by on October 2, 2012 at 4:38 am in Books, Education, Law | Permalink

The authors are Richard H. Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr., and the subtitle is How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.

Here is the book’s website, and a summary:

… law professor Richard Sander and journalist Stuart Taylor, Jr. draw on extensive new research to prove that racial preferences put many students in educational settings where they have no hope of succeeding. Because they’re under-prepared, fewer than half of black affirmative action beneficiaries in American law schools pass their bar exams. Preferences for well-off minorities help shut out poorer students of all races. More troubling still, major universities, fearing a backlash, refuse to confront the clear evidence of affirmative action’s failure.

As you may know, the Supreme Court starts hearing oral arguments on affirmative action on October 9th.  I have not much followed the empirical debate on affirmative action, but it seems to me this is likely the best recent book on the “anti” side.  On the pro side, you can read The Shape of the River, by William Bowen and Derek Bok.

1 Joe Eagar October 2, 2012 at 5:04 am

The “pro” book isn’t recent though, is it? The Amazon page you linked too says it was published in 2000, and uses case studies conducted between the 70s and the early 90s. Is there a more recent “pro” book? I’m a believer in class preferences myself, but I would like to see a decent articulation of modern supporters of race preferences.

2 dirck October 2, 2012 at 5:06 am

Affirmative action doesn’t work well when choosing our president ,either ,and for exactly the same reason–it puts people into positions for which they are unprepared and unqualified .

3 j r October 2, 2012 at 6:37 am

That is some interesting logic that you employ. Do you have a newsletter where I can read more?

4 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 7:36 am

Yeah, I’m still bitter that a Yale legacy got into the White House and way over his head, but what can you do with ‘those people?’

‘If our President had the slightest sense of irony, he might have paused to ask himself, “Wait a minute. How did I get into Yale?” It wasn’t because of any academic achievement: his high school record was ordinary. It wasn’t because of his life experience–prosperous family, fancy prep school–which was all too familiar at Yale. It wasn’t his SAT scores: 566 verbal and 640 math.

They may not have had an explicit point system at Yale in 1964, but Bush clearly got in because of affirmative action. Affirmative action for the son and grandson of alumni. Affirmative action for a member of a politically influential family. Affirmative action for a boy from a fancy prep school. These forms of affirmative action still go on.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Harvard accepts 40% of applicants who are children of alumni but only 11% of applicants generally. And this kind of affirmative action makes the student body less diverse, not more so. George W. Bush, in fact, may be the most spectacular affirmative-action success story of all time. Until 1994, when he was 48 years old and got elected Governor of Texas, his life was almost empty of accomplishments.’


Fascinating to see just how affirmative action works in the real world.

5 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 8:51 am

Why do you people think academia is a reliable signal?

6 dead serious October 2, 2012 at 9:15 am

If it’s not a signal, then why go to Yale.

It’s not as if he learned anything.

7 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

“If it’s not a signal, then why go to Yale.”

Because of their amazing ability to bring anyone up to the Yale standard from any starting point whatsoever, obviously.

8 Jason W. October 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Who said anything about reliable? Prior_approval’s comment suggests a high level of unreliability.

9 Max October 4, 2012 at 4:40 am

Why do you people think it matters whether they are intelligent or not. In 19th century all kings were better educated than the usual American and yet policy was not really better (except perhaps foreign policy. They spoke 3 – 4 languages). And if you look at the recent report from GB where almost 70% of parliament are illiterate in basic math. Then Mr. Obama is not that much a problem. Not even due to the reason that he was elected like a beauty queen – by popularity.

10 GiT October 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm

In related news, over 45% of undergraduates at Harvard come from families earning over 200k/yr – that is, are in households within the top 4% of the income distribution.

(In comparison, at places like Berkeley or UCLA, around 50% of undergrads come from families earning under 80k/year.)

11 taybul October 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Poor baby.

12 GiT October 2, 2012 at 5:14 pm

I’ve never felt aggrieved with respect to anyone else for the chances I had at college, so, no concern needed.

But yes, it is pitiable that the world’s most prestigious educational institutions are not so different from country clubs.

13 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm

George W. Bush didn’t expect to get accepted by Yale. He was telling his friends he looked forward to being a Texas Longhorn, and his acceptance at Yale came as a surprise. Similarly, Barack Obama said in a speech at Harvard Law School that he no doubt had been helped by affirmative action.

We can extend this to their Presidencies, as well: Bush was the Legacy President and Obama the Affirmative Action President.

14 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm

“Until 1994, when he was 48 years old and got elected Governor of Texas, his life was almost empty of accomplishments.”

Detailed pro-Obama biographies like David Remnick’s and David Maraniss’s reveal much the same was true of Obama. Both had to resort to immense amounts of padding in their bios because Obama didn’t accomplish much in his 20s and 30s. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Obama, it’s just that his personality — academic and literary, but lacking in original insight, introverted, low in energy, mildly depressive — is so at odds with the role the nice white people kept projecting upon him: First Black President. The only thing appropriate for that role about Obama’s personality is his strangely immense “smartest guy in the room” ego.

If Obama’s genetic father hadn’t been black, he’d likely be, say, a creative writing instructor at a decent college or maybe a really good English teacher at an expensive prep school. Maybe a lawyer, but certainly not a law school professor due to his lack of originality.

15 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Similarly, without his legacy advantages, Bush would have made a fine corporate sales manager.

16 MD October 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm

“Maybe a lawyer, but certainly not a law school professor due to his lack of originality.”

That’s an interesting perspective on law professors. Did you go to law school?

17 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Publish or perish is the rule for most academics. Except for Obama …

Obama was offered tenure by the U. of Chicago law school despite never having published in law journals in all his years associated with that institution.

18 GiT October 2, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Law professors have not historically been like most academics.

19 MD October 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Good for him. Law journals are complete bullshit. The first question we would ask is “what else has this person published, and where.” Because improving our law review’s standing was a VERY BIG DEAL. Peer review? LOL. Very intellectual, no? If we published anything creative and original, it was because of blind luck, and the average article was undoubtedly read by more people during the editing process than after publication.

20 So Much for Subtlety October 2, 2012 at 5:19 am

Isn’t this what Thomas Sowell and others have been saying for twenty odd years?

What is new?

21 dearieme October 2, 2012 at 6:11 am

“fearing a backlash”: that noun sounds racist to me. Whose backs got lashed?

It seems only yesterday that that sort of loony logic was all over the papers.

22 stephen October 2, 2012 at 7:12 am

Its called “figurative language”, kind of like “all over the papers”. Also, “fearing” implies “hasn’t happened yet”. Apparently, simply discussing AA damages reading comprehension skills.

23 Jody October 2, 2012 at 8:38 am

Apparently, simply discussing AA damages reading comprehension skills.
Including the detection of sarcasm.

24 stephen October 2, 2012 at 8:48 am

I had a feeling that was the case. after the fact

25 Yancey Ward October 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

Dearieme reeled one in.

26 skeptic October 2, 2012 at 6:27 am

I work for a large tech company which goes to great effort to promote “diversity” – mainly, women. Basically a form of affirmative action is practiced – although everyone goes through the same interview/promotion process, women candidates who are rejected get second chances and closer looks.

Is this beneficial to this company, and to the women? IMHO, even though I was a skeptic, I now think in both cases yes, but the effect is not large. Fundamentally, the interview/promotion processes are basically flawed, and miss worthy candidates. Its not that even that the type of candidates who are missed are mostly women, its just that since women get a second chance, worthy candidates get to bypass the processes.

Maybe law schools are different, or race is different from gender though.

27 Rahul October 2, 2012 at 8:50 am

In my experience sexual affirmative action is more pervasive an evil than racial AA. Maybe my view is prejudiced; I’ve mostly experience from the traditional Engineering sectors and academia.

28 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 8:53 am

In my experience sexual affirmative action is how the ladies like it.

As for diversity, that was my observation, women and blacks actually get the career mentoring that the firm claimed everyone got.

29 taybul October 2, 2012 at 9:21 am

This has been my experience as well. Diversity training, minority and women’s networking groups, and a clear effort by HR and senior management to salt and pepper mid- and even high-level management positions with minorities and women just for the sake of doing so.

In an effort to right past wrongs, corporate America, the government, and academia are now disenfranchising another group – though we’re not allowed to talk about it. I’m left wondering when the first (successful) white male discrimination lawsuit will occur.

30 GiT October 2, 2012 at 1:09 pm

You poor baby.

31 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm


1. Noone has complained about themselves here.
2. My mother and father grew up fatherless (you might say they are honorary blacks), my mother growing up in a black neigbhorhood in extreme poverty.
3. You don’t know what the fuck you are talking about.

32 GiT October 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm

1. Oh, of course, I’m not complaining about my situation at all. It’s just that white men have it really tough, you know? My perception that this is the case has nothing to do with my own identity. *rolleyes*

2. So? You think holistic admissions don’t credit people for coming from single parent families or going to poor schools or growing up in poverty? Geographic and per-school equity provisions (like in Texas and California) serve poor whites just as well as poor blacks. If there is, or were to be, affirmative action for the poor, it would still be *affirmative action*. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Education isn’t about betting on winners and culling losers from the heard.

3. Whatever.

33 So Much for Subtlety October 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm

GiT, it is a logical fallacy to look at people like George W. Bush and say no White male has anything to complain about. Yes, George W. Bush got an easy ride. It does not mean that every single White male has also had an easy ride. Or even benefited much from being a White male. Yes, some White males have been doing it tough.

You lack of compassion is strangely disturbing – and coming from me, that is saying something.

I think that holistic admissions is a fraud. So no, I don’t think they care about the children of single mothers or growing up in poverty or whatever – not unless the candidate is Black.

There is something wrong with Affirmative Action. Education is by definition scarce and resources need to be concentrated where they will do the most good. As we see with the huge African American drop out rate, to do otherwise is a waste of time and money. Thus education is about culling losers from the herd and betting on winners. It cannot be any other way.

Discussions of AA and Whites is inherently dishonest, and is obviously so, because no one suggests that Ashkenazi Jews should be treated as a separate category from other Whites. When someone suggests limiting the number of European-origin Jews in the name of diversity, I will take it seriously. Until then, it is just a way SWPL discriminate against trailer trash – and Asians.

34 GiT October 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm

And if I thought Bush alone was evidence of white privilege, your first point would matter, but I don’t think that, so…

Coming from rural white areas is an advantage through programs like “eligibility in the local context”, as well as the vast need-based aid system, which benefits poor whites at the expense of rich ones. There are scholarships for children of single parents. Family structure is a factor in determining aid awards. Where is the countervailing evidence that no consideration is given to high-achieiving so called “white trash”? Different preferential norms conflicting with each other isn’t evidence of active disfavor or hostility.

As for what education “can” or “can’t” be about, what is an obvious fallacy is to suggest that the *only* way education can be is about betting on winners – that is, investing the most resources in the best students. It also *can* be about investing the most resources in the worst students. There is nothing *necessary* about how education works that precludes it being motivated by egalitarian rather that feudal-meritocratic goals. Years ago inequality in educational investment was much more egalitarian than it is now.


Hell, this is probably an apt description of how many *families* distribute resources among their own children. The dumb child gets the private tutoring and excessive nannying. The smart kid can take care of themselves, and may even be expected to sacrifice their own time *for their relatively benighted sibling*.

SLACs/Ivies probably do discriminate against Asians, though there are also interesting selection effects/preference structures that might be at work. It’s an interesting problem. Without more detailed data on Ivy/SLAC admissions, I can only infer from what applications/admissions/acceptance data from some comparable public universities has suggested to me.

35 So Much for Subtlety October 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

You give no sign you do not think Bush is typical of all White males so I think it does matter.

The vast needs-based aid system, in my experience, is highly complex and hard to apply for. It benefits those who know the ropes. Not the rural poor. Evidence? Are you kidding me? The system as a whole is biased toward the urban middle class – the sort of people with the time and opportunities to fake a really good CV. But I will agree as far as Whites go, the system as a whole probably has little impact. For every program holding them back, there is another pushing them forward. Unlike Asians.

Sure, education can be a complete waste of time, or a lesser waste of time, or may actually do some good. It is our choice. But at some point, we cull the herd. We can do that early. We can do that late. But what we ain’t going to be doing is making entry to Brain Surgery school random. What is more, we don’t want people to. When it comes time to have our brain surgery we want the guy who aced his SATs. Not the guy who got in on some Affirmative Action program. This appears universal. We may piously support race neutral admissions, but when it comes to designing a skyscraper, we want the guy whose design will stay up.

And sure, if we want to reduce all education to advanced baby sitting, we can invest in the worst students. We don’t because we are not stupid. We invest in the brightest, but since that offends people, we pretend otherwise. And we argue over what “the brightest” consist of in terms of brightness. God forbid education should be meritocratic.

In my experience families are far more ruthless than educational authorities. If little Johnny shows signs of a chance at getting into Yale Law School, the siblings can pound dirt. The parents will give him all the special enrichment classes they can. If little Charlie is a bit thick, they will encourage him to play sport and think about a career more suited to his talents. The less bright are sacrificed for the brightest.

We can look at outcomes. Asians do it tough.

36 CARELESs October 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm

” I’m left wondering when the first (successful) white male discrimination lawsuit will occur.”

2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricci_v._DeStefano

Although I have no idea if it was the firat

37 Brian Donohue October 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm


Not a fan of victimology, particularly the white guy version.

38 Careless October 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm

That’s racist.

39 BC October 2, 2012 at 6:39 am

As far as race-conscious admissions at universities are concerned, it seems like nowadays affirmative action concerns, alleviating effects of past racial discrimination, is no longer the primary motivation. The purpose of race-conscious admissions seems to be to create diverse student bodies, which the universities claim is in the best educational interests of all students.

Thus, it seems that Sander and Taylor seem to be studying the wrong problem. The empirical debate should focus on whether or not diversity helps students of all races, along with the broader question of whether educational policy is best set by courts and central government or by each individual university. Given that we have school choice at the university level, it would seem that giving each university discretion over their own admissions policies would give students the maximum possible benefits of choice: students can consider the effectiveness of diversity policies in evaluating different schools. So, another important empirical question is what effect race-conscious admissions policies have on the quality of applicants of all races, i.e., what does the market say, if anything, about these policies? Do the best students stay away from Michigan, Texas, Harvard, and other similar schools that currently use race-conscious admissions? What does the market say about graduates (of all races) of these schools and, by extension, the effect of diversity on education?

40 Brian Donohue October 2, 2012 at 6:53 am

“Thus, it seems that Sander and Taylor seem to be studying the wrong problem. The empirical debate should focus on whether or not diversity helps students of all races…”

So, if affirmative action is not good for the minorities who are put in positions to fail, it’s still worthwhile if my little Johnny can get a ‘diverse’ experience on campus.

Not a good retrenchment position, IMO.

41 BC October 2, 2012 at 7:27 am

It’s only in K-12 education, that we assign students to schools, i.e., where students could be “put in positions to fail”. At the university level, students choose which schools to go to.

42 celestus October 2, 2012 at 7:03 am

1. As far as private law schools/colleges/employers go, I don’t see how I have a right to control their admissions/hiring.

2. I am leery of arguing that unqualified minorities should be admitted to law schools, take on $100k in debt, and then be relegated to a pretty poor professional life because, see, that process benefits the rest of the students; on the other hand, if it does actually benefit the student body on average then I can see why it makes sense. Though if we are going to accept that minority law students are less likely to end up with a well-paying job, it should absolutely be legal to charge them higher interest rates on their loans.

3. You can’t argue that Harvard has the best and highest paid students, and Harvard uses race-conscious admissions, therefore diversity makes for better education.

43 BC October 2, 2012 at 7:34 am

Re: 3. I wasn’t arguing that. I was just asking, given that we have school choice at the university level, what market participants are saying.

44 j r October 2, 2012 at 8:30 am

“Though if we are going to accept that minority law students are less likely to end up with a well-paying job, it should absolutely be legal to charge them higher interest rates on their loans.”

How do you accept something that hasn’t happened yet? And I know this is crazy and all, but if you’re going to charge people different loan rates, wouldn’t it be better to go by something like their actual credit history as opposed to some random race-based theory of job placement?

45 jody October 2, 2012 at 8:43 am

And we should outlaw actuarial tables.

46 j r October 2, 2012 at 8:54 am

I refuse to believe that you’re daft enough to believe that those two things are the same.

47 Cliff October 2, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Aren’t they? Quite literally?

48 Richard October 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Game, set and match to jody for the brilliant analogy. The game was effectively conceded by j r when, unable to respond on the merits, he switched to ad hominem.

49 Careless October 3, 2012 at 12:09 pm

The credit history of 18 year holds?

50 Careless October 3, 2012 at 12:13 pm

The credit histories of 18 year holds?

51 Brian October 2, 2012 at 8:33 am

My impression is that the raw material for the empirical comparison will be less than ideal, as many schools, particularly the best schools, either use some form of affirmative action or are not fully transparent about their selection processes.

52 GiT October 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Efforts facially concern creating diverse student bodies because that’s what the Supreme Court said AA had to be about. That doesn’t mean that people concerned about AA actually think diversity is more important than empowering and improving outcomes for underrepresented minorities. Maybe some so. Many definitely don’t.

53 MD October 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm

There’s a strong chance that I got into a top-25 profession school because I am from a remote state with a small population. It certainly wasn’t because I went to a prestigious college, unlike most of my cohort. Yay diversity!

54 CARELESs October 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm

The new motivation is an excuse that popped up after their original reason started getting them in trouble.

55 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 7:30 am

‘…draw on extensive new research to prove that racial preferences put many students in educational settings where they have no hope of succeeding’

And to think the man that my Fairfax County high school was named after apparently not only believed, but practiced, exactly the same thing –

‘Fairfax County refused to let black students attend and bused them out of the county to Manassas.[4] Despite the 1954 Supreme court ruling to end racial segregation Fairfax County Schools did not allow any black students into designated white schools until 1960.’

Wilbert Tucker Woodson was finally pushed out in 1961 or so, after the tide on letting ‘them’ into ‘our’ schools had turned.

But back in the good old days, not a single black student failed a single high school course in Fairfax County, since there wasn’t a single high school for them to attend. Talk about success – well, from the perspective of those people involved in what was called massive resistance. What a fun political movement that was, dedicated to ensuring that an entire group of people would not be put in educational settings where they would, undoubtedly, have no hope of succeeding –

‘Massive resistance was a policy declared by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia on February 24, 1956, to unite other white politicians and leaders in Virginia in a campaign of new state laws and policies to prevent public school desegregation after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954.[1] Although most of the laws created to implement Massive Resistance were negated by state and federal courts by January 1960, some policies and effects of the campaign against integrated public schools continued in Virginia for many more years; many schools, and even an entire school system, were shut down in preference to integration.’


As for the school where I went to kindergarten? Louise Archer in Vienna was extensively renovated right around the time it became an integrated school. One would have to be cynical to think that the renovation had anything to do with the fact that it had started admitting white students the previous year.

56 Colin October 2, 2012 at 8:04 am

I think we are all in agreement that forced racial segregation is bad. This post, however, is on the wisdom of racial preferences in university admissions.

57 j r October 2, 2012 at 8:40 am

I’m not certain, but I believe that prior’s point is that the status quo is itself often a form of affirmative action.

58 Cliff October 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm

What is the relevance?

Nothing to add about Germany and Kinderweretengewerkschaftarbiten?

59 Bill October 2, 2012 at 8:15 am

You guys should study the effect of network affiliation and referal patterns and ask who is really getting the “affirmative action”–those who are already in place who can recommend a relative or friend from their church, or an outsider.

If you want to look at network affiliation and referral, you can do some investigation yourself: get the phonebook of a large employer or city employer and look at the last name clusters and compare that to the last name clusters in the general telephone book.

60 Bill October 2, 2012 at 8:24 am

If you go to academia, how many spouses get hired because the university wants a particular faculty member and can offer jobs to both the husband and wife to get one of them.

My wife worked for a large library system, and nepotism permeated it and the city government. The recently arrived minorities were less likely to break in and benefit from this system.

Ask yourself this question: What does your Facebook page friends list or LinkedIn list look like and would you use either for a job search or request of a friend to help you find a job.

61 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 9:01 am

Yes Bill, the people who came up with the crazy ideas, apply them at the worst place possible (a credentialing institution whose job it is to differentiate talents), and does it in the worst possible way.

However, I don’t blame them for spousal promotion because of the two-body problem. They very reason they can do affirmative action is the reason that spousal favoritism doesn’t matter- most academicians don’t matter.

You push this onto corporations and it’s an entirely didn’t matter. Crap starts blowing up and falling down.

62 dead serious October 2, 2012 at 9:30 am

Clearly you’ve never worked in a corporation.

63 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 10:47 am


64 dead serious October 2, 2012 at 11:56 am

Because affirmative action, in-group hiring and nepotism aren’t reserved for academia and aren’t exactly foreign concepts within the corporate construct.

Even with that, stuff doesn’t generally blow up or fall down.

65 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm

1. I have
2. Yes, corporations have diversity crap, as I said
3. Yes, mistakes happen all the time, sometimes causing crap to blow up or fall down, although I don’t know what “generally” would mean in that context. I would say things generally don’t work and it requires expertise to make things work. Explosives or bombs on the other hand generally blow up or fall down when they do work.
4. Yes, Industrial mistakes are more vividly destructive than academic mistakes.

66 Brian Donohue October 2, 2012 at 8:25 am

Yes Bill, it’s a closed circle. How will the Irish, Jews, Italians, Poles, Koreans, Vietnamese, Indians, and Chinese ever break through?

67 Bill October 2, 2012 at 8:52 am

Brian, Answer to your question: Most got political control. BTW, I don’t think think some on your list broke through. Basically, it is an empirical question, though, so take the telephone book and do your own analysis against the employer telephone book for a large corporation or city. Or, take an alumni list and match it to the incomming student list, and, if you can get the SAT scores, even better.

68 Brian Donohue October 2, 2012 at 9:03 am

Bill, who from my list hasn’t broken through? The Vietnamese? Well, something tells me they will.

As for political control, I think you’re wrong. Thomas Sowell, in Ethnic America, did some fascinating analysis of this decades ago. The Irish were always big on rising through political channels. How’d that work out for them? They got passed by the Jews and Italians and matched by the Poles, even though the latter groups arrived later and didn’t speak the language.

Blacks have followed the “Irish model” while Asians have generally eschewed the “build through political power” strategy and, like other successful minorities, built up their own networks instead.

69 TMC October 2, 2012 at 9:54 am

10 or 15 years ago the most common surname of the US’ CEOs was Irish. I think they both routes.

70 TMC October 2, 2012 at 10:00 am

Er… took both routes.

71 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 6:13 pm

“10 or 15 years ago the most common surname of the US’ CEOs was Irish.”

I strongly doubt that Irish Catholics were over-represented among CEOs relative to Jewish and British Protestant names. Perhaps you were getting Scottish names confused with Irish Catholic names?

N. Weyl wrote a couple of books doing demographic analyses by surname. They are quite interesting.

72 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 8:26 am

And what is your point?

The reality is that referrals work. It is by sheer coincidence that you refer people you actually know, and sheer coincidence you know people who are related to you, I’ve had referrals from friends and family but I’ve never gotten a job I wasn’t overqualified for. The only big employer I’ve worked at with a nepotism problem has been academia.

Corporations do affirmative action (they call it ‘diversity’) mainly because it doesn’t matter. Affirmative action in credentialing institutions should likely be done as it has been done, and when it is an abject failure you consider it a successful experiment showing that the merit-based system of that particular field is working. In fact, I’d shut down a lot of hiring departments and use non-discretionary rules that have nothing to do with race.

73 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 10:53 am

‘I’ve never gotten a job I wasn’t overqualified for’

Unlucky you. Maybe you should consider politics?

Or maybe one needs to take a long view when dealing with the Peter Principle –

‘The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions.’

74 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 11:22 am


75 lords of lies October 2, 2012 at 12:26 pm

it’s liberal sophistry. pay it no heed. they tend to deploy it when confronted with hatefacts.

76 Floccina October 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm

It is interesting to me how strongly people see a job as a benefit more to the employee (he has to work) rather than a benefit to the employer (he gets stuff done). It makes what Edmund Phelps said, that almost all of us who have a job are overpaid, seem true to me.

77 Michael October 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

Where Affirmative Action has the most effect is at “selective schools” (eg. Harvard) But, the biggest effect doesn’t even involve Blacks or Hispanics. It’s between Whites and Asians, and Whites are the clear beneficiaries of affirmative action.

For example, at Harvard, where they do consider race, the student population is about 40% white and 20% Asian. At a school like UC Berkely that is “race blind” the school is 30% white and 40% Asian. The race-blind schools do indeed accept less Black and Hispanic students, but by far the largest shifts involve whites and Asians.

It happens at the high school level too. Stuyvesant High School in NYC bases admissions purely on test scores. It’s now over 70% Asian. Any sort of racial considerations to make the school “match” the demographics of the city, state, or country would undoubtedly lower the number of Asians admitted and increase the number of White kids.

This is why some Asian-American groups submitted briefs for the Supreme Court case in support of banning affirmative action.

The above results don’t seem to hold for lower quality schools. But, at the higher end of any “selectivity” measure, white people may be the biggest beneficiaries (and Asians the biggest losers) of affirmative action.

78 anon October 2, 2012 at 9:51 am

(and Asians the biggest losers) of affirmative action.

Especially the Chinese, the only people to have been singled out by race for exclusion from citizenship (and thus political power) by Congress (Chinese exclusion laws, roughly 1880 to 1940).

It’s a bit odd that a group of people so highly discriminated against (Chinese and Asians) are the ones being made to pay for the sins of slavery….




79 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 10:46 am

Except for Indians and slaves, but why bring up all that old history?

And also the Japanese, but why bring up American ‘internment’ camps (Churchill most certainly have called them concentration camps, but why use an English phrase from the Boer Wars – just more old history).

80 Stephen October 2, 2012 at 10:08 am

But now the NAACP is suing NYC over its Specialized HS test for schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science (my alma mater). Even though these schools are ~70-75% ‘minority’ they’re mostly not the right minorities (aka black and hispanic) so the test is obviously racist.

81 Cliff October 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm

The NAACP has also filed a complaint against TJHSST admissions practices, alleging not only too much reliance on objective standards like test scores and grades, but too much reliance on discriminatory subjective criteria like extracurricular activities- on the basis that blacks and Hispanics are “too busy babysitting” to participate!

82 GiT October 2, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Well, the question implied there seems pretty amenable to study. Do black students participate less in extracurricular activities, controlling for income, or whatever? Black kids do have lower extra-curricular participation rates. Why shouldn’t why that is the case be taken into account in creating admissions standards?

83 Miley Cyrax October 2, 2012 at 10:17 am

You are mistaken, Michael. Blacks are the biggest benefeciaries and Asians the opposite. Espenshade and Chung in 2005 estimated that being black was the equivalent of a 280 point advantage on the SAT versus being Asian for admission into top schools, and that in the absence of affirmative action, 4/5 of spots held by blacks would be assumed by Asians. The effect has likely only grown then, and Espenshade’s follow up work has suggested that. Stuart and Taylor observed that at University of Michigan, among blacks and Asians with similar grades and test scores, blacks had a 96% chance of admission versus 11% for Asians.

84 KLO October 2, 2012 at 11:42 am

I think it depends on the setting we are talking about as to who the biggest beneficiary is. In law school admissions, there is a rigid hierarchy, with Yale Law School experiencing yields of 80+%. For non-underrepresented minority candidates, Yale takes a “holistic approach” which means that students are not admitted solely based upon GPA and LSAT. This may work against Asian candidates to some degree. By comparison, underrepresented minorities (UM) are admitted solely on the basis of their GPA and LSAT relative to other underrepresented minorities. Because Yale is so small and because Yale has very high yields, its UM admits likely have stats that are similar to its other admits.

For schools just several places down in rank, however, the shallow depth of UM talent and the much lower yields requires admitting UMs with much lower numbers than the non-UM admits. Due to LSAT/GPA competition among schools more generally, Asians are less likely to be screwed, especially because of the need to compensate for the fact that UM candidates have much lower stats than the non-UM students. So, paradoxically, the greater the benefit UM candidates receive from AA policies, the less the detriment Asian candidates experience relative to white candidates.

85 CarelessYale's median LSAT is 173. In 2004 (only year I'm seeing now) 29 black students scored 170+. There are about 70 black students in a class at HLS, 15 at Yale, 40 at stanford . 108 scored 165+, so you're going below 165/the 90th percentile white sco October 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Yale’s median LSAT is 173. In 2004 (only year I’m seeing now) 29 black students scored 170+. There are about 70 black students in a class at HLS, 15 at Yale, 40 at stanford . 108 scored 165+, so you’re going below 165/the 90th percentile white score just to fill the top three schools. Add in another 140 for UC and Columbia and we’re at 265, so you’re dipping into the 150s at the top 5 schools.

86 Careless October 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm

That’s a weird bug. Anyway, those numbers are from The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Student totals are from 2007 using 2012 enrollment totals and 2004 LSAT numbers. Not perfect, but you get what you pay for.

87 Benny Lava October 2, 2012 at 9:27 am

The two biggest secrets the universities won’t tell you about affirmative action are: the leg up programs they have for AA recipients to try and catch up with regular students and the high drop out rate of AA recipients.

88 Trimegistus October 2, 2012 at 9:34 am

Has anyone ever shown that “diversity” is actually beneficial in any way?

Seriously: do college students learn more, or become better people because of a greater range of skin tones among their fellow students?

We hear about “different perspectives” but since modern academia is explicit in its desire to eliminate any difference in perspectives, that seems irrelevant.

Are there any studies which support any value of “diversity” other than making white people feel less guilty?

89 lords of lies October 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm


the USA got along pretty well when she was 90% white european. man on the moon, electricity, etc. diversity mongering is a sham.

90 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Most social science research that wasn’t intentionally constructed to support diversity suggests that ethnic diversity is a net detriment to effectiveness. See Harvard social scientist Robert D. Putnam’s recent study, for example, which he hid for 5 years while he tried to think of a pro-diversity spin.

91 Claudia October 2, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I see everyone has been sharing their favorite pro-diversity stories today, so I thought I would join in too. Can diversity be beneficial to learning? Of course. Is it easy to pull off? No.

Example 1: During my college study abroad in Berlin (love Berlin!!) I took a German class at the Humboldt Uni. It was German for non-Germans, but for the first time I was not taking German with a bunch of Midwesterners. You know what? Every way we mangled German (grammar, pronunciation, the works) differed by our mother tongues. Moreover few of us had a common language. I learned from my mistakes and my classmates’ different mistakes. It only worked because we had an amazing teacher. Cheerful and patient. So the diversity could have led to total chaos, but instead it was one of the best German classes I have ever had (off a very high base). So it can work.

Example 2: When I was applying for jobs out of grad school, I told my friend, an African American girl from DC, that I hoped to be a professor. She looked at me in disbelief and said women can’t be professors. I may not be a professor now (wised up), but no one should believe that. Goals and dreams are a big deal. De facto discrimination has a lot of ill effects on society and its future. Do you really think it’s the current educated haves who will propel a pick up in growth? I don’t want to disparage them (I am one of them), but the low hanging fruit is getting people up off the bottom. And it starts with those at the bottom understanding that there is no law nature (there is not) that holds them to the bottom.

92 GiT October 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm

It’s not clear to me that it’s very efficient to raise mentally disabled children. We should probably just let them die of exposure like the Spartans. What’s the point of adhering to moral norms that are inefficient and wasteful, after all? It just makes the world worse for everyone who isn’t advantaged by the norm.

Or at the very least we could sequester them in abject squalor so as to keep their drain on the system to a minimum. God forbid we subsidize anything that is inefficient because it is good or morally worthy in itself.

93 Claudia October 2, 2012 at 9:41 pm

GiT, I hate say it, but as an economist I am not swayed by the morality arguments. I think a lot of the negative feelings here are real and shaming people is unlikely to change them. I was trying to argue is that diversity can actually make the pie bigger not just shift the pieces around. And it can improve efficiency, since discrimination (just like all other barriers to competition) reduces the efficiency in society. Pro-diversity programs can be done horribly (for everyone involved) but they can also be done well…but it takes a real sustained commitment. I get where you’re come from, but I don’t think it’s going to be a very persuasive argument.

94 GiT October 3, 2012 at 12:15 am

I’m less interested in arguments about the value of diversity, because the value of diversity is to some extent just an ad hoc justification for affirmative action made to placate the Supreme Court’s whims. I think most people who are interested in AA are interested for egalitarian and anti-oppression arguments. Diversity arguments, which have both a Millian disagreement strain and a more communitarian strain strike me as generally weaker and more supplementary than central to a defense of affirmative action.

But the notion that there is *no* value or beneficial effects to diversity, which is what the leading comment proposed, is just silly. The only thought worth bothering with is that diversity is negative on net. But even there evidence that pursuit of diversity is harmful or wasteful in some sense is not proof that it is bad, which was the point of the hyperbolic example.

It may have been a bit inapposite, though, as it was sort of rolling together the general tenor of arguments against AA which come up here, which generally reduce to the vicious sentiment that you should only invest in winners, and that any history of individual failure is sufficient reason to cull someone from the massive project of social investment and uplift that is higher education.

On that point I think your points about “low hanging fruit” existing chiefly among the disadvantaged and not among the already anointed is a nice one.

95 Miley Cyrax October 2, 2012 at 10:21 am

It’s quite eyebrow-raising that the discourse weighing the merits of affirmative action often handwring over the degree to which blacks and latinos benefit, but ignore the fact that Asians are being punished. Asian success is essentially getting taxed at the crude racial level for the underachievement of blacks and latinos.

96 givco October 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

AA discriminates against Indians, too. Asians and Indians do not, the thinking goes,msuffer from the legacy of fascism. But neither do African, Mexican and Chileans, but they qualify. In that light, AA seems like just another payoff in the political spoils system, like an Ambassadorship, or Federal payments to religious charities, earmarks etc.

97 DW October 2, 2012 at 10:47 am

Law school does not help you pass the bar exam. People generally have to take a completely different kind of class to be able to pass the bar.

98 lemmy caution October 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Regional law schools often do focus their classes with an eye to getting their students to pass the bar exam. Elite law schools (and schools with desire to be elite laws schools) generally don’t do this.

99 Gary S October 2, 2012 at 10:48 am

Could the different law exam pass rates (by race) constitute a ‘disparate impact’ and therefore be unconstitutional?

100 Gary S October 2, 2012 at 11:06 am

Minor correction – from what little I know about this area, the correct term might be ‘illegal’ instead of ‘unconstitutional’.

101 KLO October 2, 2012 at 11:19 am

The highest courts of the states (usually called the Supreme Court of X where X is the name of a state) set admissions requirements to the bar. “Disparate impact” is one way a plaintiff can show a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It has absolutely nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution, and Congress could bar use of disparate impact tomorrow as a way of showing a violation of Title VII if it wanted to do so. Moreover, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act applies to “employers” and, on that basis, probably does not apply to the state courts that set the admissions requirements.

Nevertheless, I think you could make a case that employers who require bar admission have adopted a policy that creates a disparate impact. Of course, to be a practicing lawyer, one needs to be licensed in the state, so the employer could very easily show “business necessity” for the policy. All in all, it looks like it would be hard to dislodge the bar exam using Title VII, but people have argued that it is possible in law review articles. The courts have not been receptive elsewhere on other licensing exams, however.

102 KLO October 2, 2012 at 11:30 am

In my reply, I may have framed the issue incorrectly. Private employers complying with occupational licensing requirements that include a test that has a disparate impact may be required to show either: (a) that mere compliance with the state licensing requirement is a “business necessity”; or (b) that the licensing test itself, which is administered by the state, is a “business necessity.” If (b) is the correct framing, employers would be required to defend the licensing test as though they themselves administered it, which could be difficult. If (a) is the correct framing, the employers will likely prevail, at least where occupational licensing is an absolute requirement for the job (e.g. lawyer).

103 buddyglass October 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

I’m no fan of race-based affirmative action (possibly preferring economically-based affirmative action instead), but I don’t find this statement compelling:

“Because they’re under-prepared, fewer than half of black affirmative action beneficiaries in American law schools pass their bar exams.”

Suppose there were no affirmative action. Some portion of those black students won’t attend law school or will attend lower-tier schools. In this scenario do more black students pass the bar exam or less? In the first case where fewer attend law school it’s hard to argue more will pass the bar. In the second case…maybe? According to my attorney wife the majority of what she needed to know in order to pass the bar exam was picked during bar review. She attended a “top 15” program at a large public university and finished around the middle of her class. Had she gone to a less prestigious school and been near the top of her class, would that have increased the likelihood of her passing the bar? What if she’d gotten into a more prestigious school and been closer to the bottom of her class?

104 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 11:19 am

‘Suppose there were no affirmative action’

Well, it is simple to reduce it even further – ‘suppose blacks (women/Jews/Asian, all relevant) were forbidden from attending law school.’

And you would be essentially describing the United States of America of two generations ago. Back when affirmative action was exclusively reserved for white men.

105 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 11:26 am

Why do you guys always have to destroy the meaning of words?

Affirmative Action is a thing. It is (allegedly) the opposite of the thing you are proposing.

If you are saying it is the same, you are making the opposite of what you are supposedly arguing.

To quote John Roberts: “the best way to stop discriminating based on race is to stop discriminating based on race.”

106 DW October 2, 2012 at 11:41 am

Why do you always refer to people who disagree with you as “you guys” or “you people”? It makes you seem paranoid.

107 DW October 2, 2012 at 11:42 am

Nevermind, I didn’t realize it was prior_approval in both cases

108 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm

You are right, there are three or 4 commenters who I can’t tell for sure are different people, so from now on it’s “you guy(s).”

109 dead serious October 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm


110 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm

I’m curious – how much affirmative action/preferential treatment of an identifiable group can one tolerate?

For example, veterans are given preferential hiring for federal and postal jobs? Is that an outrage? ( http://www.fedshirevets.gov/job/vetpref/index.aspx )

Legacy admissions to universities has already been noted – it is still ongoing, of course.

Having a masculine first name is a demonstrable benefit in applications for physical science department in an American university setting – is that an outrage?

Affirmative action arose directly from desegregation – and the (seemingly no longer so self-evident) rejection of separate but equal as a doctrine to apply to a class of American citizens.

I’m actually quite curious – what is your proposal for addressing the reality that even in my lifetime, black people were not provided anywhere near the same resources in education as I was? And yes, I am talking specifically about Fairfax County, and I am specifically referring to the long past 1960s and 1970s. And in a high school with 2000 students, when I attended, a grand total of 2 black students were there (without checking any yearbooks, I’ll grant) – Redskins fans might just remember Roy Jefferson, as it was his children which attended.

A reality that I’m sure warmed the cockles of Woodson’s heart when he visited (as he did), at a school named after him – a breaking of the rules to name the school after a living person, it must be noted. Obviously, a certain group of the good citizens of Fairfax were extremely proud of his decades of dedicated service ensuring that another group of citizens were refused education in his white only schools (Louise Archer was built on 7 acres of land that black residents purchased with their own money as the county refused to accomodate them – then the county demanded the land be deeded to the county, apparently without paying a penny, according to a fairly badly formatted oral history at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/faculty_archives/principalship/r/155robinson.html ). A man who resolutely refused to allow black students to attend high school at all, in any school under his control, even after his policy was ruled completely illegal throughout the United States in 1954.

This is the reality of what existed in Fairfax County just before and in my life time, having experienced part of it. Here is the second, wonderfully whitewashed, sentence from the web site of the first Fairfax County Public School I attended – ‘It began with one educator and a desire to provide the best education to all students.’ No, it was illegal in 1939, 1949, and 1959 according to Virginia law for any students but blacks to attend it – a policy rigorously enforced by a man who refused to provide any way for black high school students to be educated in his school system.

And you know what? I’m confident that the students that Woodson refused to educate in his school system were unprepared to attend university. Until proven otherwise (that is just pro forma, by the way), it is a certain bet that this was the fully intended goal of the man my high school building was intended to honor – a school which still proudly bears the name of an educator who refused to teach a group of American citizens in his schools for reasons which are clear to anybody who grew up in Northern Virginia at that time.

But give him this – he never participated in the farce that was separate but equal. He didn’t even bother with the separate part for high school students in his school system. He was obviously a principled man, just like so many here arguing against affirmative action because it is such an outrage, without a seeming awareness of the reality that preceded it.

111 buddyglass October 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Umm…ok. I’m honestly not sure what point you’re making here, unless it’s to justify current AA policies favoring non-whites on the basis of their being “payback” for past discriminatory policies favoring whites.

112 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I would use the probably use a term like ‘redress.’ (see above)

Affirmative action has its flaws, including the inevitable reaction from those whose parents or grandparents were never legally barred from attending high school in the county where they lived.

But compared to the reality that in 1960, a Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent deigned to build a high school for black students to meet the requirements of the previous Supreme Court mandated educational reform of separate but equal, affirmative action is still better than what existed less than two generations ago, in the county I grew up in.

That so many people have no problem not seeing the world that their parents and grandparents created always amazes me in these discussions. As if the past is not only a foreign country, but as if America itself was a foreign country just 50 years ago, having absolutely no connection to the America of today.

My high school is still named after a man who refused to let any black student attend any high school in his school system. Of course, for many commenters here, it is affirmative action which is outrageously unjust, not the reality of what preceded it.

113 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 3:43 pm

As a side note to clarify the rhetorical point of built/did not build a high school for black students – as near as I can tell from reading (and man, the FCPS pages are not really all that good a resource, to put it mildly – there is more information about the school’s planetarium than Woodson’s policies), Woodson did not actually agree to building the high school, but it was forced on him or he only grudgingly accepted it, before he was removed from his position.

114 buddyglass October 2, 2012 at 7:13 pm

My feeling is that direct racial discrimination (especially in education) has been (for the most part) “dealt with”. To be sure, black kids (on the aggregate) face more challenges than white kids, but moreso because they’re disproportionately likely to be born into poor households or those where both parents are relatively uneducated. What negatively impacts them isn’t their blackness per se but their poorness and their parents general lack of education. (Parental education being significant only as a proxy for other traits like “regard for academic achievement” and “general intelligence”).

If the goal is to create a “level playing field” then favoring race seems like a pretty bad way to go about it. Does the rich black kid with two Ph.D. parents who attended private schools his entire life really need a leg up? More so than the poor white kid raised by a single mom who never graduated high school?

115 Cliff October 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I am a little surprised that Jews were forbidden from attending law school in the 1960’s. Even if that is true, it’s not affirmative action, more like oppression. And so your solution to the wrongs of the past is to punish the innocent of the present? Like, we should gas the descendants of Nazis and give their stuff to the children of Holocaust survivors?

116 prior_approval October 2, 2012 at 3:24 pm

You are right, the 1960s is too recent, and forbidden is too strong – so here is an explanation from wikipedia of how affirmative action for white people works –

‘Although never officially legislated, between 1918 and the 1950s a number of private universities and medical schools introduced numerus clausus policies limiting admissions of students based on their religion or race to certain percentages within the college population. One of the groups affected by these policies was Jewish applicants, whose admission to some New England and New York City-area liberal arts universities fell significantly between the late 1910s and the mid-1930s.[4] For instance, the admission to Harvard University during that period fell from 27.6% to 17.1% and in Columbia University from 32.7% to 14.6%. Corresponding quotas were introduced in the medical and dental schools resulting during the 1930s in the decline of Jewish students: e.g. in Cornell University School of Medicine from 40% in 1918–22 to 3.57% in 1940–41, in Boston University Medical School from 48.4% in 1929–30 to 12.5% in 1934–35. During this period, a notable exception among U. S. medical schools was the medical school of Middlesex University, which had no quotas and many Jewish faculty members and students; school officials believed that antisemitism played a role in the school’s failure to secure AMA accreditation.[5]

In addition to Jewish applicants, Catholics, African-Americans, Eastern/Southern Europeans, and women were also targeted by admission restrictions. African-Americans, in some instances, were outright excluded (numerus null) from admission: e.g., at Columbia University. The most common method, employed by 90% of American universities and colleges at the time to identify the “desirable” (native-born, white, Protestant) applicants, were the application form questions about their religious preference, race, and nationality. Other more subtle methods included restrictions on scholarships, rejection of transfer students, and preferences for alumni sons and daughters.

Legacy preference for university admissions was devised in 1925 at Yale University, where the proportional number of Jews in the student body was growing at a rate that became alarming to the school’s administrators.[4] However, even prior to that year, Yale had begun to incorporate such amorphous criteria as ‘character’ and ‘solidity’, as well as ‘physical characteristics’, into its admissions process as an excuse for screening out Jewish students;[4] but nothing was as effective as legacy preference, which allowed the admissions board to summarily pass over Jews in favor of ‘Yale sons of good character and reasonably good record’, as a 1929 memo phrased it. Other schools, including Harvard, soon began to pursue similar policies for similar reasons, and Jewish students in the Ivy League schools were maintained at a steady 10% through the 1950s. Such policies were gradually discarded during the early 1960s, with Yale being one of the last of the major schools to eliminate the last vestige with the class of 1970 (entering in 1966).[6] While legacy admissions as a way of screening out Jewish students may have ceased, the practice of giving preference to legacies has continued to the present day. In the 1998 book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, authors William G. Bowen, former Princeton University president, and Derek Bok, former Harvard University president, found “the overall admission rate for legacies was almost twice that for all other candidates.”

The religion preference question was eventually dropped from the admission application forms and informal numerus clausus policies in the American private universities and medical schools were abandoned by the 1950s.’


And do note how various groups were explicitly discriminated against to ensure that a certain group benefitted – so much for special group’s dedication to the idea that pure merit is the only worthy measure for college admission.

117 Careless October 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm

And it’s 40+ years after women were attending Yale Law. (I don’t know if that’s representative or not, I just happened to have looked it up a couple of days ago)

118 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 5:33 pm

“‘suppose blacks (women/Jews/Asian, all relevant) were forbidden from attending law school.’And you would be essentially describing the United States of America of two generations ago. ”

That would have come as a surprise to Supreme Court Justices Brandeis, Cardozo, and Frankfurter.

119 The Anti-Gnostic October 3, 2012 at 9:28 am

Why shouldn’t it be? White men, generally speaking, create high trust societies and and invent lots of things. In fact, they run countries so well that people from all over the globe will spend blood and treasure to live in places just reeking of white privilege.

Even David Brooks can tell that the new meritocratic American elite clearly have no proprietary interest in the place other than to line their pockets.

120 Cliff October 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm

If you can’t pass the bar exam, you shouldn’t waste your time and money going to law school. You will be much better off doing something else.

121 Urso October 3, 2012 at 10:33 am

For whatever reason, lawyers as a group have this deep-seated tendency to undercut the value of their own legal education.

Your wife says she learned what she needed to take the bar from the four week bar review course. But the bar review course is just that, a *review* course, a refresher, which assumes you’ve already taken a full, semester-long course in each topic covered on the bar (or at least, almost every topic). It doesn’t, and can’t, actually teach you the law from scratch. It’d be an interesting experiment to take a group of college grads who hadn’t gone to law school, put them through the bar review course with no prep, and see if they passed. Some would, the very bright ones, based on their critical thinking skills and writing ability. But the rate would be what, under 20 percent?

To some extent this is a result of years of propaganda by Bar/Bri, the primary, and in some states only, bar review company. They get to 1Ls early and spend a lot of time explaining how you have to have Bar/Bri to pass, you’ll never make it unless you pay them their $3,000.

I’m not saying bar review is useless. It is useful to prepare you for the bar exam, which everyone agrees is an artificial test dissimilar from the actual study and practice of law, and it rewards simple explanations and a shallow but broad understanding of legal principles — the bar review course, unlike law school itself, is specially geared to that level of analysis. And, of course, the intense review helps refresh the substantive law. But it’s not the end-all be-all.

122 Floccina October 2, 2012 at 11:51 am

fewer than half of black affirmative action beneficiaries in American law schools pass their bar exams

I am not big on AA but:

1. I am even less big on excessive licensing
2. I do believe that many black people (excluding those who would become doctors and lawyers) who would probably benefit from having more black doctors and lawyers

So why is the solution not making the bar exams easier (at least for blacks but better for everyone)? Even more so for doctors.

123 Cliff October 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Outside of California and maybe New York, bar exams are actually pretty easy. Pass rates are generally around 90%. Not that I think the bar exam should exist, but anyone who can’t pass it is probably not very smart.

124 Finch October 3, 2012 at 11:08 am


Not that I think the bar exam should exist either, but if you have any concern at all about your ability to pass it then going to law school is a very serious mistake.

125 Urso October 3, 2012 at 12:46 pm
126 KLO October 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm

An issue that I wish Sander would explore in more depth is to what extent the harm done to AA candidates is caused by their inability to keep up with the pace of the classroom versus finishing in the bottom of their class. Obviously, these things are related when certain admits are clearly inferior to other admits. Imagine, however, that admissions were completely merit-based. Some group of students would nonetheless finish in the bottom of the class. Had these students attended a less selective school many of them would not have finished in the bottom of their classes. Does finishing at the bottom of one’s class, even if by native ability and preparation one is indistinct from his classmates, act as a barrier to future success?

127 lords of lies October 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm

empirics aside, there is the bigger moral question here regarding AA. and in the moral calculus, race-based quotas have to go. they are evil. and they are based on the grand lie that all groups are on average equally gifted.

128 MD October 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm

AA is not “based on the grand lie that all groups are on average equally gifted.” It is based on the lie that you can make up for slavery and Jim Crow and lynchings by admitting a couple more black kids to Ole Miss. Nothing can be done about any of those things. AA can’t un-lynch anyone, or solve the damage done by hundreds of years of systematic oppression. Really nothing can.

129 Kim Lee October 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Don’t confuse “underrepresented” with “underprivileged”. Most black Harvard undergrads are rich and/or children of immigrants. Rather than uplifting poor U.S. families and remedying past discrimination, AA rewards affluent immigrants.

Liberal institutions seek diversity of skin color, but not diversity of thought. They don’t seek conservatives, Evangelical Chistians, or military veterans. Instead, they merely reject Paris Hilton in favor of Nicole Ritchie.

130 GiT October 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Do you have any evidence that admissions officers don’t seek out those groups? Because most holistic admissions programs would reward those traits.

131 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm

“Most black Harvard undergrads are rich and/or children of immigrants. Rather than uplifting poor U.S. families and remedying past discrimination, AA rewards affluent immigrants.”

Right. Henry Louis Gates and Lani Guinier documented this about eight years ago in arguing that Harvard affirmative action should be reserved for the descendants of American slaves. They’ve kind of shut up about it since the rise of Obama since he’s the exact example of what they were complaining about. In contrast, Michelle Obama is exactly the kind of descendant of American slaves on all sides they would like to reserve race quotas for, but she turned out to a classic mismatch case who was resentfully in over her head at Whitney Young HS, Princeton, HLS, and Sidley Austin, finally quitting for low IQ jobs in local politics and diversity-mongering.

132 GiT October 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm

” finally quitting for low IQ jobs in local politics and diversity-mongering.”

Sounds like the career trajectory of one Steve Sailer.

133 msgkings October 3, 2012 at 11:47 am

Nuclear bomb. Not one shred of Steve left.

134 Andrew' October 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm


Back when I was applying (maybe we have won the war on soft discrimination since) I got a book of grants and scholarships and out of hundreds there was not one that I qualified for. Not one. Now, it is possible that I got the “not a white guy” scholarship book, but it didn’t say that on the cover.

135 DCBillS October 2, 2012 at 3:45 pm

I’m in HR in a large Federal agency. We go all out to recruit minority grads and hire many. Over and over the same thing happens. They come with great credentials, good grades, references, etc. Once hired and working it quickly becomes clear that they can’t cut it. It is devastating to them. All of their lives they have been told how great they are and are given great opportunities. Suddenly they are labeled failures and it is damaging for them to crash into this reality. (I’ve looked into many of these cases and they really can’t perform as required.)

136 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 4:41 pm

A major problem with affirmative action at law schools is that graduates then have to pass an objective state bar exam, on which there is no affirmative action. Not surprisingly, non-Asian Minorities tend to flunk the bar exam at high rates (e.g., Michelle Obama, a Harvard LS grad, couldn’t pass the Illinois bar exam at her first opportunity; her obviously smarter husband did pass on his first try). She was given a high prestige corporate law job, but quickly gave up the law for the less cognitively demanding job of fixer in the Daley Administration and then various kinds of diversicrat.

The biggest cost is to people farther down from HLS who never pass the bar exam after three years of law school. A much higher percentage of black than white law students suffer this major life setback.

I would recommend to marginal black students that they go to MBA school over law or medical school since there are no professional licensing exams for MBAs.

137 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Anyway, the real issue with racial and ethnic preferences in the future will not be blacks (even though everybody loves to argue, pro or con, over quotas for blacks), it will be the descendants of Latin American immigrants, who already significantly outnumber blacks and are predicted by the Census Bureau to number something like 128,000,000 by 2050. How exactly the country will function when 175,000,000 to 200,000,000 people will be eligible for race/ethnic preferences is little discussed.

138 Tony October 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm

There are at least three sources of “mismatch” in college admissions: affirmative action, legacy students, and athletes. Everyone focuses on affirmative action, but my hunch is that at many universities the mismatch effect for athletes (at least in football and basketball) would be much more severe. On the other hand, my hunch is that legacies receive somewhat weaker preferences in admission than athletes or affirmative action candidates. Athletes would make a fairly good test for the mismatch hypothesis, at least if the mechanisms at work are not unique to race-based affirmative action.

Another oddity with the mismatch story is that, if mismatch is true, students who would not be admitted except for preferential treatment are in almost every case failing to recognize that going to the “lesser” institution would be in their best interests. With elite college athletes, there’s a compensating benefit, but legacy students and affirmative action admittees seem to both be making a mistake if mismatch is in fact true. This seems to me to be evidence against the mismatch hypothesis–especially since students and their families are best positioned to understand the trade-offs at issue for a particular student.

Virtually no-one seriously believes that legacy students are being made worse-off by being given preferential treatment in the admissions process.

139 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm

The Mismatch argument gets pushed too hard because everybody who is against affirmative action is looking for a “But it’s actually bad for blacks” argument because they don’t have the courage to come out and say, “I’m against affirmative action because I’m white and my kids are white.”

140 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 6:32 pm

A good test case of the Mismatch argument is Michelle Obama, who has made clear over the years that she only got into her selective high school, Princeton, HLS, and Sidley Austin because she was black. (She was also a Princeton legacy because her older brother was a popular basketball star.) I documented her frequent statements about her low test scores and her feelings of resentment that people around her didn’t think she was smart enough:


Not surprisingly, she was a poor performer at a corporate law firm and gave up the law when she got the hints that she’d never make partner. But, still, how much did she really suffer because she was in over her head due to affirmative action? Clearly, according to her mother and friends, she suffered a lot of psychological pain from spending so much time with people who were clearly smarter than her. She would be happiest being a big fish in a small pond than a dim fish in a bright pond.

Yet, Michelle did pass the easy Illinois bar exam (81% pass) on her second opportunity. More importantly, the affirmative action system propelled her into a setting where she met an ambitious young man of “multicultural” / “international” background (to use the terms favored by biographer David Maraniss) who had decided that he’d have to marry a black woman to succeed as a black politician in Chicago. So, in the end, quotas worked out well for Michelle.

141 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 6:37 pm

The size of legacy benefits is frequently exaggerated. At Harvard, legacies averaged 36 points lower on the SAT (in the 400-1600 era) and at many colleges legacies average higher SAT scores than non-legacy admits. (This doesn’t prove there are no legacy benefits, just that they aren’t in the same class as black and Hispanic benefits.) Colleges have a financial interest in fostering rumors about lavish legacy benefits to encourage alumni donations.

142 prior_approval October 3, 2012 at 1:39 am

Simply wrong – ‘The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Harvard accepts 40% of applicants who are children of alumni but only 11% of applicants generally.’ http://edition.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/20/timep.affirm.action.tm/

Clearly, being a legacy, at the time of that statistic a decade ago, was hugely advantageous for Harvard admission, clearly outweighing any other benefit in a very competitive admissions pool.

A similar effect can be seen in other documented studies of straight out bias, where the greatest advantage in the admission process concerning American physical science departments was simply having a male sounding first name, as that was the only variable in the submitted CVs. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/14/1211286109#aff-1

143 Careless October 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm

PA, that’s not disputing what Sailer wrote. Being a legacy is known to have a huge impact in getting you picked from a pool of roughly equally qualified candidates. But the difference between racial groups is sometimes so large that there is basically no overlap in applicants. The number of black applicants scoring at the SAT average of accepted Asians to Ivies is in the low dozens (or was in the two part era, at least).

144 Steve Sailer October 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm

The Mismatch argument is strongest in STEM fields. You don’t want to be a mechanical engineering major at Caltech if you are only smart enough to be mechanical engineering major at Purdue because you will probably flunk out. But, graduation rates these days are so high at most elite schools other than Caltech (and Reed, neither of which practice much affirmative action) that this mismatch argument isn’t that strong anymore.

Among law schools, lesser schools spend more time preparing students to pass the bar exam. Michelle Obama might have passed the Illinois bar exam on her first try if she’d gone to a lesser law school. But, she wouldn’t have gotten hired at high-paying Sidley Austin if she hadn’t gotten into a fancy law school due to race quotas. So, it’s hard to say that being Mismatched her Michelle all that much.

But, maybe without affirmative action she would have been hired by a more low brow law firm where she might have eked out becoming a partner.

A major phenomenon is that affirmative action sucks moderately bright blacks like Michelle (what’s her IQ, maybe 110-115?) up to elite schools, which in turn sucks 100 IQ blacks up into semi-elite schools and so forth and so on down the academic food chain. So, all blacks tend to be in over their heads, and eventually they get to the point where affirmative action runs out (e.g., at making partner), which causes resentment and accusations of racism, which leads institutions to respond by increasing quotas, and around and around we go.

145 ThomasH October 2, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Most of this discussion is mixed up. Universities admit some racial minorities “preferentially” not for the benefit of the persons admitted preferentially but for the benefit of the other students so thyecan have a more diverse set of peers. Whether this works or not, I have not seen researched.

146 GiT October 3, 2012 at 12:20 am

Universities say they admit racial minorities preferentially for the benefit of a diverse student body because that was the argument that flew with the Supreme Court. Some have probably even come to believe that this is the chief reason why preferences are used, and there are certainly many justifications rigged up to suppor that rationale. But it’s not, really, why people support AA. In my experience, most people who believe in affirmative action do so for reasons having to do with historical redress, egalitarianism, and anti-oppression.

147 msgkings October 3, 2012 at 11:53 am

Would AA opposers be fine with class-based admissions over race-based ones? Seriously asking, putting it as simply as possible. You’d still help many disadvantaged blacks and Latinos, but probably somewhat fewer of them to the benefit of poor whites and Asians. And you’d now have mismatch issues still, but now more whites and poor Asians would suffer. Or should I say ‘suffer’?

148 Brian Donohue October 3, 2012 at 1:39 pm

I don’t think I would. ‘Soft’ AA is actually pretty widespread. I went to Chicago (supposedly race-blind, tho I’ve heard the blacks there do less well)- I came from decent second-tier Chicago suburban public schools and felt like I could hang pretty well, but I knew some fairly sharp urban and rural white kids whose high schools just didn’t prepare them properly, and who immediately felt a lap behind and really struggled. So much of elite schools is expensive puffery anyway though- I think the ‘disadvantaged’ whites I met at college would have been better off at UIC, ISU, or U of I.

149 msgkings October 3, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Perhaps so.

Although to me even if some AA admissions (race, class, whatever) struggle, enough of them will still graduate from a better place than they could hope to get to without AA. Struggle is fine, in fact those who succeed with difficulty are that much more ready to take on the rigors of the ‘real world’.

AA (class-based seems better to me) is about mixing, about churn, about letting those born with 2 strikes against them at least get a shot to play. And while this may inhibit efficiency somewhat, it also enhances it another way. Some with greater ability will not get into an Ivy/Stanford type school…but they will surely excel wherever they end up, and their postcollege success should still be possible. Meanwhile some ‘diamonds in the rough’ will get to be around high achieving peers and really blossom.

I just don’t see much downside to some kind of system that tries to mix students of diverse backgrounds together even at elite institutions, and I see a lot of upside.

150 Brian Donohue October 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm

The downside is the discouraged kids. My own kids, they’re pretty smart, but not Ivy material. If they were black, maybe they could get in. I think it would be a disaster for them.

You always want your kids to reach a little, maybe being around the 40th percentile is a sweet spot- too much higher, and you’re not challenged, too much lower, and the risks of discouragement substantially outweigh the benefits of overcoming, IMO.

And with AA, it’s not just the ‘top’ kids put at risk- there’s a knock-on effect right down the line.

151 msgkings October 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm

To put it another way, since getting into and getting a degree from an Ivy/Stanford is mostly about signalling and networking (the white kids suing for being passed over by minorities aren’t angry because they missed out on specific teachers at Harvard, they want the signal on their CV) will be fine, and other kids who would not be fine have a better chance of being fine.

Smart whites and Asians that don’t have Ivies on their resume but have 4.0s at the next level down schools already have a signal: smart, ‘untroubled’ race. They’ll be fine.

152 Kumar S October 11, 2012 at 7:58 am

“… preferences put many students in educational settings where they have no hope of succeeding…”

Exactly the same story with caste-based reservation in Indian in educational institutes in India.

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