions are just big businesses behind trusted, well known names. I think the idea of affirmative action is a noble one, but a lot of times it is used for the wrong reasons and receives a bad reputation. I think schools should choose students regardless of their ability to pay. I think schools care equally about a prospective student's ability to pay and their race because it makes a college look better the more diverse student body they have. Then again, diversity of yearly income cannot be seen at the surface, but I think it is just as important. I also agree with your point responding to Derek.

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  4. Noah,

    I really liked what you attempted to do in this post -- there's so many factors in this issue it is difficult to do it justice in a single blog post.

    The problems I encountered while reading were:
    1) It takes you too long to alert the reader that you are arguing about class, more than race. It's a bit of a mystery while we wait for you to get to it.
    2) Using this quote about a minority student that "received the equivalent of a 310-point lift in SAT scores, on a 1,600-point scale" could be a kind of baiting with your audience. It leads your reader to think you are arguing a far different point.
    3) The narrowness of the quote parallels the narrowness of your overall analysis: schools DO use SES as a factor.

    Overall, flawed but ambitious (an appreciated as such).

    ReplyDelete
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