Mike Kueber's Blog

October 9, 2012

Abigail Fisher

Filed under: Culture,Education,Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 5:28 pm
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For a state that claims to dislike lawsuits, Texas surely manages to find itself in the middle of the big ones.  Roe v. Wade, which resulted in a woman’s right to choose, pitted Jane Roe against the Dallas district attorney Henry Wade.  Plyler v. Doe, which resulted in an illegal immigrant’s right to free public schooling, pitted the Tyler, TX superintendent James Plyler against John Doe.  Today, the newspapers are full of reports on Fisher v. Texas, which will determine whether the University of Texas can consider Abigail Fisher’s skin color in deciding whether to admit her.  The United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments later this week, and a decision will be handed down in a few months.

Although most of the supporting arguments in Fisher v. Texas are well-worn, an article in the Texas Tribune today noted that Texas’s current 10% rule has so swamped the University of Texas that the legislature recently granted the UT admissions office authority to fill only 75% of its openings based on placement in the top 10%.  As a practical matter, that means that a Texas student must now be in the top 8% to be guaranteed a spot at UT.  The remaining 25% of its openings are awarded on a range of factors, including affirmative action.  The UT admissions office warns, however, that if Fisher wins her lawsuit against UT, the revised state law provides for a return to the time when being in the top 10% guaranteed a spot.  Thus, if you aren’t in the top 10%, you will not get into UT.  Surely, that can’t apply to football players.   

Coincidentally, a book titled Mismatch by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr. is being published this week.  The book is subtitled, “How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help,” and not surprisingly, it is receiving a lot of attention in connection with the Fisher v. Texas oral arguments.  The book, which is summarized in an article in The Atlantic magazine, argues that affirmative action is doing a disservice to its supposed beneficiaries because they perform badly.  It cites the following findings:

  • Black college freshmen are more likely to aspire to science or engineering careers than are white freshmen, but mismatch causes blacks to abandon these fields at twice the rate of whites.
  • Blacks who start college interested in pursuing a doctorate and an academic career are twice as likely to be derailed from this path if they attend a school where they are mismatched.
  • About half of black college students rank in the bottom 20 percent of their classes (and the bottom 10 percent in law school).
  • Black law school graduates are four times as likely to fail bar exams as are whites; mismatch explains half of this gap.
  • Interracial friendships are more likely to form among students with relatively similar levels of academic preparation; thus, blacks and Hispanics are more socially integrated on campuses where they are less academically mismatched.

The article also describes the good things that happened at UCLA when affirmative action was eliminated there:

  • Throughout these crises, university administrators constantly fed agitation against the preference ban by emphasizing the drop in undergraduate minority admissions. Never did the university point out one overwhelming fact: The total number of black and Hispanic students receiving bachelor’s degrees were the same for the five classes after Prop 209 as for the five classes before.
  • How was this possible? First, the ban on preferences produced better-matched students at UCLA, students who were more likely to graduate. The black four-year graduation rate at UCLA doubled from the early 1990s to the years after Prop 209.
  • Second, strong black and Hispanic students accepted UCLA offers of admission at much higher rates after the preferences ban went into effect; their choices seem to suggest that they were eager to attend a school where the stigma of a preference could not be attached to them. This mitigated the drop in enrollment.
  • Third, many minority students who would have been admitted to UCLA with weak qualifications before Prop 209 were admitted to less elite schools instead; those who proved their academic mettle were able to transfer up to UCLA and graduate there.
  • Thus, Prop 209 changed the minority experience at UCLA from one of frequent failure to much more consistent success. The school granted as many bachelor degrees to minority students as it did before Prop 209 while admitting many fewer and thus dramatically reducing failure and drop-out rates. It was able, in other words, to greatly reduce mismatch.

Although the article focuses on the positive results at UCLA following the elimination of affirmative action there, it also contains some University of Texas information that surprised me:

  • At the University of Texas, whose racial preference programs come before the Supreme Court for oral argument on October 10, the typical black student receiving a race preference placed at the 52nd percentile of the SAT; the typical white was at the 89th percentile. In other words, Texas is putting blacks who score at the middle of the college-aspiring population in the midst of highly competitive students. This is the sort of academic gap where mismatch flourishes.”

Just as America’s attitude about same-sex marriage is inexorably evolving in favor of it, that attitude is just as inexorably evolving against affirmative action.  Perhaps Abigail Fisher puts it out of its misery.

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