Counterintuitive Caldwell


Christopher Caldwell has a sharp analysis of the Michigan affirmative action case that stands the conventional wisdom on its head. "The Bush memos are the most important substantive defense of affirmative action ever issued by a sitting president," he argues. "If the Court accepts the president's reasoning, it will have rescued affirmative action from what appeared to be a terminal constitutional illogic. More than that—it will have secured for this rickety program an indefinite constitutional legitimacy."


NEXT: The Body Dyspeptic

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  1. Verrrry interesting! Reminds me of what my Stalin-sympathizing discrimination lawyer former brother-in-law once told me about how age discrimination suits could be won against companies for adopting policies that had the *effect* of discriminating against older employees even though that wasn’t the *stated* objective of the policy. Sounds like Bush is legitimizing for colleges policies based on the same logic of achieving discrimination through other means. I wonder if George understands this himself??

  2. Y’know I believe I read somewhere in the blogoshpere that Condoleeza Rice played an important role in advocating for Bush’s position on this. Perhaps the ultimate goal is to remove the *stigma* of affirmative action without removing its actual practice. Of course, it would probably have the opposite effect. When people know something they’re not *supposed* to know, it can only make things worse….

  3. My solution for UMich:

    1. Extend the ‘legacy’ benefit so that it applies to
    children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc of
    *honorary graduates* – people given honorary
    degrees by the University.

    2. Start giving out lots of honorary degrees
    to notable African Americans, favoring those
    who aren’t politicians, doctors, or lawyers.
    Retiring police officers or firemen, say. Make
    it a social service degree or something.

    It’d be slow, but it would increase
    the number of African-Americans who can
    take advantage of the legacy boost. If
    say 20 people were granted honorary degrees
    per semester, over 10 years that would
    be 400 people; if they’re senior citizens, each
    person might have a sizeable number of
    children and grandchildren who’d then get
    the legacy benefit.

    Like I said, it’d be slow. It’d be better if
    other schools adopted the scheme as well.

    What I don’t know is how long this would have
    to go on in order to effectively counteract
    a loss of direct affirmative action policies.

    I don’t think there’s any substantial
    complaint that could be lodged against an
    inherently arbitrary process as the granting
    of honorary degrees. If an actor who never
    finished high school could get an honorary
    degree, why not a retiring postal worker?

    Anyway, I really just like the jiujitsu-like approach
    of countering G.W.Bush by using the affirmative action
    *he* used against him.

  4. I like the way Florida’s higher education system is set up. If you’re not admitted to one of the many huge 4 year universities, don’t worry. There are tons of even more affordable community colleges that anyone can get into. Once you get your 2 year AA degree from one of them, you’re garunteed a place in a 4 year university. There are fewer class choices, but it doesn’t matter since the first 2 years are mainly required general studies courses anyway. On the plus side, most of the classes are smaller, the tuition is cheaper, every county has at least one. A lot of my friends in college used this route to get their education, and were able to pay their own way by working part time. In the end, they got the same degree, and even ended up paying less. Plus, if they dropped out of the 4 year college, they’d still have their AA degree rather than just “2 years of college”.

  5. To clairfy the point of my post above: if the system is set up right, you don’t need Aff Action or other programs to ensure minorities have access to higher education. If students are willing to work a little harder, and think flexibly, there’s no problem.

  6. Maddog,

    Good point. I would like to add, even though it may not be an ‘official’ system, it basically works that way everywhere. Almost anyone at all can go to a community college – even to finish your high school diploma.

    There are a lot of ironies about affirmative action. There was a guy on the radio the other day (not sure who because I only caught a snippet of it at the end) arguing that the fact that students from inner city schools did so poorly on standardized tests because they were insufficiently prepared by their educational background was an argument for affirmative action! To me that’s a non sequitor. If you send students into a university environment that you’ve acknowledged are not equipped to compete academically with the students that are already there, who do you think that is helping? The ‘disadvantaged’ students end up dropping out (experience seems to back this up with the high drop-out rate amongst minority students at schools practicing ‘diversity’) and it lowers the curve while they are there so the priviledged students on the whole get better grades. By lowering academic standards, eventually you effectively lower the prestige of the institution as a whole and the degree you earn isn’t worth as much at the end of the day.

    It would be much better for academic advancement of minorities to stick to an old fashioned academic standards model. A student unfortunate enough to have gone to a shitty high school can go to a community colledge for a couple of years to brush up on what he/she missed and transfer to a better school to finish. Happens every day. In my mind it is better that people finish college at a state school rather than drop out of Harvard.

  7. “The working-class black kid who finishes 29th in a class of 300 at a lower-class school full of dropouts may not be a rocket scientist, but he?s got it made?he?s off to Austin. The identical working-class black kid whose parents have made the fatal mistake of enrolling him in a challenging school full of overachievers and who finishes 31st in a class of 300?well, he?s destined to a life working at the car wash.”

    This is a totally bogus argument against Bushs’ plan. It assumes that a govt scholarship is the ONLY way to gain entry to college. If the child from the challenging school has a desire to attend college they will get in.

    The top 10% idea is inherently more fair than a race based system. As for the difference in the quality of schools You will find that the top 10% has a much more narrow gap than the student body as a whole in standardized tests. This is due to the simple fact of prental involvement and concern for the success of the child overcomes much of the disparity between schools.

  8. This problem, like so many others (NEA anyone?), is that the government has involved itself in (read Subjugated) something it oughtn’t. Schlools should be able to admit whoever they want for any reason what-so-ever (money, race, religion, whatever) Just not with my hard earned.

  9. I’m always amused at statements to the effect of, “well, see, one kid finished in the top 10% of his HS class so he was guaranteed admission to UT-Austin, so his future is bright. But this other kid, see, he finished just outside the top 10% and did not get guaranteed admission to UT-Austin. Therefore, his future is completely ruined.”

    Give me a break. People blow the whole concept of college admissions completely out of proportion. If a kid considers his future completely ruined because he failed to gain admission to the university of his choice, then that kid probably wasn’t mentally tough enough to succeed even if he had been admitted to that university. Yet it seems there are so many kids (and parents) today that think that way. Why?

  10. Diversity, shmiversity. Someday we’re going to have to look at why “diversity” has become such a shibboleth in modern America, such an end unto itself – as long as “diversity” means what people want it to mean, of course. The next time you hear an administrator-type proclaim his establishment’s commitment to diversity, ask him why they don’t have any Nazis on the faculty. (I wish I’d been more of a weisenheimer back in high school; I would have told the universities that in order to honor their commitment to diversity, they needed to admit more people with bad grades, like me.)

  11. Regarding the comment that “Schools should be able to admit whoever they want for any reason what-so-ever (money, race, religion, whatever)” — I would agree if this were a private university with private funding. That’s freedom of association in action.

    But if the state (any state) is going to fund and run a school, it shouldn’t discriminate.

  12. JenL:

    Universities discriminate all the time. If they didn’t, EVERYONE would be a college graduate. The difference is that you don’t want them to discriminate against people you don’t want them to discriminate against.



  13. Steve – I agree. By the logic of non-discrimination, any state funded institution of higher education should be required to admit any high school graduate of the state, regardless of race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, or academic performance in high school. After all, presumably that high school graduate’s parents have paid the bill for years. Only privately funded institutions should be able to be selective in the admissions process (i.e. discriminate).

  14. Brad — you’re right. No one forced U of M to have standards such that, if followed strictly, they would disproportionately benefit Caucasians. The guy over at the Discriminations blog made this argument a couple of days ago, and made it much better than I did!

  15. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 05:00:13
    Don’t matter if you care, if you don’t own what you care about.

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