February 20, 2008


The stories about how Michelle Obama spent her academic career perpetually peeved remind me of the first piece of journalism I was ever paid for, an op-ed entitled "What Affirmative Action Really Does to Campuses," that was published in the Christian Science Monitor in 1991. Here's an excerpt:

For example, at the University of California at Berkeley, affirmative action has created what one professor there, anthropologist Vincent Sarich, calls "two student bodies," distinguishable by skin color. Only 40% of the freshman openings are awarded to the best-qualified white and Asian students, while most of the rest are reserved for Hispanic and African-American applicants who must merely meet the legal minimums. Since there is only room for the elite of the white and Asian applicants, those selected have qualifications worthy of the Ivy League. While the Hispanic and African- American students typically possess skills more than adequate for most colleges, they are frequently overwhelmed trying to compete with Berkeley's handpicked whites and Asians: the dropout rate of the "protected" minorities is much higher, despite their tending to get shunted into less demanding majors.

Even more serious, possibly, is how affirmative action poisons campus racial attitudes. Because skin color determines who gets in, students can (and do) use skin color, with an unfortunately high degree of accuracy, to estimate how tough a class' grading curve will be. Stories abound of students poking their heads into classes they are considering taking, exclaiming things like, "Too many Chinese," and scurrying off to find a classroom with less competitive demographics.

These are gross stereotypes; sadly, owing to affirmative action, students find them useful. In contrast, color-blind admissions would mean the different ethnic groups would be, on the whole, comparably qualified. Stereotypes would be of less use; students would have to view each other as individuals. (Color-blind admissions does not mean that colleges couldn't recruit minorities more intensely, just that admissions decisions would not take race into account.)

While affirmative action inculcates smugness and condescension among whites and Asians, it instills self-doubt, paranoia, and frustration among its supposed beneficiaries. Sociologist Troy Duster spent a year interviewing Berkeley students to discover the roots of the growing racial hostility on campus. Professor Duster (who is African-American) was recently interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle:

And the subject of affirmative action admissions "is where all the juices come out," Duster says. Blacks and Latinos generally support affirmative action, but are ambivalent because, "they say, they are characterized as affirmative action admits, no matter what their grade point average is." Duster says these students are convinced that in the minds of whites and Asians "they don't really belong here. Affirmative action becomes a stigma for them." In such a charged atmosphere, says Duster, students of color "feel belittled," and "just about anything can be interpreted as racism." . . . "What I experienced when I talked to these kids is their increasing rage at their own inability to justify the charge of racism."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Argent Paladin said...

I went to Stanford in the early 90s. We didn't talk, about racial affirmative action but I remember the gnawing self-doubt of a friend who was a legacy student, that is, whose father or mother went to Stanford and who therefore got a boost at admission. This group would be mostly white (as he was). The thing is, almost everyone thought that they didn't belong there, including myself, though as a male, half-white/half-asian Californian I know I had no affirmative action advantages. I guess it is a much smaller school so we got to know each other as individuals. And the minorities who got in were still pretty good. Finally, I don't think Stanford is as competitive as Cal once you get in, so we didn't worry so much about grades and such at school (when I was there you could repeat a course and the original grade wouldn't appear on the transcript and you could drop a course the day before the final and it wouldn't appear either).

Johnson said...

What I experienced when I talked to these kids is their increasing rage at their own inability to justify the charge of racism.

That is a brilliant statement. People are happier when they have excuses for their problems and a clear enemy to combat, rather than confront their own failings.

Or, worse, confront their failed egalitarian ideology.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off top but using demographics to judge the grading curve of a class works pretty well. I went to an east coast Division I football/basketball school (with yearly bowl and NCAA basketball invitations)in the mid 80s. As a double engineering major I was always on the lookout for an easy, liberal arts elective to boost my cum. My demographic criteria was to look at how many football and basketball players were in the class. Bingo! Easy A every time.

Anonymous said...

Or some people are just angry, period, and seek targets. Check out the movie "Sometimes in April." No white people or whiter people required it seems, unfortunately. Why do things for yourself when you can attack and extort and otherwise intimidate others to give up the fruits of their labors?

Anonymous said...

I went to a selective school in the 80s and studied the hard sciences. There were no lacks Blacks or Hispanics and only 2 foreign women (an Indian and a Chinese). The majority were Asians.

In the general undergrad requirement courses like math and physics for science majors I never saw a Black and precious few Hispanics. Even in English or the respectable liberal arts courses I encountered no Blacks and again relatively few Hispanics. The majority were Whites.

The unfortunate effect of using Affirmative Action to bring in unprepared and unqualified students at the highest level is extremely severe academic ghettozation. Entire departments have to be invented with hallowed out academic standards so these unfortunate students (setup to fail) can get enough credits to hopefully graduate.

As the problem gets pushed upstream, every single Black student in medical school was on academic probation and those that graduated took an average of 5-6yrs to do so. As Michelle Obama’s thesis predicts, these struggling students didn't look for more compatible schools or try harder so much as took to protesting racism.

Ian Lewis said...

Hey Steve, have you ever written about how you got into the editorial game in the first place?

I mean, I know that you used to work in Marketing.

Also, have you ever written about the day you "flipped the switch".

I have read a few of your earlier pieces, including one on School Choice and they did not have the same "directness" that your pieces do now.

You must have known that you would be ignored/vilified for what you say.

Did it have anything to do with surviving cancer?

Really curious.

Anonymous said...

The whole AA thing in colleges and universities is counter productive not just from a conservative point of view, but from a liberal one too in that it is bad for both the beneficiaries and the non beneficiaries.

In the US there are plenty of colleges who will accept you if all you have is a pulse. AA doesn't help it's beneficiaries go to college, they'd go anyway if they wanted, except for the smartest of the smart, it only gets them into a school a few notches up the pecking order from what they would have been able to get into on their own. Which is of course bad for blacks, in that in their college experience, all the whites they know from college are going to be smarter than they are, and that's not good for the soul. It would be better for the whites too, if all the blacks they knew from school, even if a smaller number, were just as smart as they were.

The whole thing is just bad.

Anonymous said...

Here is a story about a black female Harvard law school, also an editor of the Harvard law review.


Judge Rejects Race Bias Suit Against DLA Piper

Anthony Lin
New York Law Journal
A Manhattan federal judge has thrown out a race discrimination suit brought against DLA Piper by a former associate who claimed the firm's New York office was a hostile work environment.

Charlene Morisseau, a 2001 graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was a law review editor, joined DLA Piper as a litigation associate in April 2003 but was asked to leave less than a year later. In a lawsuit filed last year, Morisseau, who is black, claimed her firing was retaliation for complaints she had made about discriminatory treatment.

She requested almost $250 million in damages from the firm and the 11partners she individually named in the suit.

But Southern District of New York Judge Lewis Kaplan granted summary judgment to the firm Monday, finding that DLA Piper had put forth a "legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for plaintiff's termination."
"Here, the uncontradicted evidence demonstrates that plaintiff did not perform in a manner satisfactory to Piper notwithstanding her academic credentials," the judge wrote. "She was a confrontational, stubborn, and insubordinate employee in an environment in which professional personal relations, flexibility and a willingness to accept supervision were essential."

The judge deemed DLA Piper's account of events admitted because Morisseau, proceeding pro se after firing her lawyers in April, did not timely file a declaration opposing the firm's summary judgment motion, though she had been granted a number of extensions. Instead, Kaplan said he had only belatedly received from Morisseau via Federal Express "three volumes of purported exhibits" that he said were not authenticated and lacked exhibit tabs or a table of contents.

The judge said he would not consider any further submissions from Morisseau, who he said had previously "defied court orders, ignored schedules, failed to show up for or obstructed her deposition, and filed frivolous applications."

Morisseau claimed partners at the firm discriminated against her by treating her differently than they treated white associates. In particular, she claimed partner Douglas Rappaport tried to blame her for a mistake he allegedly made in the course of representing a widow in a proceeding before the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. She also accused former partner Aaron Katz of giving her writing skills subpar rankings on a performance review and then refusing to provide feedback justifiying his review of her work. She said both partners also disparaged her in hallway conversations as "too aggressive" and "not right for a law firm."
Morisseau claims she complained to the firm's human resources department in March 2004 about what she perceived to be a hostile work environment. She said she believed Katz's review of her writing skills showed that the firm was holding black associates to a higher standard than white associates.

But in court filings, DLA Piper denied treating Morisseau differently and said the firm had taken action because the ex-associate had exhibited a pattern of unacceptable behavior, including yelling at partners and throwing one out of her office.
The firm said Morisseau ordered former partner Marilla Ochis to "back up" out of her office after Ochis had come to discuss an e-mail exchange Morisseau had apparently taken offense to. In that exchange Ochis had told Morisseau not to be overly concerned with providing constant updates on ongoing matters but recognize that new matters might take precedence.

"The world would be a nicer place if we could all keep our ducks in a row," Ochis had written, "but if the job were that easy, anyone could do it!"

Morisseau replied the next day that she found the last part of Ochis' message "extremely unnecessary." Ochis said she went to Morisseau's office to explain that she had not meant anything offensive by her e-mail.

According to the firm, Morisseau initially refused an assignment relating to the Victim Compensation Fund by Rappaport and later raised her voice at him in a hallway confrontation over that assignment. Morisseau was also allegedly rude to partner Heidi Levine, her designated mentor. In one instance, the firm said, Morisseau did not respond to a hello by Levine and, when the partner began to ask a question, the associate put her hand up in a stopping motion and said, "Heidi, goodbye."

The firm denied Morisseau's claim that she was the only black associate in the firm's New York office at the time. Plevan said Thursday the firm now has 40 minority associates in New York, 18 of whom are black. She said the firm had made every effort to improve diversity in all of its office.

The delay to her bar admission is also at issue in a discrimination and retaliation suit Morisseau has brought in federal court in Atlanta against the employer she worked for prior to joining DLA Piper. After graduating from Harvard Law, Morisseau initially worked for the Southern Center for Human Rights, the group led by well-known death penalty appellate lawyer Stephen B. Bright.

In an affidavit Bright submitted for Morisseau's New York Bar application, he said she "appears unable to separate reality and fantasy" and detailed "vicious attacks" and "false allegations of outrageous conduct" she had made against many of the Center's lawyers and staff, all while "making virtually no contribution to the Center's work in the eight months she was here."
"All this reflects very poorly on the professional qualifications of Morisseau to practice law," Bright wrote in his September 2004 affidavit. The Southern Center is also seeking summary judgment against Morisseau.

lloyd1927 said...

"Because skin color determines who gets in..."

Wrong, Steve. It's not "skin color." It's a doctrine of "inferior blood." Universities are overjoyed if middle-class whites who claim partial black or Hispanic descent apply and check the "dumb minority" category. They get the same credit as if they had admitted ghetto Tanisha and barrio Juan.

Universities would love to have students with Bliss Broyard's background, for example, or someone from the upper classes of Puerto Rico or Mexico.

Anonymous said...

It probably doesn't need saying to this crowd, but, of course, none of the UC campuses now is able to practice affirmative action (at least in any bald form) and, predictably, for the highly selective UCs (Berkeley, UCLA, in particular) the student body is now majority Asian. The percentage of whites is probably around 35 or so and the rest is Hispanic and a quite small number of AA. So now there's no reason for the worries of the early 90s amongst the NAMs or the smugness amongst whites and asians. In fact, for that reason, outside of CalTech and MIT, I'd bet the average student IQ is higher in the top UCs than it is in any of the Ivys or Stanford with their mandated 15 or so percent affirmative action admits.

J. said...

Admirable piece of writing.

Let me please show the same phenomenon from a different perspective. When Jews were discriminated against (two generations ago) Jewish boys practically assaulted the academia and forced themselves in by hard work and talent. Discrimination strengthened their determination and will to succeed. I heard many times that "we Jews have to do better". Discrimination was a great motivator. Nowadays American Jewish parents dont like the softness of their children and some of them send them to school to Israel. Being favoured and pampered is very destructive, and almost all "rich kids" end very badly.

Anonymous said...

i want to get your opinion on something. you rail against affirmative action for blacks. but you realize that there is AA for whites in the top 50 schools. the asian % is capped at 15% or so. when the caps are removed, like in california, you have situation where the population is 25% asian-indian, 35% asian-oriental, 10% jewish, 25% WHITE GENTILE and 5% other(black, hispanic, etc). there is a long nytimes-sunday article about the U-cal system describing this situation. given that the entire power/money system in u.s is based on graduation from elite schools, a "race neutral" admission process will be most ruinous to gentile whites(who make up 70% of u.s population). i admire you for your intellectual honesty, can you please post your opinion on this scenario. thanks...

MKA said...

"I'd bet the average student IQ is higher in the top UCs than it is in any of the Ivies or Stanford with their mandated 15 or so percent affirmative action admits."

You'd lose, then. Competition for the few Ivy slots is so fierce that the admins can pick the most capable and promising AA applicants. It's those schools just below the Ivy level that eagerly take any warm NAM body. And as someone who attended both an Ivy school and UC Berkeley, I can tell you that the Berkeley kids are, on average, less intelligent than the HYP kids (or at least far less prepared for rigorous academic work).

Anonymous said...

So what, Asians dominate California schools? Good for them. Europeans excel most in other areas: the "liberal arts" that the whiterpeople blog disparages (I bet Asians contributed those postings).

Liberalism (in the broad and classical sense) is a distinctively European skill set. It's about comparative advantage. You know, high verbal IQ and all that.

European conceptual skills are what allow Asian technical skill to flourish. Just as European organizational skills are what enable African celebrities to achieve fame around the world, and European political and diplomatic skills enable these things to integrate and complement each other in the world market.

ben tillman said...

i want to get your opinion on something. you rail against affirmative action for blacks. but you realize that there is AA for whites in the top 50 schools.

He doesn't realize that, because it's not true. Whether you look at academic qualifications or sheer proportion of the general population, whites (i.e., gentile whites) get about half the slots they'd be entitled to if admissions were based either on merit or a straight quota system.

Anonymous said...

"What I experienced when I talked to these kids is their increasing rage at their own inability to justify the charge of racism."

That's a great quote.

Anyway, I don't seem to mind the racial quota thing when it comes to college admissions but I don't like it when it comes to owning a business. If the Africans need help getting into school that's fine, but after they graduate they should let their skills do the talking.

William said...

When Jews were discriminated against (two generations ago)...

The difference being that Jews were discriminated against at private schools. Say what you will about Harvard, et al, but as a private school they have the right to discriminate against whoever they wanted. And since Harvard was built by WASPs why not discriminate in their favor. (The difference was even more profound back then, as Harvard wasn't receiving all the government funding that it receives today - more money than many public schools get).

Your early article, Steve, actually inclines me to want affirmative action back. What could be more fun than watching the far left faculty of far left Berkeley lose all their top flight students and get stuck teaching to the ghetto?

Cal said...

The comments about the UC skew to Asians aren't exactly right. What people don't understand is that the UCs deliberately overweight grades, as opposed to test scores, in order to bring in any blacks and Hispanics at all.

Thus, since 1997, grades count for close to 75% of UC admissions. Grades are not even remotely linked to ability. It is now easier to get into Berkeley with a 4.7 GPA and 600 average SAT scores than it is with a 3.6 GPA and average 750 SAT scores. They know that low quality low income schools will give excellent grades in difficult classes to barely literate kids. By using grades, they can pretend that they aren't using affirmative action.

By doing this, UC Berkeley and UCLA have the second and third highest black freshman class, with only the dumping ground Riverside ahead of them. They are also very competitive in Hispanic counts (although UC Santa Cruz has picked up a fair amount).

This disproportionately rewards Asians, so the asian population at UCLA and UC San Diego (but NOT, as the uninformed believe, UC Berekely) has skyrocketed. UCSD, the third ranking school, went from 19% to 51% Asian freshman classes in the 10 year period and is only 1% black.

So the heavily Asian populations of the top UC campuses is not due to the "fair" competition, but because Berkeley and UCLA want to be able to let in as many blacks and Hispanics as they can.

This rewards two demographic categories: white girls and Asians. These two groups are far more likely to have hardworking kids who get excellent grades even if they don't have much in the way of actual knowledge. Obviously, there are also plenty of high achieving students in both categories, but you will run into a huge number of students who have not passed a single AP test, or struggled to get a 3, have low 600 scores, and generally got a great GPA because their teachers love their hard work.

This hurts a group of kids that used to be regularly accepted at Cal and UCLA: 3.8 GPAs in hard classes, superlative test scores. They are now going to UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz, which explains a lot of the increase you've seen on those campuses.

To summarize: Asian acceptance goes up when affirmative action is eliminated because the schools are still doing what they can to avoid following the law. If they used the same standards as before, balancing demonstrated test ability, curriculum difficulty, and GPA, then whites and Asians would both see an increase. But whites just aren't under the same parental pressure to get As in every class, and it's easy to have a 3.8 if you are a bright kid who just doesn't care about getting an A in everything.

The other group harmed by this attempt to game affirmative action are suburban low income minorities. Because they go to tougher schools, they are more likely to have lower grades. However, a kid who goes to an advanced course at a suburban school and gets a B or even a C is far, far better prepared than a kid going to an inner city school and getting an A for doing algebra in an AP calculus course.

Dutch Boy said...

It reminds me of the joke among UCLA students years ago that the initials stood for "University of Caucasians Lost among Asians."

SKT said...

I went to Cornell, I knew a lot of black students who came in as pre-med, or engineers, but ended up switching to majors like philosophy, sociology, or English.