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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 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.
February 13, 2013 | 2:43 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
It isn’t often that within days of each other two news stories on disparate topics---drones and guns-- both highlight a method of analysis on different sides of the political spectrum that fosters poor public policy choices and conclusions.
Recently, news stories have abounded regarding the US Justice Department’s (“DOJ”) memo laying out the legal and practical arguments behind its drone strike policies that allow for the targeting of an American citizen abroad.
The ground rules that the Obama Administration operated under have been laid out in some detail in the documents that are now public.
It is probably safe to assume that for most Americans the rationale offered by the DOJ memo works. A person (a foreigner or the bearer of an American passport) who is committed to terror against the United States, who can’t be easily apprehended and is a combatant in the on-going war of terror, can be killed if he poses an imminent threat to our country. Numerous pundits have opined on the subject in recent weeks, many urging greater scrutiny by a judge, or some other quasi-judicial body, to vet the Americans on the list of possible targets. A compromise seems in the works.
But, the seeming rationality of the DOJ’s arguments and the widely discussed potential safeguards don’t seem to satisfy those who proffer a “slippery slope” method of argumentation. That is, “if we allow this activity…it is a slippery slope to losing liberty itself.”
The ACLU lost no time in attacking the memo upon its release as “profoundly disturbing.” The director of its National Security Project opined, “It’s hard to believe that it was produced in a democracy built on a system of checks and balances.” She questioned “whether the limits the executive purports to impose on its killing authority are as loosely defined as in this summary, because if they are, they ultimately mean little.” The implication being that there will be broad overreach by government officials out to kill innocents---despite the fact that but three Americans affiliated with terror organizations have been killed over the past decade by virtue of drone strikes.
Nevertheless, despite the obvious restraint and concern evidenced by the Obama Administration (and its predecessor) the dangers of the slippery slope are invoked to negate what has clearly been an effective and restrained method of defending America.
The slippery slope logic to negate reasonable and moderate measures of change is evident as well in the months since Sandy Hook. The slippery slope arguments of the National Rifle Association strain logic.
Virtually no gun control legislation can be passed, the NRA argues, because it will, almost inevitably, lead to abrogation of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.
For example, the NRA asserts that the mere act of compiling a list of gun owners can only be for two reasons “to tax them or to take them.” No middle ground or rational purpose is conceivable---the slippery slope leads, inevitably, to the most extreme, dire results. A majority of Americans believes that laws covering the sale of firearms (including compiling lists of who buys what) should be stricter.
The reality that there are nasty folks in the world who our military needs to strike before they strike us (Americans or not) and under the conditions and criteria outlined in the DOJ memo or that there are people who shouldn’t be allowed to arm themselves and that monitoring gun purchases is among the most logical routes to that end seem evident but the position of the slippery slope advocates obscures the common sense view.
It is always possible that there will be over-reach, that the wrong person might be targeted by a drone strike or that over-zealous bureaucrats will try and regulate hunting guns and the like and that government will take well intentioned efforts too far---but that over-reach is not inevitable.
The fact that bad things might happen does not negate the argument that some reasonable good things should happen. The worst case scenario shouldn’t prevent acting reasonably and in a measured way.
The illogic of the slippery slope method of policy making was cogently answered by the famous dictum of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes when faced with the question of how he could allow the federal government to be taxed by a state for the feds’ activities within the state. Precedent suggested that tolerating that power could lead to the states ultimately destroying the federal government by taxing it inappropriately:
Most of the distinctions of the law are distinctions of degree. If the States had any power it was assumed that they had all power, and that the necessary alternative was to deny it altogether. But this Court which so often has defeated the attempt to tax in certain ways can defeat an attempt to discriminate or otherwise go too far without wholly abolishing the power to tax. The power to tax is not the power to destroy while this Court sits.
Holmes wisely measured the degrees of an activity and knew that the courts and their limiting powers were a last recourse---not the first. The slippery slope and where things might end up don’t convincingly argue against logic and rational behavior that comports with the world around us---the ACLU and the NRA notwithstanding.