Deep Dive: Affirmative Action in College Admissions: Before and After Fisher v. UT

Friday, June 28, 2013

College campus. (Nina Eller/flickr)

This week the Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Fisher vs. UT-Austin that throws the future of affirmative action policies into question. William Darity Jr., Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University and Co-Director of the Research Network on Racial and Ethnic Inequality, discusses the origins of affirmative action in America and where it stands today. Then Peter Schmidt, senior writer covering affirmative action at The Chronicle of Higher Education and author of Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War over College Affirmative Action, talks about the methods public and private colleges and universities are using to increase diversity on campus. Plus: Your calls on how your life story intersects with affirmative action policies.


William Darity, Jr. and Peter Schmidt

Comments [46]

Alyson from Manhattan

If the diversity in the student population at Virginia Tech, such as it was in the late '80's, can be attributed at least in part to affirmative action then I benefited from the program, too. I lived with, studied along side and became friends with people from different ethnic backgrounds and I am a more educated and well rounded (white) person for that experience.

However, as a caller also noted, there were very few black professors. I hope that has changed by now!

Jun. 30 2013 04:20 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

fuva from harlemworld said:

"the many hoops blacks have to jump through to even be considered"

Please elaborate.

Jun. 28 2013 06:46 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Thanks. This was probably a good faith effort, but it unfortunately fell short in the way that current public discourse too often does: The mix of presented views lacked requisite diversity. Specifically, it lacked a free black perspective or robust counter narrative to the dominant culture worldview.

Take, for instance, 'Bob' (was that his name?), the black law school graduate and corporate exec.

• Like many on air and in these comments, he advocates a deference to ignorance. In response to affirmative action resentment at elite schools etc. -- when, first of all, nobody really knows who's benefited from AA, and which doesn't take into account (1) ongoing unfair white societal advantage, (2) the greater number of white students who are admitted via wealth/connections/legacy, and (3) the many, many hoops blacks have to jump through to even be considered -- Bob doesn't advocate enlightenment, which is the only remedy, but something else. Here he doesn't realize that ignorance should never make its target self-conscious, perhaps because the white institutions that gave him his credentials have indoctrinated him with their worldview instead of empowering him to see the world through his own eyes (for everyone's sake).

• He complains about a (partially mythic) devaluation of education in the black community, without considering what causes it. Ignorance of causation disqualifies him as a problem solver here.

To really shine light and pay off, discourse about race and other critical current issues must include a more representative mix of voices in the village.

Jun. 28 2013 01:23 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Asian students excel in academics NOT due to Affirmative Action, but due to living in families and communities which value education (don't call academic achievement "acting white").

Additionally, people who are not descendents of American slavery, which ended in 1865, should never benefit from Affirmative Action. That would exclude Barak Obama.

Jun. 28 2013 01:11 PM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

@ Sheldon from Brooklyn
"But - here in NYC, the best public schools are in neighborhoods that are richer and um, less of color. I think that was the point of caller."

That's not what she said - she said that poor whites have better neighborhoods than [poor] blacks. Crappy is crappy & poor is poor. Misery is colorblind.

Jun. 28 2013 12:46 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

@The Truth from Becky

"What should be considered is the reason AA was created. There literally had to be a law passed for people of color to be considered for employment and educational opportunities. Texas, Georgia, Tennesee, Alabama...."

Do you mean the 13th and 14th Amendment? The country shirked its best chance when they failed to educate the freed slaves at the end of the Civil War. (but that's just my opinion.) LBJ started the EEOC with an Executive Order 11246 in 1965.

Jun. 28 2013 12:09 PM

I was aware of the questioning glances black and Hispanic students often received in elite schools, colleges, and universities. I advised my older son to be aware of this and to excel academically. He had already internalized my advice over the years and graduated summa from one of our top colleges. His brother graduated magna and is heading to a different Ivy for grad school.
I am a Mexican immigrant whose father came from the Zapotec area of Oaxaca in 1942.

Jun. 28 2013 12:07 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Well David - that was the point of my first post. Not every white person is connected or rich.

But - here in NYC, the best public schools are in neighborhoods that are richer and um, less of color. I think that was the point of caller.

Jun. 28 2013 12:00 PM
Susan Burger from Upper West Side

Glad to hear and read that others are bringing up the legacy, alumni and sports preferences. The issue is incredibly complex and I am grateful that my son has been exposed to a very diverse range of kids, economically, ethnically, and academically from kindergarten through middle school. In high school he will be in the minority with mostly Asian students -- but unlike some others, I see a huge amount of diversity among those mostly Asian students in terms of ethnicity, immigration status and economics. The reactions to the mostly Asian students sound very similar to the reactions to Jewish students not that long ago in our history.

I was first in my family to go to college and then continued for two graduate degrees. There was definitely no affirmative action for me at that time. I still find it amazing that, on my own, with resistance rather than help from my parents, I ended up in an Ivy League School for my PhD. I totally pissed off one of my professors when I told her that the University of California at Davis was just as good (which it was at that time).

What totally fascinated me was the New York Times article that barely noticed that many of the "screened" high schools in New York City had a much greater disparity in the ratio of girls to boys (with some schools 70% girls) than the disparity in the "specialized" high schools (which was not really much more than the margin of statistical error).

The screened schools used a complex mix of many assessment tools -- Beacon had 8 -- grades, state tests, attendance, an online essay, a portfolio, 2 letters of recommendations, an interview (3 kids at a time) and an onsite essay while they were waiting for the interview. I can't imagine how parents could help their kids through this if they both had to work or if it was a single parent or if there were a language barrier.

That process seemed highly subjective that could lead to subtle, but no less real, discrimination against certain "types" of minority boys. I felt for some of my son's friends when they went on their interviews.

Jun. 28 2013 12:00 PM
Richard from levittown

I began a fifty year career in public/private education including stints as a classroom teacher, administrator, and college professor. I began teaching in 1956 in the NYC schools, then went to a suburban school district in 1959, and in the mid-sixties to CUNY schools, and then to a suburban college for 30 years. I have experienced open enrollment at CUNY, the early issues of decentralization, then in a suburban district the efforts to implement the Brown v. Board (and its state applications) . I would suggest that those who have never experienced de facto segregation in our schools may have a hard time "explaining" the positive power of affirmative action in the 21st Century. Those of us who lived through those years, I think, still understand the insidious nature of de facto segregation and the very long and hard road that still has to be walked in the 21st Century. I would just suggest that today's huge economic inequalities may just be an extension of the motives that drove de facto segregation in the fifties and sixties. I hope we don't just think that the "medicine" for remedying no longer exists in 2013.

Jun. 28 2013 11:56 AM
Amy from Manhattan

David, I never heard "quota" in this context except as a maximum until opponents of affirmative action starting using it to try to turn people who'd been subject to such maximums against it.

Jun. 28 2013 11:54 AM
The Truth from Becky

What should be considered is the reason AA was created. There literally had to be a law passed for people of color to be considered for employment and educational opportunities. Texas, Georgia, Tennesee, Alabama....

Jun. 28 2013 11:47 AM
Amy from Manhattan

1 of the guests (or a caller?) talked about having to offer members of racial minorities higher salaries to get their numbers in proportion. I've read that many employers had to learn to recruit through different sites, like websites or newspaper that had higher readership by the populations they needed to reach. Is that still a limiting factor?

Jun. 28 2013 11:44 AM
The Truth from Becky

And the "race baiting" beat goes, white women benefit largely from AA as well, other minorities too however, the Black community is the community that is scrutinized.

There are more government funds granted to immigrants than there are for American born Blacks but no one is in an uproar about that. Poor whites and farmers, you should be.

Jun. 28 2013 11:44 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

@Sheldon from Brooklyn
"@David I never said that was the case, hence my quote ["If one is working class or poor, without connections or an extraordinary K-12 education, regardless of their color"]

But at elite colleges - a good portion of students are there because they are indeed connected."

You misunderstood my point, I agree that most people (even many minorities today) are in elite schools because of legacies and other connections.

My point is that many people lump all whites into one pile as if someone from Appalachia is equivalent to a Forbes growing up in Tewksbury, NJ. I was just pointing out that this view is a false one.

Jun. 28 2013 11:43 AM

I have done interviews for an Ivy League school for over 30 years. Over this time I have discovered a group which I call Minority in Name Only (MINO). These are students who appear white and are usually upper middle class kids. These (in my experience) include a Jewish Kid who's father happened to be born in South America (not Hispanic), another suburban kid who's great grandmother was a native American but who to all appearances is a typical white suburban kid, kids who's parents or grandparent was Spanish (not Latino) and were descended from Spanish royalty. These kids in no way add to the diversity of the school, but schools actively recruit them, and often give them unneeded scholarships. This can only be to fill some kind of minority quota, and does not forward the cause of divesity. These kids are in addition to the numerous minority kids who are the offspring of doctors and lawyers, who are in no way underpriveleged. I don't see how adding minority upper middle class kids adds diversity to the already upper middle class student body.

Jun. 28 2013 11:41 AM
Jim L Waltrip from New York

Hello, Brian: I think at the start of the conversation we all missed a critical nuance - the shift of "affirmative action" from Kennedy's use of "affirmative" as an adjective to the perjorative use of the phrase "affirmative action" as a brand. The still-applicable, but now lost meaning: "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

It was LBJ who took that a step further, stating explicitly that a structurally unfair start had to be remedied, and this put us in the modern era.

The larger irony is that both Clarence Thomas and Margaret Thatcher admitted openly to begrudging acceptance of their affirmative action placements and consideration. I think it would have been better then to leave Yale or the other institutions given such self doubt. It's opportunist to decry it, accept it for oneself, then close the door behind.

Going back to Kennedy, the true definition has only to do with stopping artificial exclusion.

Jun. 28 2013 11:40 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Riddle me this...How can we have two segments on affirmative action and have no mention of white privilege? [That's what the LBJ quote was talking about, isn't it?]

To my mind, the time for both is over and when the latter is gone, the former must end.

Jun. 28 2013 11:40 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

@ Sheldon from Brooklyn
"@David - neighborhoods with "better" schools - generally speaking, she is correct."

NYC <> the entire country. There are many, many places with awful schools where everyone that can't afford private school is hosed.

Jun. 28 2013 11:38 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

@David I never said that was the case, hence my quote ["If one is working class or poor, without connections or an extraordinary K-12 education, regardless of their color"]

But at elite colleges - a good portion of students are there because they are indeed connected.

Jun. 28 2013 11:38 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

@ black socialist from BKbaby
"david from va. - hahahahaha, youre a mor*n"

Ahh, a fine example of the quality output of affirmative action college admission programs!

Jun. 28 2013 11:34 AM
black socialist from BKbaby

john from office - hahahahahaha, youre dumber than david.... what cave do you knuckledraggers come from.... just pathetic

Jun. 28 2013 11:34 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

@Michael from NJ

"Over the years who has been the chief beneficiary of affirmative action?"

Women...clearly. They have been excluded longer and are taking greater advantage of the prescribed shifts in enrollments.

"You're only here because of affirmative action" is kinda like saying "You're only here because we can't be overtly racist anymore." isn't it.

My only affirmative action tale. In 1978 I and a buddy - him white, me black - took the aptitude test for the NSA. I got an interview, he did not. I presume that race played a role since in that decision as we were both of roughly the same mean intelligence. The folks at Fort Meade put me through two days of job interviews, psych tests and polygraphs and finally made me a job offer - not in cryptography, not in languages, not in computer science - that was where my degree would be - but as a procurement manager in the kitchen.

The government has many ways to avoid the letter of the law.

Jun. 28 2013 11:32 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

@ Sheldon from Brooklyn

Furthermore, very few whites are "connected."

Being white is not equivalent to being a Kennedy (or Forbes, or ...)

Jun. 28 2013 11:32 AM
black socialist from BKbaby

david from va. - hahahahaha, youre a mor*n

Jun. 28 2013 11:31 AM
john from office

African americans are in educational suicide mode. The dumber you are the more you are respected and the more children you father. Look at the Hip Hop world, idiots entertaining idiots.

Jun. 28 2013 11:31 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

@ Amy from Manhattan

Only in today's politcally correct speak can a quota not be a quota - because we said so! (repeatedly)

Jun. 28 2013 11:30 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

@David - neighborhoods with "better" schools - generally speaking, she is correct.

Jun. 28 2013 11:29 AM
gene from NYC

I got into my college of choice, even though my grades were below par, because of affirmative action: I could swim, and they wanted a swim team. So I skipped to the head of the class.

I HATED it when classmates said under their breath, "He's just here because he can swim."

Why didnt' that Texas woman go after the students given athletic advantages, taking her place in school?

Jun. 28 2013 11:28 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

Quotas (and yes, that's how affirmative action works on the ground) only reinforces the stereotype that blacks are inferior to whites.

Jun. 28 2013 11:27 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

Quotas (and yes, that's how affirmative action works on the ground) only reinforces the stereotype that blacks are inferior to whites.

Jun. 28 2013 11:27 AM
Jennifer from Flushing

What affirmative action did for me and many others was open the pool. It used to be woman applicants weren't considered as they were expected to marry and have children. That started to change when my mother was young but then she got pregnant with me and didn't have the opportunity to go to college. By the time I entered college in 1989, I was well aware that the reason I was there was because of the strides made for women by femimists during the 1970s. So, once I was there, I knew I had been given an opportunity people like my mother and my grandmother were denied because of their gender and being working class. I had a 3.8 average my freshman year and graduated Suma cum laude. Half of the people in my freshman class, including many men, dropped out after their freshman year. How much more proof than that do people need to show how widening the pool benefits everyone.

Jun. 28 2013 11:25 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

White poor people live in better neighborhoods than blacks?

Yeah, she's not a racist - and yes, non-whites CAN be racists.

Jun. 28 2013 11:24 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I think a lot of the reaction to the "quota" approach came from the fact that many universities used quotas that were maximums, not minimums, to limit the number of Jewish students they admitted. (In those days, they didn't admit black students at all.) Jews who didn't get in were actually told it was because "we've met our Jewish quota." I don't consider requiring a minimum number of a given group to be the same as limiting the number to a maximum, & I wouldn't call the minimum a "quota."

Jun. 28 2013 11:24 AM
ivan obregon

esl classes, title lX sports programs for women, remedial education at community colleges, medicare, union -organizing facilitation laws, VA hospitals, tax-deductible mortgages for middle-class homeowners, landlord depreciation write-offs, tax loopholes for the rich.....affirmative action isn't only and always implemented to increase diversity, fairness, or equity for all as each sector of society finds ways to have the government help them, whether they need the help or not.

Jun. 28 2013 11:24 AM
mark from manhattan from manhattan

There are a number of other preferences that have nothing to do with academic "merit". For example, alumni legacy preferences, veterans preferences, faculty children preferences, athlete preferences.

Many of these preferences benefit non-minorities. Interestingly, we never talk about someone being a "legacy preference" in the same way we talk about "affirmative action beneficiaries".

Jun. 28 2013 11:24 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Yes, The biggest issue in the US today is the severe inequality in the quality of k-12 education.

Race based affirmative action made sense in the past, when a someone, regardless of how qualified they were, got denied admission because of their skin color or gender.

Today - cherry picking a few people so a college could look good with their diversity rolls, does not help.

BTW, a good portion of [white] students at elite/ivy league schools, are there because of who they or their parents know - not because of their smarts or hard work.

Jun. 28 2013 11:20 AM
Roman from Brooklyn

Although I was not a direct beneficiary of affirmative action programs in Califonia (it was banned right before I went to college), I did benefit from similar programs in college. Now I find myself as the only underrepresented minority faculty member in my department (about 40 total). The lack of diversity at this level is absolutely astonishing. I never considered myself a huge overachiever, but the programs allowed me to enter a career path that would have otherwise been difficult to enter.

Although affirmative action may not be the 'right' method, it does have merit in our effort to create a diverse environment (especially at the university level). The real solution would be to eliminate barriers for socioeconomic under-represented minorities to acquire the same opportunities afforded to those with ample resources and support.

Jun. 28 2013 11:20 AM
William Finke from Port Chester, NY

Regarding Justice Thomas' comment on his experience. I think he is guessing wrong about the cause of being devalued. Far more likely is class difference. Martin Luther King reportedly moved toward poverty rather than race as an focus to improve society. Perhaps more attention should go to that issue.

Jun. 28 2013 11:16 AM
Michael from NJ

Over the years who has been the chief beneficiary of affirmative action?

Jun. 28 2013 11:15 AM

Where's the affirmative action for white students with mediocre grades like ms fisher
Slackers united!

Jun. 28 2013 11:11 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Affirmative action is well-intentioned, but college is too little too late.

I have a friend who is a professor and tells me that many of the students he gets are not ready for college level mathematics; not to mention that many of them are simply incapable of following directions.

If "affirmative action" is to work properly, we need to provide an excellent education to ALL pre-college level students - from nursery school through high school - so that all students competing for places at our colleges and universities are starting on a level playing field. When all students who apply to colleges have an equal education prior to college, then, if necessary, color and/or ethnicity can play a role in their ultimate selection or rejection to a given institution.

Jun. 28 2013 11:10 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Fuva - well said. People with money and connections will always have a leg up in life, from k-12 to legacy preferences of family connected Alma Mata.

If one is working class or poor, without connections or an extraordinary K-12 education, regardless of their color - their higher education options are severely limited.

In my opinion, race based affirmative action (which probably made more sense 30 years ago) simply covers up the cracks. It is of little help to the vast majority of people who are economically disadvantaged, most of whom, happen to be of color.

Jun. 28 2013 11:06 AM
Jennifer from Flushing

As a white woman, I'm well aware of how people like me, the first in my family to go to a four-year college, benefitted from affirmitive action. Why hasn't there been any discussion about that?

Jun. 28 2013 11:03 AM
fuva from harlemworld

(BTW, I appreciate this segment, not just for the racial aspect -- which I'm obviously interested in -- but also for the "Deep Dive". I may not be the only regular listener who would like more of this comprehensive approach to other issues too. Maybe even with a short advance reading list to foster informed discourse -- of the kind our nuanced challenges require, that society currently lacks...Immigration and whether it economically helps or hurts the middle/working class could be another good, timely topic.)

Jun. 28 2013 10:16 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Thanks for this segment, Brian Lehrer Show.
For the race aspect, I'm hoping your balanced approach will include consideration of
• The unfair advantage/ "affirmative action" whites had during centuries of race terror.
• The effects of 'centuries' which Affirmative Action, etc. is intended to address -- economic, social, psychological, cultural, health, etc.
• Whether parity, which is the goal, has really been achieved. Is the white and black experience now the same, with the same level of access, the same societal validation, etc.? Have the inequities and trauma been eliminated?
• Whether the black and white middle class experience is now the same.
• Legacy admissions. How many whites are admitted to colleges via this mechanism (not including the wealth advantage)? How do the numbers compare with race-based affirmative action?
• How many obstacles – e.g., relative poverty and its myriad effects including bad primary schooling -- blacks and latinos must transcend to even benefit from affirmative action.
Couple of interesting links I ran into:

Jun. 28 2013 09:48 AM

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