‘Yes, the Kids Are Intolerant’

Excerpts from a blog on the new site, Heterodox Academy

The overall levels of tolerance in society do fluctuate. People are more willing to restrict political rights to their foes during times of war or international threat. Yet, while the baseline for tolerance fluctuates over time, it has always been the case, until recently, that younger people were the most tolerant. This relationship between age and tolerance is what led Stouffer and others to conclude that our society would grow more tolerant over time. The fact that this trend has now reversed has significant implications. If it continues, we will grow less and less tolerant over time.

My late colleague, Stanley Rothman, makes a compelling and thorough case for the lasting impact of the New Left on American values in his last book, The End of the Experiment. Marcuse is widely regarded by political theorists as the most influential philosopher of the Frankfurt School.

But one doesn’t have to read Rothman’s book to understand that young people are now articulating a New Left philosophy about free speech and academic freedom. Students repeatedly ban speakers who offend their sensibilities while framing their objections in Marcuse’s terms. For example, in an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson last year, a student argues for “academic justice” to replace academic freedom. In this view, universities have a social responsibility to be intolerant towards those who would promote racism, sexism and homophobia.

James Gibson (1992), arguably the leading scholar on tolerance, concludes that intolerance creates a culture of conformity that makes all people more hesitant to exercise political liberties. So this is the irony of speech codes. When we teach students to silence racists, they also silence Muslims, atheists, and anyone who makes other people uncomfortable. Intolerance creates a general prohibition on controversial expression.

My research finds that the younger generation perceives a tension between social justice and free speech that previous generations did not.

Those under 40 who have a social justice orientation are generally more intolerant than those who do not. Again, this relationship is not present for those over 40. Those over 40 tend to articulate classical liberal philosophies, which emphasize the right to expression, even for our political foes. Ludwig von Mises argued that liberalism “demands toleration for doctrines and opinions that it deems detrimental and ruinous to society” since “only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace.”

Perhaps there are other forces that explain these generational gaps in attitudes towards free expression. What is clear, however, is that older generation behaves as if they are influenced by classical liberalism and younger generations are behaving as if they were influenced by the New Left.

Yes, the kids are intolerant. That is, they are intolerant if we define tolerance as researchers have for the past six decades, as a measure of willingness to extend basic democratic rights to those one finds most objectionable.

The Tenured Oligarchy

The joke goes like this:

When Brezhnev first became President he invited his elderly mother to come up and see his suite of offices in the Kremlin and then put her in his limousine and drove her to his fabulous apartment there in Moscow. She spoke not a word. Then he put her in his helicopter and took her out to the country home outside Moscow in a forest. And, again, not a word. Finally, he put her in his private jet and down to the shores of the Black Sea to see that marble palace which is known as his beach home. She looked quite distressed. He asked “Mother don’t you like how well I have done for myself?” Finally she spoke. “Yes Leonid it is all lovely, but what if the Communists come back?”

So it is with virtually all nominally left-wing projects, and so it is with higher education in America. All the rhetoric is about the egalitarian mission and the creation of opportunity for the underprivileged. But if the project endures, the coin of the realm ends up in the hands of a tenured elite.

In a recent and scathing interview in Salon, Camille Paglia savaged leftist academics. She wrote:

[I]n the 1990s, I was saying that the academic leftists were such fraud–sitting around applying Foucault to texts and thinking that was leftism! …. Real ’60s radicals rarely went to grad school and never became big-wheel humanities professors, with their fat salaries and perks.  The proof of the vacuity of academic leftism for the past forty years is the complete silence of leftist professors about the rise of the corporate structure of the contemporary university–their total failure to denounce the gross expansion of the administrator class and the obscene rise in tuition costs. The leading academic leftists are such frauds–they’ve played the system and are retiring as millionaires!

I knew Camille way back when. We were both undergraduates at Harpur College from 1964 to 1968, and shared a group of friends. She is one of the most intriguing and engaging social commentators of our era. Camille has a uniquely authentic and vibrant voice, refreshing in an era flooded with the trite and false.

Her background is in the classics and the visual arts and her take on contemporary political, economic, intellectual and social culture is both informed and limited by that background.

Where I think she is spot on is her accusation that much of the left-wing professoriate, which is to say most of the folks in the social sciences and humanities, are a privileged class being rewarded out of all proportion to their contribution.

While only some tenured professors are handsomely paid, virtually all are grossly underworked. Teaching loads for tenured professors have been falling steadily for the last half century. The standard teaching load at the “better” universities is now two classes a semester, with many senior faculty teaching only one course.

At the same time that the tenured elite relaxes in the faculty lounge, a rapidly growing army of non-tenure-track adjuncts and lecturers pick up the slack.

In effect, those on the tenure track have slammed the door behind themselves so that they need not share the “economic rents” too widely. The gangs of adjuncts working for a pittance are the modern university’s Helots.

In addition to the light teaching loads, the tenured faculty extracts its “economic rents” by choosing to teach what they find of interest rather than what the students value. As a result while the professoriate prospers, the core liberal arts curriculum has become progressively less serious, meaningful and engaging to students. The proportion of English and history majors has as a result been declining steadily. All this at the same time tuitions have increased ten-fold in nominal terms over the last forty years while the consumer price index has risen three-fold.

Camille is exercised by the implicit hypocrisy of the nominally egalitarian left-wing professoriate happily profiting from this transformation of the university. She sees this as indictment of their character. Well, maybe so, but the root cause of this looting of the university by the faculty is less a failure of people and more a failure of institutions.

The phenomenon has a straightforward banal explanation—nobody is minding the store. Universities in America are overwhelmingly either government enterprises or non-profit institutions—and there is little difference between the two with respect to the pathologies they display. “Non-profit institutions”! That benign, anodyne, sounding term, conceals a deceit. To the naïve, the term suggests that no one absconds with the profit because there is none to be had. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Because a non-profit firm has no owners, no residual claimants, its ultimate authority is exercised by a board of trustees. The board is expected to govern the institution for a grand purpose independent of their own personal interest or that a shareholder, and in doing so they are to endeavor to get maximum value on the dollar.

Collectively and individually the trustees should be deeply attached to the mission and scrupulous with regard to their fiduciary duties. I suspect that that is how it was at Harvard and William and Mary three centuries ago. But that model is now a quaint anomaly and anachronism at virtually all universities.

At almost all universities the Board of Trustees now functions as a rubber stamp and cheerleader. Indeed when on rare occasions boards try to play their nominal role and govern the institution as in the attempt to remove Teresa Sullivan at the University of Virginia as President two years ago, substantial portions of the faculty revolt in protest. So if the board of trustees does not run the university then who does? And on whose behalf?

The modern university is run by and in the interest of an amalgam of the senior employees, both teaching faculty and senior administrators. It has become a dysfunctional combination of an equalitarian partnership, worker-owned firms in the former Yugoslavia, and non-profit corporations.

Most faculty of all political stripes, but most embarrassingly on the left, are studiously unaware of, and would deny, the moral failings outlined here. They would deny or justify their privileged status. As Milton Friedman once said, ‘it is extraordinary how often we find that that which is in my private interest is also for the public good.’

Camille tries to cast opprobrium on the university by referring to its “corporate structure.” Alas, the word corporate has become little more than a vacuous epithet in the modern patois. I will forgive her this inapt use of the term; she is out of her field of expertise. The pity is that universities are not for-profit corporations. Were they so, there would be far more efficiency and honesty in their operation and structure.

Lloyd Cohen is a professor of law at the George Mason School of Law.

College Scorecard: How Much Will You Earn?

Sixty-six percent of the graduates of my alma mater earn more than people who have only a high-school diploma.  This fact comes courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education’s new “College Scorecard.”  I took advantage of the online interactive system to see how well Haverford College alumni stack up in the race to achieve financial stability.

The new College Scorecard has been pretty well received since it debuted on September 12.  It replaces one that originally debuted in February 2013, but which lacked much of the financial data President Obama promised in his 2013 State of the Union speech.

Hillsdale Excluded

The new, more data-rich version has occasioned reflections ranging from worries about the “more than one out of every three student borrowers nationwide” who fail to “make any progress in repaying their loans,” as Michael Stratford put it in Inside Higher Ed, to complaints that the Obama administration abandoned the rankings it had promised would be part of the new Scorecard because of pressure from college presidents and “organizations,” as NPR put it.  Meanwhile conservatives noted that the Department of Education had simply excluded from the Scorecard colleges such as Hillsdale and Grove City.

The snub to Hillsdale was especially interesting.  Obama had promised the Scorecard would cover “every institution of higher education.”  John Hinderaker on Powerline picked up the story that Assistant Press Secretary for the Department of Education Denise Horn defended Hillsdale’s exclusion on the grounds that the famed liberal arts college primarily awards “certificates” rather than bachelor’s degrees.  This is simply false, and it is a little disconcerting that another federal project aimed at creating greater transparency in an important sector of the economy has been launched trailing clouds of obfuscation.

But it is probably better to take the Scorecard for what it is rather than for what is missing.  It is a scorecard that declines to say who is winning or even what all the teams are, but it does provide vast quantities of data if only we can figure out how to make sense of the numbers.  Here I will try my hand at that, starting with Haverford.

Diving Into the Numbers

That 66 percent of Haverford grads who out-earn their high-school-only counterparts is a number that in pristine isolation doesn’t mean much.  If I had to guess, I would have thought more than two-thirds of the ‘fordians abroad in the big world would be out-earning the kids who decided to live the lifestyles for which a high school diploma alone entitles you.

Now, when I think about it, I see the complications.  Some Haverfordians pursue self-sacrificial career choices.  They spend their lives paying witness to social justice crusades that Don Quixote himself would have thought lunatic.  They turn conservative and seek careers in higher education, where they are relegated to Flying Dutchman lives as perpetual adjuncts.  You get the picture.  Haverford, with its active Quaker tradition, may be a little deficient in stoking the profit motive in its young charges.

And on the other side of the equation, some high-school grads have the Midas touch.  They get at least a four-year advantage in acquiring marketable skills and seniority. And if they have the knack for earning money by building, repairing, selling, cooking, or renting things, they can thrive in this America.

So maybe 66 percent of my fellow grads out-earning their high-school counterparts is reasonable.  But what I really need to do is see how that 66 percent matches up with other colleges.  But maybe first I’d better check the fine print in College Scorecard.

Look at the Fine Print

The Big Print says “Salary after Attending” Haverford is $55,600.  The fine print explains that this means “The median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid, at 10 years after entering the school.”  The 66 percent figure likewise turns out to have some qualifiers.  It refers to the percentage of former students who earn more than $25,000, “the average earnings of a high school graduate aged 25-34, 6 years after they first enroll.”  Got that?

I am suddenly struck that a third of the graduates aged under age 34 are earning less than $25,000.  Perhaps they are spending their 20s in graduate programs, writing dissertations, doing post-docs, and making ends meet with odd jobs.  That was pretty much my life.  Or they have enrolled in law schools in the ill-founded expectation that a lucrative career at a major law firm would be waiting three years out, and are now hustling real estate or tending bar.

There is this little consolation, written into every College Scorecard graph.  The national average earnings for the up-to-10-years-out is $34,343.  So ten years after graduation, the average Haverfordian has a premium of $30,600 in annual salary over the average high-school-only graduate, and a $21,257 premium over the average college graduate. That sounds like a pretty good deal.

Especially since the average annual cost of attending Haverford is $18,853.  That figure is also from the College Scorecard. It includes only students who take federal financial aid.  The Scorecard also breaks it down by family income.  A family with under $30,000 in annual income pays on average a net Haverford bill of only $5,685.  Oddly the average cost falls for families on the $30,000 to $48,000 range to $5,599.  Then it quickly escalates:  $15,612 for family incomes up to $75,000; $18,476 for family incomes up to $110,000; and $38,323 for family incomes above that.

College Grants

The College Scorecard doesn’t say, but Haverford’s official tuition is $48,656; room and board is $14,888; and the student activity fee is $442, for a grand total of $63,986 per year.  So those net college costs reported by the College Scorecard represent hefty discounts from the sticker price.  In fact, more than half of Haverford students also receive “college grants” and these grants average $40,014.

Putting costs and potential income together, one could conclude that Haverford is a reasonably wise “investment” for a young person who seeks a liberal arts education without undue risk of poor earnings or insupportable debt.  “Typical total debt” for Haverford graduates, according to the Scorecard, is $13,854.  The fine print explains, however, the “total” in “typical total debt” isn’t total at all.  It is just total federal student debt—excluding private debt and debt secured by students’ parents such Federal PLUS loans.  Nor does “typical” mean typical.  $13,854 is a median figure, and only 20 percent of Haverford students receive federal loans.

So it is not surprising that a robust 95 percent of Haverford graduates who took federal student loans have paid “at least $1 of the principal balance” within three years of leaving school.  I do wonder about the remaining 5 percent who could not scrounge up even that much.  The national average among college students paying down their debt is 67 percent.


My apologies to readers who have steadfastly walked beside me through those numbers.  The main things to be taken from them, I would say, is that the Department of Education has assisted a very expensive college in its efforts to look affordable and that the DOE has also advanced the narrative that traditional colleges are still a financial bargain for most of the students who attend them.

To go deeper than this requires that you make comparisons, and the Scorecard certainly lends itself to both consumer shopping for the highest rates of return on “investment” in college expenses and to various sorts of ranking.  NPR’s Planet Money team provided some of the rankings that the Department of Education decided not to.  The Planet Money team came up with several analyses.  Anthony Carnevale’s list offers no great surprises:  his rankings, which blend income and some other factors, put Harvard first, with the median wage of graduates ten years after entry as $87,200.  Next are MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Babson.  The highest median earnings, however, come not to Harvard grads but to MITers, at $91,600.  Number six on the list is the Georgia Institute of Technology, at $74,000—then Georgetown, the University of Pennsylvania, and “University of the Sciences in Philadelphia” (the new name for the former Philadelphia College of Pharmacy), and so on.

Other Planet Money lists focus on colleges that emphasize upward mobility and colleges that leave students with “little debt and good financial opportunities.”  The lists differ in appreciable ways. Duke is number 13 on Carnevale’s list, absent on the upward mobility list, and number 1 on the best financial sense list.

We will be playing this new game for many years to come.  It is nothing to be especially happy about:  just one more step in the fatal march towards treating higher education as a commodity.


The data plays into the hands of those who are endlessly preoccupied with the forms of “inequality” in our society.  Kevin Carey writing in the New York Times observed, “the deeper that you delve into the data, the more clear it becomes how perilous the higher education market can be for students making expensive, important choices that don’t always pay off.”

Yes, the data show that, which one might say is a reason to be a little more cautious in how emphatically we speak of college as an “investment.”  Carey, however, turns his attention to the “earnings gender gap” revealed by the data.  At Duke, the median earnings for women graduates are $93,100—which is pretty nice.  But the median for Duke’s male alumni ten-years-out is $123,000.  What are we going to do about it? Carey doesn’t say but he is broadly on the side of “need-based financial aid to low-income students.”

Carey does give a nod to the danger of “defining higher education in purely economic terms.”  But the risk he sees arises from “corporatization of the modern university,” which scants the need for students to learn to be better citizens, and the need for “dancers and poets” as well as “investment bankers and tech entrepreneurs.”

He goes not nearly far enough.  Higher education is about entrusting to each new generation the legacy of a civilization.  We learn—or we should learn—respect for reason, civil dialogue, the great accomplishments of art and science, the enormity of our failures, the profundity of our ideals, and a great deal more that makes us not just capable of carrying forward a society worth living in but an eagerness to do so.  A college education rightly conceived prepares its graduates for leadership in that society, not just material success—and maybe not even material success, since a high income ten-years-out isn’t necessarily the only or the best mark of leadership.

Ideals Matter

To say these sorts of things, of course, is to risk a derisory smile or two.  The worldly wise know that money counts, and faced with enormous tuition bills and substantial debt, nearly everyone will consult the numbers first and the ineffable ideals maybe later.

But the ideals are, in the end, what matters.  There would be no college education for anyone if Western civilization hadn’t created and sustained the conditions for higher education.  Our colleges and universities now coast on the considerable momentum of that achievement, but they do little to replenish it.  The College Scorecard is one more step downward towards a utilitarian calculus of learning—a calculus promoted far more by the egalitarian left than the freedom-minded right.

I suspect we would have been better off as a nation without having launched this particular invitation to compare paychecks, but there is probably no going back.  Those of us who care about defending liberal learning against the tendency to dissolve everything in the universal solvent of money have one more obstacle.  And no doubt our overpriced and profligate colleges and universities have brought this on themselves.

A One-Sided Law Meeting

In the week that a new organization, Heterodox Academy, was established to press for more ideological diversity in academic life, the learned association in my own profession showed how much it is needed. The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) sent around a notice of its prospective annual meeting, highlighting its most prominent speakers. Of the thirteen announced, none is associated predominantly with the Republican party, but eleven are associated with the Democratic Party. Many are prominent liberals. None is a conservative or libertarian.

Five are judges, including Stephen Breyer, all appointed by Democrats. Another is the incoming Senate leader of the Democrats. Three others contributed predominantly to Democrats. One for whom no contributions could be found held a fund raiser for President Obama. Another worked for the Democratic side of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Clinton.

It is true that Michael Bloomberg is also speaking. He has been at various points a Democratic and a Republican and is now an independent. Perhaps the AALS thought that a single person could create diversity through his many political avatars! But seriously, Bloomberg, who has crusaded for gun control and limitations on permissible ounces in a sugary soda, does not resemble a conservative or libertarian. He ran as a Republican in 2001 for Mayor of New York City because it was the nomination he could acquire.

Now my point is not to disparage the highlighted speakers. They are all eminent men and women. Some have even taken positions friendly to ordered liberty.  Deborah Rhode has made excellent arguments for the deregulation of the legal profession. But when everyone shares largely convergent premises, intellectual discourse is stunted. And the lack of diversity is particularly embarrassing in the legal academy. As Professor Nicholas Rosenkranz of Georgetown Law School has observed about the homogeneity in law schools:

it is a fundamental axiom of American law that the best way to get to truth is through the clash of zealous advocates on both sides. All of these law professors have, in theory, dedicated their lives to the study of this axiomatically adversarial system. And yet . . . . on most of the important issues of the day, one side of the debate is dramatically underrepresented, or not represented at all.

And in my experience many of the panels at the AALS reflect the same lack of political diversity as the highlighted speakers. Indeed, the Federalist Faculty Convention, which is held at the same time as the AALS, assembles panels with a wide range of viewpoints that are more fruitful and entertaining.

The obliviousness of the AALS to need for political diversity stands in stark contrast to its relentless push for gender, racial, and ethnic diversity. Harvey Mansfield once noted that diversity in academics often approximates that in the famous Coca Cola commercial—a group of people from all over the world singing in happy harmony. For discussion of law, however, dissonant chords would create more memorable music.

Reprinted with permission from Law and Liberty

Admissions Stacked Against Asians–It’s OK with the Feds

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has dismissed the longstanding discrimination complaints of Asian Americans, giving Ivy League and other institutions a green light to continue chromatically contouring the results of their “holistic” admissions processes so that applicants who are black or brown or red consistently are admitted with lower academic scores than applicants who are yellow or white. Word of the decision came in a 20-page September 9 letter to Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber.

Although Princeton readily conceded, “It does sometimes consider the race and national origin of applicants for admission,” the OCR concluded that it had not engaged in “patently unconstitutional” racial balancing.

As Roger Clegg has pointed out, the OCR did not deny that Princeton engaged in racial balancing or racial discrimination. It just red that these racial practices are not illegal under  the Grutter vs. Bollinger ruling.

Does Grutter Apply?

What is interesting here is not OCR’s conclusion (when has any Obama administration agency or ally ever concluded that any organization has ever discriminated against Asians or whites?), but that it reached its conclusion without even considering, much less rebutting, the vast breadth and depth of evidence presented by the complainants revealing differential treatment.

For example, as I discussed here, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, who supports affirmative action, found in his 2009 book that black applicants to selective universities receive “a 450-point ‘boost’ compared to otherwise similarly qualified Asian applicants.” In an earlier article, Espenshade and a colleague demonstrated that if affirmative action were eliminated across the nation, “Asian students would fill nearly four out of every five places in the admitted class” now taken by African-American and Hispanic students.

A Tower of Evidence

A Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Golden, author of The Price of Admission, cited a study of the University of Michigan  by the Center for Equal Opportunity that found “among applicants with a 1240 SAT score and 3.2 grade point average in 2005, the university admitted 10% of Asian-Americans, 14% of whites, 88% of Hispanics and 92% of blacks.” Much more of this sort of evidence showing that Asians have much higher admission hurdles in the Ivy League than other applicants can be found here, here, and here

How, you must wonder, did OCR refute or respond to all this evidence that to be admitted to the Ivies and other selective institutions Asians must have higher grades and test scores than members of other groups? Easy. It did not. Instead, it concluded that Asians had not been subject to discrimination by accepting Princeton’s argument that a few Asians were admitted with lower academic credentials than some rejected non-Asians:

  • “The University … reported, and OCR’s file review confirmed, that less than stellar grades or test scores do not mean that an applicant is automatically foreclosed from admission. OCR in its file review found examples of applicants who did not have the highest quantifiable qualifications, such as grades and test scores, who were nonetheless admitted by the University based on other qualities and the overall strength of their applications. Some of these applicants were Asian.”
  • “The University reported to OCR that the University ‘frequently accepted to the Class of 2010 applicants from Asian backgrounds with grades and test scores lower than rejected non-Asian applicants.’”
  • “The University gave OCR specific examples of Asian American applicants for the Class of 2010 whose grades and SAT scores were not near the top of the range usually seen by the University’s admissions officers, but who nonetheless were offered admission.”
  • “As the University told OCR, regarding the Class of 2010, the University “denied admission to literally hundreds of non-Asian applicants for the Class of 2010 who were valedictorians, and over three-thousand non-Asian applicants with a 4.0 GPA. These non-Asian applicants were not admitted despite the fact that many Asian students who did not have these academic credentials were admitted.”
  • “OCR found no evidence of the University giving an automatic ‘plus’ for identifying as a particular race or national origin; nor did OCR find evidence of applicants given an automatic ‘minus’ for belonging to a particular race or national origin.”
  • “OCR also found no evidence of the University using a fixed formula to weigh an applicant’s race or national origin.”

“In sum,” OCR concluded, “OCR found that the University treated each applicant as an individual, without making an applicant’s race or national origin a defining characteristic. Accordingly, OCR found no evidence of the different treatment of Asian applicants.”

Not Discrimination Because…

In short, OCR concluded that Princeton does not discriminate because

  • Asian applicants are not “automatically foreclosed from admission.”
  • A few Asians are admitted with lower academic credentials than many rejected non-Asians are. [It would be interesting to know how many, if any, blacks or Hispanics were rejected with higher grades and test scores than some Asians who were admitted].
  • The “plusses” awarded to blacks and Hispanics, and the “minuses” in effect awarded to Asians and whites, were not “automatic.”
  • However the University may have prevented the admission of too many Asians, it did not “impose a fixed number or percentage which must be attained, or which cannot be exceeded.”

Unexpected Effects

Since this conclusion comes from an administration notorious for seeing disparate impact discrimination anywhere and everywhere racial outcomes are even ever so mildly disproportionate, calling it hypocritical hardly seems to do it justice. Maybe we need a new word, such as hyper hypocritical. In fact, this OCR ruling is so bad, that it may well have some very good effects. Here are two:

  1. It will buttress the defense of other organizations accused by this administration (or, heaven forbid, similar future administrations) of discrimination. Following OCR’s analysis, for example, a school district accused of racially disparate discipline rates need produce in its defense evidence of only a few occasions when whites or Asians were disciplined for behavior for which blacks were not punished. Ditto for racial profiling by police.
  1. It should persuade Justice Kennedy that Grutter needs to be revisited when the Court considers the return of Fisher v. University of Texas next term. OCR insisted repeatedly that Princeton’s treatment of Asian applicants was legal under Grutter, which was mentioned or quoted 47 times in its 20-page ruling and cited in 27 of its 49 footnotes. I don’t think that conclusion is correct, but every selective institution in the country that subjects Asians to differential treatment (probably all of them except for Caltech) thinks so, as do their enablers in the Obama administration and four Justices of the Supreme Court. If Justice Kennedy believes Grutter allows — or even that it allows so many to believe it allows — the Ivies and others to treat Asians the way Princeton does, he may well conclude that it should be overruled or significantly modified.

One last point deserves attention, among other reasons because it also is involved in the Fisher v. University of Texas case that the Supremes will revisit this fall: how do institutions that strive for racial and ethnic diversity define race and ethnicity?

Need to Be Culturally Aware

“OCR’s review of more than 1,000 application files for the Class of 2010 showed that sometimes the race or national origin of an applicant garnered positive attention (as indicated by comments made by admissions staff on the reader cards),” OCR noted in its Princeton letter; “sometimes it did not.” In OCR’s view, the fact that Princeton did now always award “plus” points for race or ethnicity, or not enough to guarantee admission, means it was not engaged in racial discrimination. In fact, it means its discrimination was egregious, since it attempted to admit only members of racial and ethnic groups who were “culturally aware” of their identity. That is, only “true” blacks and Hispanics need apply.

OCR is so oblivious to this offensive insult that it even provides evidence of it in its letter. Consider the following revealing passage:

For example, for an applicant attending high school in the U.S., admissions staff commented that “Polish heritage is neat but not a hook”; and based on other information in the record, the applicant was not offered admission. On the other hand, admissions staff noted that for a Mexican applicant attending high school in the U.S., the individual was a “cultural add as well”; and based on other information in the record, the applicant was waitlisted…. However, for another applicant of Hispanic national origin also attending high school in the U.S., admissions staff wrote that there was “No cultural flavor” in the application; and based on other information in the record, the applicant was not even waitlisted. For another applicant who was waitlisted, admissions staff wrote that the applicant was a “true American Native . . . One to do.”

Being Polish Doesn’t Count

One would love for Princeton to explain why Polish heritage isn’t “a hook” (are there too many Poles at Princeton?), what its tastes are in Mexican “cultural flavor,” and how it can tell a “true American Native” from a presumably counterfeit one (like Elizabeth Warren, perhaps). What all of this determining the true from the false identity on the basis of “cultural awareness” amounts to the same thing Rush Limbaugh parodies with his reference to the NAACP as in fact the NAACLP, the National Association for the Advancement of Liberal Colored People and that liberals used in opposing President Bush’s nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Court of Appeals because, as I discussed here and here, “Estrada isn’t Hispanic enough to represent Hispanic interests on the bench.”

Like Princeton, in its original Supreme Court brief in Fisher the University of Texas also asserted, “No automatic advantage or value is assigned to race …, and race is considered ‘in conjunction with an applicant’s demonstrated sense of cultural awareness.” As I pointed out at the time in National Review, Texas does not “explain how admissions officials determine whether applicants have demonstrated a ‘sense of cultural awareness.’”

The current Fisher amicus brief for the Cato Institute makes the same point:

In deposition testimony submitted at the summary-judgment stage, the only thing the University’s admissions representatives would say regarding the way the University uses race is that they value a “sense of cultural awareness.” …. That distinctive phrase — “cultural awareness” — appears a dozen times in the testimony of the University’s admissions consultant, …  as well as repeatedly in the testimony of the University’s associate director of admissions, who is responsible for admissions policy. In fact, it is the only evidence the district court was able to muster when it sought to describe how the University actually uses race in evaluating applications. No other evidence supports any connection between the University’s use of race in holistic review and its avowed diversity goal

OCR’s, Princeton’s, and Texas’s argument to the contrary notwithstanding, the fact that being black or brown is insufficient to gain “plus points” does not mean race or ethnicity is not very important On the contrary, it means that institutions claim the right not only to distribute benefits on the basis of race and ethnicity but also to limit those benefits to those who conform to the “cultural flavors” approved by their admissions offices.