Commentary & Opinion
12:25 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

Herbert London: Mismatch: A Book With Sensible Proposals on Affirmative Action

In a recent book entitled Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students Its Intended To Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, the authors identify reforms that could make a difference in dealing with this ticklish racial issue, reforms, as I see it, that are eminently sensible.

First, and perhaps foremost, is a call for transparency. As the Gutter case indicated the Supreme Court favors a transparency mandate. Universities are theoretically supposed to prove that consideration of race in admissions is “narrowly tailored” to promote a healthy diversity and, as significantly, does not unduly harm any racial group.  Since full disclosure is often honored more in the breach than in practice, it is difficult to know when racial preferences are applied.

Second, the authors maintain that “the racial preferences a university uses be no larger than the average size of preferences based on an individual applicant’s financial need or socioeconomic status.” In other words, socioeconomic diversity is as compelling an interest for admissions as racial diversity.

Last, is a recommendation for a prohibition on strict race-based aid awards. In doing so, universities would suggest that the diversity they seek goes beyond skin color and refers instead to an opportunity for those in real financial need, a condition that may disproportionately affect minority students without, at the same time, relying on race the sole admissions criterion.

For decades this debate over affirmative action has raged. In my opinion, the experiment to redress the wrongs of the past was an interesting, but failed effort. As the authors note, racial “preferences hurt underrepresented minorities more than they help them.” Very often minorities are put in a position where they cannot compete effectively, a point often made by Thomas Sowell. And it is also noted that even when minority members compete effectively, there is the lingering perception that success is related to affirmative action.

In this matter, as in so many others, in which the rhetoric has reached a fever pitch, it is difficult to get hard-headed realism into the Court perspective. This book does precisely that; it advances an argument from two former advocates of affirmative action who have come to the conclusion, based on empirical evidence, that they were wrong.  Moreover, they realize wiping the slate clean through an absolute reversal will not work. Hence the sensible reform proposals they have articulated. I hope someone on the Supreme Court is reading this book. 

Herbert London is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).

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