The Boston Globe recently printed an opinion column entitled ‘Mismatched’ black students pay the price of affirmative action. Jeff Jacoby was either grossly ignorant of the facts or simply racially prejudiced.
Here is the letter I wrote responding to Jacoby:
The columnist neglected to mention important data that would better inform Globe readers in his column ‘Mismatched’ black students pay the price of affirmative action. Jacoby continues the insecurity and insidiousness of racial prejudice that has unfortunately permeated our society for centuries. Jacoby assumed that African Americans and Latina/os gained admission to UT-Austin at the expense of Abigail Fisher. He is wrong. Jacoby neglected to mention that Abigail Fisher was a very average student (See Entitlement by “race”: What Abigail Fisher didn’t tell you…). The facts are that Abigail Fisher did not finish in the top ten percent of her high school class, which would have automatically qualified her for admission to any public university in the state. Second there were five black students who were denied admission that had better scores and grades than Abigail. Third, there were 42 white students who gained admission that had worse test scores and grades.
Jacoby’s second failure was to follow Justice Scalia’s most recent judicial missteps by citing mismatch theory— which is racism parading as scholarship. In the latest Fisher arguments, Scalia sweepingly suggested that Blacks should just go to “slower track” universities. The social science world has extensively discredited the racialized ideas underlying mismatch theory. The data from Texas also discredits Scalia and Jacoby’s assertions.
When I was a professor at the University of Texas at Austin we published a paper in the Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy that showed that, controlling for ability, students who attended the Texas’ flagship institutions actually graduated at much higher rates. So, in essence, Black students of the same ability, if they attend lower tiered institutions had much lower graduation rates.
In sum, the actual data from Texas is mismatched with Scalia, Jacoby and Fisher’s highly racialized and wrong assertions.
Why is this even an issue? I wrote in the post Fisher v. Texas: Another civil rights movement on the way? that it’s because African American and Latino students continue to be severely underrepresented in our nation’s selective institutions— including UT-Austin.
Diversity in these institutions is again under attack in the Fisher v. Texas case currently being re-decided in the US Supreme Court. For past attacks see Bakke, Hopwood, Grutter and Gratz. Considering that Grutter upheld race as one of many factors under a decade ago, conservatives on the court appear to be determined to strike down race/ethnicity as one of many factors in admissions. It doesn’t seem to matter to Fisher (or Scalia or Thomas etc.) that students of color with better scores than Fisher were rejected and White students with lesser scores were admitted.
We addressed the historical enrollment of African Americans and Latinos at UT-Austin in recent papers. We believe the historical data contained within these papers is a unique analysis of historical enrollment of students of color at UT-Austin. Our findings: Over the past 75 years the under-representation gap has decreased for African Americans at UT-Austin. Partially because prior to Sweatt v. Painter there was 0% Black attending UT-Austin due to Jim Crow segregation. For Latinos, the gap decreased until the 1982 data point, then the under-representation expanded to almost 10% by 2012. Notably, both groups are still heavily under-represented relative to their total proportions in the state.
University of Texas at Austin Enrollment and Texas Population Differential (1937-2012)
|Year||AA Enroll||Census AA||Lat Enroll||Census Lat||AA Diff||Lat Diff|
In conclusion, my read is that there is something more insidious about Scalia comments than meets the eye and has not been talked about extensively. I believe he made those comments purposefully in an attempt to sway Kennedy in the behind the scenes conversation at the Court. UT-Austin is arguing that diversity is positive and admitting Black and Latino students accomplishes this in part. I think what Scalia may be after is making a case to Kennedy that assuming all Black students are not qualified is just as problematic as assuming that Black students are positive for diversity. My response to that line of reasoning would be that his racially prejudiced thoughts are exclusionary and results in the resegregation of selective higher education, whereas, valuing diversity of various types is an inclusive practice to create environment that are reflective of society today rather than insular campuses.
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