As I wrote most recently several posts below criticizing an OpEd by NAACP LDF attorney-director Theodore Shaw (“Justification For Preferences? C’est Moi!“), one of the necessary and hence common claims of the preferentialists is that “racial preferences do not involve discrimination because most whites, Asians, etc., who are rejected from selective schools are not rejected because of race.” I called that “a canard” then, and I repeat it now. [See a subsequent reply by Shaw and my rejoinder here.]
Yet opponents still equate affirmative action policies with “discrimination against whites” and draw audacious parallels between such policies and the racist practices of universities during the era of de jure segregation. The University of Michigan is at least 80 percent white, so it isn’t credible to claim that it or its affirmative action policy discriminates against whites as a group.
This argument, a foundation of the preference principle, has far more radical implications than is generally recognized, for it in effect redefines discrimination as something that applies only to groups. To say, as Ms. Boddie and Mr. Shaw do, that preferences cannot be discriminatory because the University of Michigan is still 80% white is to say that discrimination against individuals doesn’t count, until and unless it is massive enough to affect the statistical representation of the racial or ethnic group to which they are said to belong. Do “civil rights” groups really want to go there?
Forget civil rights groups. The University of Michigan itself makes this same argument. The following is from a “Q&A re University of Michigan Admissions Policies” on a Michigan web site with its legal materials:
Q: Does the University’s consideration of race hurt a white student’s chances of getting into the University?
A: No. The numbers of minority applicants are extremely small compared to the numbers of white students who apply to the University. The Law School, for example has for the last 10 years had an average offer rate of 29 percent for Caucasian applicants, and 26 percent for African American applicants. Out of the fall 2002 entering class of 352, only 21 are African American. Similarly, of the approximately 24,000 applications received each year for admissions to the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, only about 1,800 come from underrepresented minorities. It is not mathematically possible that the small numbers of minority students who apply and are admitted are “displacing” a significant number of white students under any scenario.
What Michigan is actually saying here is that there is no discrimination because there’s not much of it, and what there is affects only some individuals, not their groups. Another thing that must be said about the above quote is that it is disingenuous, at best. To emphasize what a piddling amount of preference is actually involved, Michigan mentions that there are “only 21” African Americans in the entering 2002 law school class of 352. But what of the preferentially admitted Hispanics and Native Americans? As we shall see, including those preferred admissions makes a significant difference.
In order to determine how much actual discrimination is involved at Michigan, let’s look at some revealing numbers that Michigan itself provided in court about the 2000 class at its law school. How many applicants does Michigan itself say were admitted, and rejected, because of their race that year? (I picked that year because I found the numbers without having to look very hard.)
The following is from page 28 of Judge Bernard Friedman’s district court opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, the law school case. It discusses data on the effect of preferences presented by Dr. Stephen Raudenbush, the University of Michigan’s expert witness.
In Dr. Raudenbush’s view, a “race-blind” admissions system would have a “very dramatic,” negative effect on minority admissions but only a slight effect on non-minority admissions, due to the vastly greater number of non-minority applicants. In the year 2000, 35% of underrepresented minority applicants and 40% of non-minority applicants were admitted. See Exhibit 187. Dr. Raudenbush predicted that if race were not considered, then only 10% of underrepresented minority applicants and 44% of non-minority applicants would be admitted. If correct, this would mean that in the year 2000 only 46 underrepresented minority applicants would have been admitted (instead of 170 who actually were admitted), of whom only 16 would enroll (instead of 58 who actually enrolled). Under this scenario, underrepresented minority students would have constituted 4% of the entering class in 2000, instead of 14.5% as actually occurred. See Exhibit 189.
Bear with me because, unlike Jessie, I dropped out of math before arithmetic got hard and so don’t do numbers very well. Feel free to let me know if there are stupid errors in what follows. But here’s what I take out of the above. Keep in mind that these are the numbers presented by Michigan’s own expert, not by the plaintiffs.
- 170 “underrepresented minorities” were preferentially offered admission.
- 58 of them enrolled, making up 14.5% of the total entering class of 400 students.
- Under “race-blind” admissions, 46 minorities would have been offered admission and 16 of them, 4% of the entering class, would have enrolled.
Thus, according to Michigan, 124 white, Asian, or unpreferred minority applicants were rejected because of their race or ethnicity that year. The 2000 entering class of 400 students contained 42 students, or a bit over 10% of the class, who in Michigan’s estimation would not have been there if their race or ethnicity had not been taken into account.
Now, given the large number of white, Asian, and non-preferred minority (not simply “white,” as Michigan’s statement has it) applicants and the relatively small number of preferred minority applicants, it may well be true that any non-preferred individual’s chances of admissions were not dramatically affected by Michigan’s preferences to preferred minorities. But does that mean that those 124 applicants who were rejected because of their race were not victims of discrimination? Would they have been victims if there had been 150 of them? 200? 250?
In short, do these numbers add up to a significant amount of discrimination?
I report; you decide.