Damaging admissions

Posted: Feb 07, 2003 12:00 AM

Not the least of the damage done by affirmative action is damage to the English language. In addition to all the euphemisms concocted to evade the simple fact of racial quotas and double standards, there has long been a fog of obscure phrases shrouding the issues involved.

Yet, despite all these murky words, the sunlight of truth still breaks through now and then. A recently published book titled "Increasing Faculty Diversity" represents such a breakthrough, though it too could stand an English translation.

Using massive amounts of data released by Ivy League colleges and others, authors Stephen Cole and Elinor Barber test many of the beliefs behind affirmative action against the facts -- and find that most of those beliefs do not fit the facts.

For example, the "under-representation" of minorities among college professors is not due to employment discrimination or inadequate recruitment efforts, as affirmative action supporters claim, but is due to the plain fact that there are just not enough minority Ph.D.s in existence. If they are not there, then all the recruitment in the world will not conjure them up out of thin air.

Why are they not there? Because there are simply not enough black or Hispanic students with strong enough records in college to get them into postgraduate programs that lead to the Ph.D.

The argument that minority students need minority professors as "role models" also does not fit the facts. Black students and female students do just as well when they are taught by white male professors as they do when they are taught by people who are physically similar to themselves.

Some supporters of affirmative action claim that test scores do not measure the "real" ability of minority students, who will perform better than their SATs indicate, so colleges should admit minority students with lower scores than white or Asian students. These authors point out, however, that "in every study done on the topic, just the opposite was found" -- that is, black students "with the same SAT scores as white students get lower grades in college."

Finally, there is something called "the fit hypothesis." Although the authors refer to "the 'fit' hypothesis put forth by Thomas Sowell and others," I in fact never used that murky phrase. They obviously got my views from reading someone else.

My view of affirmative action in college admissions is that it mismatches black students with colleges whose standards they do not meet, leading to unnecessary failures, when these students are perfectly qualified to go to some other colleges where they are more likely to succeed and graduate.

"Mismatching" is a word that everyone understands. Maybe that is why the defenders of affirmative action had to come up with some obscure phrase like "the 'fit' hypothesis." In any event, this study finds that in fact black students do not do as well in colleges and universities where they do not meet the standards of those particular institutions.

Although this study was sponsored by people who support affirmative action, they have now discovered that they gave their money and their data to people who were honest enough to report the facts, even when those facts refuted key assumptions behind group preferences in college admissions.

Four Ivy League college presidents refused to comment on this study when contacted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Professor Cole says frankly that he doesn't expect that he will ever get another grant from the Mellon Foundation, which contributed money for this research. What does all this say about the vaunted search for truth in academia?

Unfortunately, "Increasing Faculty Diversity" ends with a chapter full of recommendations for increasing the number of minority professors. Perhaps that was inevitable, given the mandate of the study.

But why should third parties decide what black, white, or any other color students do with their lives? This is one of many things to which a busybody mentality among the intelligentsia devotes "a most unnecessary attention," to use Adam Smith's great phrase.

It is especially unnecessary after demonstrating that it makes no real difference what the race or sex of professors is.