Posted By David A. Lehrer, Hon. Richard J. Riordan, and Joe R. Hicks
In the wake of the celebrations and commentaries regarding the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” oration, it’s sobering to realize that we have almost become inured to allegations of discrimination and claims of subsequent disadvantage; they have almost become commonplace. Nearly every week brings a group ready to assert that its rights have been trammeled by the “system” or some other malefactor, and many of us yawn.
That makes it all the more surprising that one group, who appears to genuinely be the subject of widespread bigotry, seems relatively quiet---Asian Americans. It is astonishing that voices of protest haven’t been raised and indignation expressed about the treatment of Asian Americans in academia.
Asian Americans and their academic success have become the targets of “acceptable” bigotry and rank discrimination for some time, but it is only recently that social science research and some interesting “insider” revelations offer evidence that Asians are indeed getting the short end of the stick in higher education.
In a recently published article sociologist Frank Samson reported on some disturbing findings. A group of white students expressed support for university admissions policies that emphasized objective measures of academic success (i.e. grade point averages and standardized test scores) until they learned that those policies resulted in the continued increase of Asian American students as a percentage of the student population of a hypothetical university (where Asians would be a plurality of the students). The academic success of Asians was sufficient to undermine many of the respondents’ commitment to grades, test scores and other color and race blind criteria.
When told of the Asian students’ success, many of the participants moved up “leadership” as a relevant admission criteria and, in evaluating the applicant files, they expected “a lower minimum class rank to admit a white applicant and expect[ed] a higher minimum percentile test score to admit an Asian American applicant,” (the mock college applications were identical except for the race of the “applicant”).
This study came on the heels of a New York Times’ article several weeks ago in which a former “external reader” of applications to the engineering program at UC Berkeley revealed that the subtle and not so subtle messages from the trainers of the readers were to consider race and ethnicity (despite the clear law in California barring such considerations) in evaluating applications. The author quoted one trainer who dismissed her query as to why an Asian student she had awarded a 2 to (a very high score) was lowered to a 3----“Oh, you’ll get a lot of them” she was told. As the author wondered, "Which them?..... Did she mean I’d see a lot of 4.0 G.P.A.’s, or a lot of applicants whose bigger picture would fail to advance them, or a lot of …. Asian applicants? (Berkeley is 43 percent Asian, 11 percent Latino and 3 percent black)?"
The thrust of the Times’ piece was that Berkeley was encouraging, without being explicit, the admission of poor, ethnic and racial minority applicants except for Asians---discriminating against one minority group to promote others.
Other recent research data seem to indicate that rank discrimination against Asian applicants is occurring, far less subtle than at Berkeley, at America’s most elite universities, the Ivies. In an exhaustive tome published last year in The American Conservative, Ron Unz, its publisher, analyzed admits to Ivy League schools over the past few decades and found some startling data suggesting quotas on Asians are in place.
In almost every year between 1995 and 2011 the Asian enrollment in Ivy League schools has averaged 16.5%, this fairly constant admission rate contrasts with the quantum leap in the number of Asians in the United States over this same period. Census data reveals that Asian Americans have increased from approximately 7.3 million in 1990 to approximately 14.7 million in 2010, “growing at the fastest pace of any American racial group…..the college-age ratio of Asians to whites increased by 94 percent between 1994 and 2011.” Despite the vast increase in the potential pool of qualified Asian applicants, the Ivies admission rates have barely budged.
One might conjecture that there may not be numbers of high achieving Asian applicants among that increased population so perhaps nothing is awry. But there is a control group that demonstrates that there is no shortage of talented Asian applicants---- the Asian admits to a non-Ivy elite school, Caltech (which uses a strictly academic set of criteria for evaluating applicants). Their numbers have increased from approximately 22% of admissions in 1990 to around 40% in 2011.
The evidence suggests that there is widespread tolerance for discrimination that disadvantages Asians in university admissions---young people denied access to opportunities on the basis of their race. The notion that “you’ll get a lot of them” seems to have fostered an attitude that it’s permissible to turn away students on the basis of race by employing “holistic” evaluations that are in the words of one analyst “opaque….flexible… and allow enormous discretion;” these ostensibly race unconscious processes have “the disadvantage of deliberate obfuscation,” as former Supreme Court Justice David Souter has written.
It is time to end the bigotry against Asian kids which has been tolerated and justified by far too many for far too long. Bigotry and discrimination are unfair and illegal no matter the “benign” motives of the perpetrator or the race of the victims.
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August 28, 2013 | 10:54 am
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Today's OC Register has an op/ed by Community Advocates' Joe Hicks. He analyses the progress that has been made and some of the challenges that remain fifty years after Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream oration.
Today's Wall Street Journal carries an incisive op/ed (click for link) by one of the nation's most thoughtful and honest commentators on race and related issues, Prof. John McWhorter. It's worth a read as well.
Civil rights and civil wrongs
by Joe R. Hicks
Fifty years ago the largest crowd that had ever gathered on the Washington Mall listened as speakers from civil rights organizations took the podium to demand “jobs and justice.” The speech that galvanized the audience, believed by many to be one of the greatest ever given by an American orator, was delivered by an impassioned young preacher, Martin Luther King Jr. He told the crowd “I still have a dream.”
His speech was largely improvised, and King said his dream was that “… this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
How well has the country done in that regard? America is not a racial Nirvana. However, a few facts from the past show just how far the nation has come in a very short period.
In 1940, 87 percent of blacks lived in poverty. That number was down to 47 percent in 1960, and 28 percent in 2011. The black college population has grown from 45,000 in 1940 to well over 1.4 million today, a thirtyfold increase. Those with college degrees has increased fourteenfold. Median incomes of black families, when adjusted for inflation, is 80 percent higher today than black families at the time of the March on Washington.
Forty-three years ago there were only 1,469 black elected officials in the entire nation. That number had risen to 10,500 by 2011. In 2008 the nation elected a bi-racial man, Barack Obama, as president and selected him again to serve for a second term. Eric Holder, a black man, serves as the nation's attorney general and the president's security advisor is Susan Rice, a black woman.
It is noteworthy that with all the angst among current black leaders over voter ID laws, in the 2012 presidential election blacks voted at higher rates than whites, according to Census data.
This must all be measured against the nation's race relations when King gave his speech. Only one year later, James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Scherer were tortured and killed by members of the Mississippi White Knights of Ku Klux Klan. Nine years earlier, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was tortured, shot and dumped into Mississippi's Tallahatchie River, the body weighted-down by a cotton gin fan tied around his neck by barbed wire.
In 1963, the nation's black citizens – in what was called the “Deep South” – could not vote, were restricted from using public accommodations, subjected to anti-miscegenation laws, forced to attend “separate but equal” public schools, and hemmed in by racist home ownership and rental covenants. Jim Crow laws still dominated the social order and, as Eleanor Holmes Norton recently said, “it was perfectly acceptable in 1963” to be a racist. She added “it's not respectable” today.
Still, problems do persist. Among racial and ethnic groups, blacks are over-represented among homicide victims; blacks were 55 percent of homicide victims in 2010, but only 13 percent of the population. In the early 1960s, births to unwed black mothers stood at 25 percent. Today, more than half of all black children live in fatherless households, and only about 25 percent of black women over 18 are married and living with a spouse.
Today's civil rights leaders grudgingly admit progress has been made, and then resort to divisive rhetoric, missing the real issues facing the country. The task for today's civil rights leaders, if they wish to remain relevant, is to take on today's daunting urban dysfunction.
August 9, 2013 | 2:16 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Last weekend an eye opening article appeared in The New York Times that should have sparked a California-wide, if not a national, discussion: Are public universities ignoring the US Supreme Court and violating California law to achieve a goal they think transcends the rule of law that most of us adhere to?
Specifically, the admissions process at UC Berkeley is being called into question by a former “external reader” who helped Berkeley evaluate applicants to the engineering program at the university. The author’s description of the subtle, and not so subtle, messages that were imparted to consider racial and ethnic diversity, despite the explicit law to the contrary, are troubling.
In June the US Supreme Court decision in Fisher v University of Texas affirmed the constitutionality of the goal of diversity in student admissions but it also laid out some fairly clear ground rules that effectively banned the use of racial/ethnic classifications in the admissions process (at least until “race neutral alternatives” are exhausted). In other words, the Court allows that diversity can be a goal of the admissions process but identifying and admitting applicants by race is a last resort that will be subjected to the strictest scrutiny and can only be justified if all else fails.
In California, public universities must also grapple with the strictures of Proposition 209, which was adopted in 1996 and bans the use of race and ethnicity as criteria for admission. That ban is not ambiguous or qualified, it is absolute.
In the face of those two bars on utilizing racial and ethnic criteria for admissions evaluations comes The New York Times’ piece by Ruth A. Starkman (a writing and ethics teacher at Stanford who served as an “external reader” for UC engineering applicants for the 2011 admissions class), who suggests that through winks and nods and not-so-subtle messages, the university made clear that certain applicant groups are favored (those subject to “stressors”) and some aren’t (“you’ll get a lot of them”) in their “holistic” evaluation process. If the evaluator didn’t discern the cues, she was told “to get with the program.”
Starkman describes how “officials were careful not to mention gender, ethnicity and race during our training sessions. Norming examples were our guide.” Yet their desires were implicitly communicated. When Starkman asked her trainer about an Asian student who,
I thought was a 2 but only received a 3 [the lower the number the greater the likelihood of admission], the officer noted: ‘Oh, you’ll get a lot of them.’ She said the same when I asked about why a low income student with top grades and scores, and who had served in the Israeli army, was a 3. Which them? I had wondered. Did she mean I’d see a lot of 4.0 G.P.A.’s, or a lot of applicants whose bigger picture would fail to advance them, or a lot of Jewish and Asian applicants?
Starkman was told that she “was not with the program”, she needed to adjust her rankings. “I was told I needed more 1’s and referrals. A referral is a flag that a student’s grades and scores do not make the cut but the application merits a special read because of “stressors’---socioeconomic disadvantages that admission offices can use to increase diversity.” Starkman observes,
Why did I hear so many times from the assistant director? I think I got lost in the unspoken directives. Some things can’t be spelled out, but they have to be known. Application readers must simply pick it up by osmosis, so that the process of detecting objective factors of disadvantage becomes tricky.
In the Fisher case last June, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented from the majority decision and perceptively warned about the deception that would come if race and ethnicity were eliminated as legitimate, legal criteria. She knew her customers. (Although the events described in the Times’ piece antedate the Supreme Court decision in Fisher, the ban that existed in California was already a decade and a half old and the prevailing law).
Ginsburg wrote, “Those that candidly disclose their consideration of race [are] preferable to those that conceal it.” She explained what she meant, “I have said before and reiterate here that only an ostrich could regard the supposedly neutral alternatives as race unconscious.” She quoted her former colleague, Justice Souter, “the vaunted alternatives suffer from ‘the disadvantage of deliberate obfuscation.’” As if she could divine the future and what the Starkman piece reveals, she warned that the “holistic” approach to admissions evaluation will result in “universities [who] cannot explicitly include race as a factor, many may ‘resort to camouflage’ to ‘maintain their minority enrollment.’”
The thrust of Starkman’s piece is that the “deliberate obfuscation” that Ginsburg warned about is taking place----an admissions process that considers race and ethnicity yet hides the processes it adheres to. Code words, a wink and nod, pressure to “get with the program” are the kinds of not very subtle messages that most evaluators will absorb and admit whom the officials prefer---the supposedly “race neutral” alternatives are anything but.
A debate must be engaged in to see whether the admissions processes at the University of California are what the people of California and Supreme Court of the United States have mandated they should be---non-discriminatory, color blind, transparent and fair.
August 6, 2013 | 2:58 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Last week’s The New York Times had an article that ought to remind us, lest we have forgotten or never knew, just how lucky we in Los Angeles are. We have two of the universities in the country that are leading their peers in admission of students with academic promise from poor families---our city provides unequaled opportunity for talented students, no matter their economic circumstance.
USC and UCLA are virtually without equals in the private and public university worlds when it comes to opening the doors of opportunity.
In an article entitled, “Efforts to Recruit Poor Students Lag at Some Elite Colleges” the Times revealed that while many top colleges “profess a growing commitment to recruiting poor students” there are “wide disparities” in low income enrollment among the most competitive private schools.
The article quotes the president of Vassar who bluntly observed that enrolling disadvantaged students is a measure of a university’s commitment to change, “It’s a question of how serious you are about it” (recruiting low income students). Catherine Bond Hill, Vassar’s head, commented on the schools with multi-billion dollar endowments and numerous tax exemption who aren’t serious, she said, “shame on you.”
In recent months there has been a good deal of focus on the “income inequality gap” that exists in our country. The United States is ranked fifth from the bottom in terms of the twenty members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the world’s most economically advanced nations). There is little doubt that educational opportunity is among the most effective vehicles to move individuals form lower to higher socio-economic strata.
The Times’ article makes clear that a university needs commitment and seriousness if it aims to be successful in identifying, encouraging and enrolling poor kids. In the real world of costs and benefits there is little incentive to admit these students who not only need financial assistance and support while in school but whose presence often hurts universities where they least want to be impacted--- the popular rankings by US News and others. Those “best” lists “reward schools not only for recruiting higher performing students, but also for increasing spending on salaries and buildings, but not on financial aid or diversity.” [Emphasis added]
So such motivation as exists has to be self-generated and largely propelled by the desire to do the right thing. It costs the universities money in tuition lost (despite the Pell Grants from the federal government and Cal Grants from the state) and it is expensive to identify and nurture talented but disadvantaged kids (a recent New York Times article, about which we have written, indicates that the University of California has spent as much as $85 million on outreach to the disadvantaged).
Despite the disincentives to doing what few will give them credit for, there are universities that have done an outstanding job in enrolling low-income students and two of the best are right here in Los Angeles.
In terms of private universities nation-wide, USC is one of the best. It has 22% of its students, over 1/5 of the student body, receiving Pell Grants----most of whose families make under $40,000 per year (as of 2010). To put that number in perspective, Stanford enrolls 18% of Pell grantees, Yale 14%, Georgetown 13%, Notre Dame 13% and Washington University 7%.
These are kids who come from homes where it is almost guaranteed there weren’t funds to pay for the extras that many middle class families take for granted in prepping their kids for college---SAT prep courses, private tutors, college counselors who walk them through the application process--- and where there may have been no previous college attendees in the family. Most of these kids have demonstrated promise, invariably against great odds.
In Los Angeles we are fortunate to have two of the most committed universities in the country who reach out, recognize potential and enroll the talented among the disadvantaged. Among all the private universities in the country USC is number 3, and the most committed public university is UCLA (number 1 in its socio economic diversity).
Neither school gets much credit for what they are doing (the recent articles are anomalies); in fact they usually get hammered by people, groups and politicians with agendas. It’s time to acknowledge the fact that Los Angeles has reason to be proud of the important contribution that both schools are making to our community, our state and our nation.
August 2, 2013 | 3:53 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The attached op/ed will appear in the Daily News this Sunday. It is in response to a series of events in the Lancaster community over the past several weeks. As you will see, a leader of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam unburdened himself of anti-gay and anti-Semitic remarks. The response of the mayor of Lancaster was disappointing, to say the least.
By David A. Lehrer and Joe R. Hicks
Most adults love magic but know, despite all appearances, that they are being fooled. Sleights of hand and distraction can be amazingly effective in allowing us to delude ourselves into believing that logic defying forces are at work.
Recent events in Lancaster, California, our high desert neighbor, bear a certain resemblance to believing in magic---abracadabra, what really happened is different than logic and common sense would dictate.
Stan Muhammad, a city commissioner in Lancaster and leader of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, recently spoke at a Community Prayer and Call to Action rally sponsored by the Antelope Youth Ambassador Program relating to Trayvon Martin. It was a diverse multi-religious, multi-ethnic gathering.
Whatever positive aims the Coalition might have had were torpedoed by Muhammad. In the space of a few short minutes he succeeded in infuriating both the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities, the Jewish community and people of good will. He referred to gays as “faggots” and Jews as “the synagogue of Satan.”
The most disturbing thing about the Muhammad incident is not that the head of the Nation of Islam in Lancaster would unburden himself of homophobic and anti-Semitic epithets--that’s par for the course. Rather, that the mayor of Lancaster, R. Rex Parris, would be surprised and respond to the outrageous comments by calling for “sensitivity training” because Lancaster residents “don’t know about each other” rather than demand Muhammad’s dismissal as a governmental official.
The mayor seems to believe that after a few magical choruses of kumbaya Muhammad’s hate will disappear, much like the rabbit in a hat. But in reality the problem is not that Lancaster residents don’t know about each other, it’s that Mayor Parris doesn’t know about his appointee.
A two minute Google search of Louis Farrakhan’s (the leader of the Nation of Islam) remarks about the LGBT community is all it takes to realize Muhammad didn’t “misspeak” or that his remarks were not accidental; he meant to refer to LGBT members as “faggots” because the NOI views the LGBT community with utter contempt.
Farrakhan has decades of homophobic comments: “if you’re (the gay community) not on the right side, you will receive a terrible chastisement. You’re not a beast…..no liar, no adulterer, no effeminate will get in the Kingdom……but I have the duty to lift that gay person up to the standard to ask if they want to live the life that God wants them to or live the lifestyle that they want to live.”
Farrakhan didn’t use the term “faggot”, but then he didn’t have to, his disdain for LGBT folks is palpable. His record of anti-Semitism and his hatred of the “synagogue of Satan” is so well documented and known that no itemization here is necessary (for the details click here).
It is magical thinking that would allow an elected official to believe that sitting in a “diversity” training session would somehow cleanse a hateful ideology and teach a bigot how to appreciate the “other.” That’s not how extremism works; it is, invariably, a deeply embedded ideology.
It is also magical thinking to believe that Muhammad’s eventual “apology” was anything more than window dressing and beyond believable. After all, days after the incident he averred that he had “no clue the term (“faggot”) was offensive. I would say that a lot of our community is unaware.” There are few fifteen year olds in America who don’t know that that term is offensive---one doesn’t need “sensitivity training” to figure that out.
His disingenuousness is betrayed by the fact that before he made the odious comments he warned his listeners, “I can’t speak the way I want to speak because sisters is here.” Further evidence of his duplicity was revealed the day of his initial remarks when he was offered the opportunity to apologize but chose to double down on offensiveness, “I have a background in entertainment, and I’ve been exposed to those who have sold their soul to the devil. The likes of Jay-Z, the likes of Lil Wayne…..and they have made a deal with the synagogue of Satan….when I mentioned faggot, it didn’t have any direct impact on the gay community.” Parenthetically, he has offered no apology to the Jewish community for his repeated references to the “synagogue of Satan.”
Sensitivity training won’t make a difference, Muhammad is echoing the extremism and bigotry of his religious leader. He won’t change the substance of his hate because it is an essential tenet of the Nation of Islam’s theology, though he might package it a bit more felicitously.
It is the obligation of leaders and elected officials to reject bigots like Muhammad out of hand and not play their game. Winking at their hate or pretending that the magical thinking of “diversity training” will alter an insidious world view sends a sorry message that bigotry and prejudice are tolerable.