Deciding the fate of affirmative action

Updated
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With the Supreme Court set to decide on affirmative action on Wednesday with the ruling in the Abigail Fisher case, The Cycle is brushing up on their policy. The ruling has the potential for some big implications on our higher education system, and to dredge up some passionate debate from advocates on both sides of the issue. UCLA law professor, Richard Sander, and the Editor of the Harvard Law Review, Stuart Taylor Jr., co-authored the book “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It,” which argues that a Supreme Court ruling that would shake-up affirmative action policy in the United States may be exactly what we need.

The premise that the book is a contested theory called “mismatch,” which basically argues that minority students accepted into first tier universities – the Harvards and the Yales, for instance – are mismatched, and thus will not succeed there because they are “inadequately placed in schools where they cannot compete.” Sander explains that teachers teach classes with their students’ qualifications in mind and that students who did not meet those initial qualifications, but were accepted anyway, learned less. Preparation is key, and these authors argue that if you aren’t prepared, no matter how good the school, there is small benefit in attending. Sander and Taylor see the practice – admissions based on race as “spinning out of control” and badly in need of some changes, especially considering it was created in the 1960’s as a temporary practice meant to act as a catalyst for diversification in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.

But mismatched students are only half of Taylor and Sander’s argument. What the authors are arguing for is transparency. They want students to be made aware that the statistical deck is stacked against them and that they may be coming in less prepared than their fellow classmates. In effect being told that they are not only small fish in a big pond, but that they shouldn’t really be swimming with these fishes anyway.

Taylor and Sander also want to open up standards of affirmative action to take into account socio-economic status. Sander stated that colleges are more willing to accept the child of a black doctor before the child of a white or black cab driver. The socio-economic imbalance presented by Sander is supported by another statistic from the book, which says that high income black students receive four times the scholarship aid that low-income whites and Asians receive.

Toure pushed back on this argument. Responding to Sander and Taylor’s statement that there is “no evidence” that affirmative action works, Toure cited the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who said that “mismatch” was “junk science” and that the duo’s work was “flawed.” Scholarly standards aside – Sander retorted that their book had been peer reviewed and was up to academic-par – Toure’s argument for affirmative action is definitely something to think about. Where Sander and Taylor are saying that students should attend colleges that they are qualified to attend, Toure is asking why would they, when they could – and probably should –go to Harvard or Yale? The Cycle host said:

“So it’s better for black and brown students to go to second tier schools rather than to go to Harvard or Yale or first tier schools? The entire Supreme Court comes from Harvard or Yale, almost all presidents: Harvard or Yale, all the top of corporate America…so if we follow your prescription then the entire leadership of America would become entirely white, which is just barely a white washing of what we already have. How would that be better for America?”


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Deciding the fate of affirmative action

Updated