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September 19, 2011

What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

                                By Robert Weissberg

student protesters.jpgMost observers have framed the recent disruption by backers of racial and ethnic preferences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a free-speech conflict. Free speech is clearly involved but lying below the surface are three issues that warrant close attention, specifically how Wisconsin once handled "inclusion;" how the protest reflects the transformation of the idea of "opportunity;" and how the university's policies to help select minorities breeds dependency.

I attended UW-Madison from 1965 to 1969 as a graduate student and back then, at least for in-state residents, the University was highly inclusive. It simply admitted the top three-quarters of all Wisconsin high school graduates (non-residents faced tougher standards) and pretty much left them to survive on their own. I recall seeing only a few blacks on campus, but this undoubtedly reflected the state's then largely white demography. Surely, if this generous admission standard were applied today, the affirmative action issue would be moot.

This policy predictably brought massive attrition—it was sink or swim and thousands of Wisconsin kids sank. Everyone just got their shot, nothing more, and that was that. 

What has altered the landscape is Wisconsin’s switch over to a more conventional admission process stressing high grades and class rank in the top 85th to 90th percentile (the official admission rate is now 50.4% of applicants). Some blacks and Hispanics will survive this tough screening, but most, apparently, do not.

So, why doesn’t the inclusive-minded administration just return to the good old days of admitting almost anybody with a pulse and letting them sink or swim? That would eliminate the racial/ethnic unfairness conflict, would be far cheaper and, most of all, permit the university to escape craven dishonesty and possible expensive litigation.

My explanation is that returning to the old policy would eliminate the “achieve social justice” infrastructure and, to be cynical, I’d guess that employing more black and Hispanic administrators is far easier than hiring minority professors. This is all about jobs. The University’s website lists the African American Student Academic Services, American Indian Student Academic Services, Chicano/a Student Academic Services, a Multicultural Student Center, and various multicultural student organizations.  A separate Academic Advancement Program (AAP) exists to assist “underrepresented students” and for four years helps “…create an inclusive campus climate where all members of the campus community feel valued, respected, and free to participate and achieve their highest academic and professional potential.”  AAP “…focuses on academic advising, academic instructional support, academic engagement and enrichment, and community building, which are the four pillars of our program.” The AAP is not, however, to be confused with the Center for Educational Opportunity that works with over 600 students to upgrade their skills and mentors them. And don’t forget the Office of Equity and Diversity targeting underrepresented groups to achieve social justice. And for students struggling with certain subjects, I counted an additional six separate tutoring services.

This is only a sampling and omits what occurs in the admissions office and in feel-good courses on identity politics. One can only wonder how many educationally useless hours were spent crafting the Orwellian mission statements, progress reports and schemes to create yet more bureaucracy.

All this understood, those demonstrating against the Center for Equal Opportunity’s unwanted critique of affirmative action are merely useful idiots saving jobs for diversicrats. After all, restoring the old open-door admissions policy could be done overnight, has zero legal risks and it would boost minority representation on campus though, admittedly, it would be a revolving door for all unqualified students.

diversity protests.jpgThis confrontation also illustrates how “opportunity” has been transformed into today’s egalitarian society.  “Opportunity” traditionally meant a chance to gain a benefit and while this chance is valuable, it was also risky. Attending college may bring a degree which, in turn, may result in a higher income, but this opportunity could also bring academic failure, years of debt and wasted time better spent elsewhere. The degree may also be in easy-to-pass, but vocationally questionable, majors like Black Studies. The benefit to costs ratio for a college degree undoubtedly varies by academic ability—marginal students are more likely to have costs outweigh benefits so they would be better off attending a more academically suitable community college.

Unfortunately, the campaign to push academically iffy students into the UW totally neglects the risk element in the equation. Mere admission is portrayed as the end goal, not the hazardous means to a difficult-to-achieve end. Telling students that admission is all benefits is dishonest and sadly illustrates how some university bureaucrats put their own economic self-interest above the welfare of those they are supposed to be helping. This is an anti-merit policy: the more totally unqualified students admitted, the greater the number of jobs so these diversity administrators necessity must champion low admission standards.

Lastly, compare today’s intensive bureaucracy with the previous sink or swim policy. I’m not sure which approach resulted in more bona fide graduates but I’m convinced that those who managed to swim on their own learned valuable lessons unknown to today marginally students showered with help. Today’s struggling students are being trained for life-time dependency, perfect “citizens” in the nanny welfare state. I can only imagine these graduates getting their first jobs and asking about all the support services.

If honesty were the best policy, those students disrupting Roger Clegg’s talk should have been chanting “Role Models are a Human Right,” “Dependency Forever” and, to borrow a tactic from the animal rights activists, cute pictures of various diversicrats who would be clubbed to death if affirmative action were ended.

 

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Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science, Emeritus at the University of Illinois-Urbana, and occasionally teaches in the NYU Politics Department MA Program.



Comments (10)

Professor Weissberg's excellent post prompts this question: Isn't it problematic for a state agency to call in private individuals and urge them to take sides in a particular controversy? For example, suppose that the local police department, fearing salary cuts by the town council, started calling up individuals within the police department's jurisdiction and telling them, "You really ought to go down to the city hall and join in a protest against these cuts." Is that kind of pressure appropriate -- and how does it differ from what the diversicrats at UW did?

Gloria:

When I was a senior in high school in 1956, everybody knew that anybody could get into the University of Illinois, but also that about 40% of the first year students dropped out at the end of the first semester. That didn't scare anybody. In fact, everybody liked the challenge of it. Everybody knew that if you "made it" though the first semester, you were really smart and deserved everything you got.

I feel sorry for the youths of today; they have to play video games to be challenged. How sad! And how especially sad for African-Americans and Latinos. The diversity industry has certified that they, by virtue of their group membership, can't handle challenges at all.

momof4:

I was an undergrad at another flagship state university in the 60s and the school expected to flunk out a third of the freshman class. Freshman English (lit-based composition) and the freshman sciences were weeder classes, with the implicit idea that the weak and/or lazy should be removed expeditiously. My DH attended a top engineering school that explicitly stated that only 1/3 of the entering class would be present at graduation.

For disabled students, when I was in college (93-99) most didn't want to be "helped" just given the tools to be able to pass the class.

I read for a blind student and a lady with dyslexia. Profs would read the tests to them. The grades were never tilted in their favor, nor did they expect to get any special treatment. Far from it, they wanted to be treated just like the other students.

How sad that students with disabilities will get tossed under the bus. Every "diversity officer" is a waste of skin who takes money from computers and volunteers who could help a disabled student.

We actually had a Hispanic woman claim that the other Hispanic ladies in her office were discriminating against her. One costly lawsuit later and she was paid a settlement and quietly left. All while still being paid by my college.

How many scholarships or research grants or computers (with speech software) could that money have given us?

cas127:

As always, follow the money...

Eduardo:

I note the young woman's sign ("The spot I have, I earned"). If minorities such as her did indeed earn their spots through their own merits, then they have no need for preferential treatment. And if there were no preferential treatment, they everyone would know that they had indeed earned their spots... and there would be no need to defend themselves with such a sign.

But, alas, the desire for preferential treatment remains strong, preventing a future where minorities can be viewed as equal.

Lester:

There was some hubbub last week at Berkeley when the UCB GOP club had a bake sale with discounts for minorities to make a point.

But the bigger point is that AA at Berkeley was designed to keep out American Born Chinese kids from all over the State.

The kids where busting their butts and getting great grades and SATs. These are third and fourth generation Americans, that just happen to Chinese parents.

When AA was removed via the ballot box the % of blacks AND % of whites went down.

I taught for a couple of years at a major state university in the southeast. We were required to flunk nearly 50% of all the freshmen...as there were 9600 freshman slots, but only 4600 sophomore slots. This was in the 1990's. After a stint there, I tossed it all (7 years of education and a nearly useless History Ph.D.) and became a cabinetmaker. I love what I do, but hate what has become a bureaucratic nightmare, called "academia."

Marty:

I rather doubt that with the increased emphasis on college compared to 1965, UW-Madison could accommodate everyone from the top 3/4 of all WI high school classes who might want to go there. So, they would then have to sort them out between the flagship campus and each of the others (assuming the entire system would be big enough), and you're right back where you started with some process, run by some people, to decide who goes where. The only ways around that would to make all campuses identical in prestige and quality of programs (not just equal overall, but really identical), or have each campus specialize in only certain programs such that, say, Physics is only offered at one campus so there's no question about going to the more prestigious or higher end Physics epartment. But that would get messy with electives other requiremnts outside the major, and students being able to try other curricula before they commit, and those places really wouldn't be "universities" anymore; accreditation might be a challenge.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, tho the best would be to tell all these people, diversity administrators and students alike, to sit down and shut up. But that won't happen as long as one ambitious politician and one liberal media outlet still exist in Wisconsin.

JoeS:

We should feel sorry for minority children. They are trapped in teachers union thug schools. They are not offered equal education in their ghetto jokes of schools.

They are so mentally numbed, they reelect the ones who cheated them. Compton, CA has reelected democrats for 50 years. Hey, maybe you should try something else...

Give the children vouchers. George W Bush started the DC Voucher for these children. It was successful. Cancelling the DC Voucher was the first action Obama took. The union thugs own Obama. He cares more for the thugs than he does for the children.

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