Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Diversity Wizard

We all remember the climactic scene of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her nervous comrades at last learn that behind the curtain is not a mighty wizard, but an ordinary man made extraordinary through artifice and fear. I thought about this scene when reading about a recent disgraceful incident, from the point of view of freedom of inquiry, involving the State Bar of California and its entanglement with the diversity empire.

Richard Sander is a law professor at UCLA. Recently published a famous article that used GPA and admissions data to conclude that law schools, in their pursuit of affirmative action and diversity, had created a severe "mismatch" problem. In particular, in their zeal to increase the representation of "Hispanics," blacks and American Indians, elite schools had admitted huge numbers of such students who were ending up at the bottom of their class or not even graduating. He argued that many of these students could succeed in law school, just not at the schools to which they were admitted. In addition to causing them to waste time and expense, their admission prevented the admission of someone else who was more likely to graduate. The argument was very familiar to those who remember the outcome of California's Proposition 187, which banned affirmative action in undergraduate admissions at that state's public universities. Enrollment of members of these groups at the elite campuses of Berkeley and UCLA plummeted, but rose at Cal State campuses and at lower-level University of California campuses, along with graduation rates.

Professor Sanders’ claims about law-school mismatch understandably and properly came under scrutiny from other academics who are supporters of affirmative action; this process is how we are supposed to get at the truth. And so Professor Sanders proposed to deal with some of these criticisms by looking at bar-passage rates in California. If passage rates for the aforementioned groups were unexpectedly low, that would be an argument in favor of the mismatch hypothesis.

But the bar is refusing to give him the data. The primary argument is that student privacy would be violated, even though it is not hard to imagine a way in which the data could be anonymized, just as tax-return data are routinely for scholars who investigate the effects of the tax system. Indeed, the Berkeley law professor Vikram David Amar is a critic of Sander's findings, but nonetheless argues that the privacy rationale is weak and that Prof. Sander should have access to the data.

The obstinacy of the California bar is emblematic of much that goes on these days when someone attempts to turn the conversation on issues of diversity and multiculturalism in a direction different from that in which the diversity wizard wishes it to go. Many of the 88 Duke faculty members who disgracefully piled on the lacrosse players who turned out to be innocent have now retreated to the bunker of the idea that even if in this case they were in error the issues they bravely called attention to (a mob attempt to railroad innocent men evidently not among them) are still what matters. Larry Summers is hounded out of the Harvard presidency for raising an idea for debate – that discrimination may not be the entire reason why women are “underrepresented” (relative to what, and why that is the appropriate comparison, is never made clear) in the hard sciences at elite research universities. The proper response of a scientist, at a university, would have been to debate the idea; the more absurd it is, the more easily it falls. But Harvard faculty would have none of that.

And so it goes. Particularly in the U.S. and the U.K., there is no idea so charged with voltage as questioning the dreary academic conventional wisdom about ethnoreligious differences in social outcomes. Indeed, that we are so locked into thinking about these outcomes purely in group terms, thinking that easily morphs into group-based remedies, is a sign of how the diversity wizard still reigns supreme. That the diversity empire is so unwilling to have its claims scrutinized might suggest to a cynical person that they are afraid of what the data will tell us. And indeed Adam Smith is said to have said that the university is "a sanctuary in which exploded systems and obsolete prejudices find shelter and protection after they have been hunted out of every other corner of the world." Pull back the curtain. There is nothing there.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home