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Marcus ’88 Moves on Racial Issues, 4

Ken Marcus ’88 is the (recently confirmed) Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, a position which places him at the center of the debate about racial diversity in higher education. Marcus, and his colleagues in the Justice Department, have started the process of getting rid of racial preferences. Let’s spend a week discussing their efforts. Day 4.

The Trump administration’s moves come with affirmative action at a crossroads. Hard-liners in the Justice and Education Departments are moving against any use of race as a measurement of diversity in education. And the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy at the end of this month will leave the Supreme Court without its swing vote on affirmative action while allowing President Trump to nominate a justice opposed to policies that for decades have tried to integrate elite educational institutions.

Note the rhetoric:

1) “Hardliners” are people who object to discrimination/quotas against Asian-Americans. Would the New York Times have used that word in 1925 to describe people who objected to Jewish quotas at Harvard?

2) No one is “moving against any use of race as a measurement of diversity.” Ken Marcus does not care how Williams measures “diversity.” Williams can measure diversity however it wants! Marcus (and the rest of the Federal Government) object to Williams — as a recipient of federal funds via student loans — treating applicants differently on the basis of their race.

A highly anticipated case is pitting Harvard against Asian-American students who say one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions has systematically excluded some Asian-American applicants to maintain slots for students of other races. That case is clearly aimed at the Supreme Court.

The Harvard case is fascinating. It goes to trial in October. Should we provide more coverage? Again, it is unclear if Williams (today) discriminates against Asian-Americans the way that Harvard does. But the demographics and other societal changes mean that, unless we start doing so in the future, Williams will be 40% Asian-American a generation from now. I don’t have a problem with that. Do you?

“The whole issue of using race in education is being looked at with a new eye in light of the fact that it’s not just white students being discriminated against, but Asians and others as well,” said Roger Clegg, the president and general counsel of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity. “As the demographics of the country change, it becomes more and more problematic.”

Indeed. Recall my favorite chart:

ccf_20170201_reeves_2

SAT scores are highly correlated with every other aspect of your academic profile: ACT, AP, subject tests, high school grades, teacher recommendations, essay quality, et cetera. Since Asian-Americans make up 50%+ of the highest SAT scorers, they almost are almost certainly 50%+ of the highest ACT, high school transcript, et cetera applicants. Why is Harvard only at 20%? Discrimination. Why is Williams only at 20%? Hard to know! We might discriminate, but, as with Jews almost a 100 years ago, the discrepancy might be caused by applicant preferences.

The key point — and one that smart guys like Roger Clegg and Ken Marcus will focus on — is that discrimination against Asian-Americans is a hard sell. When Marcus was cutting his teeth on affirmative action debates back in the 80s, it was much easier to justify discrimination against white applicants. First, they (being part of the power structure) were not particularly sympathetic victims. Second, their ancestors were plausibly guilty of historical crimes which required restitution. Third, they were such a large majority that a marginal decrease in their numbers did not seem a large price to pay for increased diversity.

I don’t think any of those arguments are going to work in the case of discrimination against Asian-Americans. And once Clegg/Marcus force places like Harvard/Williams to stop discriminating against Asian-Americans, how long will they be able to discriminate against whites?

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8 Comments To "Marcus ’88 Moves on Racial Issues, 4"

#1 Comment By frank uible On July 12, 2018 @ 11:10 am

For an obvious reason Pomona College’s stance on this issue might forecast Williams’ future. What is it?

#2 Comment By abl On July 12, 2018 @ 3:54 pm

The quote is: “Hard-liners in the Justice and Education Departments are moving against any use of race as a measurement of diversity in education.” You characterize this as: “‘Hardliners’ are people who object to discrimination/quotas against Asian-Americans.” Those are obviously different points.

You write: “Marcus (and the rest of the Federal Government) object to Williams — as a recipient of federal funds via student loans — treating applicants differently on the basis of their race.” Yet you claim that “[n]o one is ‘moving against any use of race as a measurement of diversity.'” This is obviously contradictory.

it is unclear if Williams (today) discriminates against Asian-Americans the way that Harvard does. But the demographics and other societal changes mean that, unless we start doing so in the future, Williams will be 40% Asian-American a generation from now. I don’t have a problem with that. Do you?

At least a decade ago, Williams did not have any sort of quotas for Asian-American applicants of which I was aware, nor did Williams actively discriminate against these candidates. I can’t imagine that’s changed. That said, I think there are number of admission biases that, probably unintentionally, favor wealthier white applicants — and, in the process, disfavor other demographic groups, including (but not limited to) Asian-American applicants. These biases are more cultural and are not racial, but I suspect that they account for the disproportionately poor outcomes for Asian American applicants at most elite schools.

Another interesting point along these lines: Williams is somewhat different from most of its peers, in that for a complicated number of reasons (including its location, size, culture, and reputation), Williams’ Asian-American yield relatively lags (or at least it did a decade ago). As such, even if the Williams admission process was not culturally biased, we should not expect to see the explosion of Asian-American matriculants that might present at a place like Harvard.

#3 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On July 12, 2018 @ 5:10 pm

abl: Let me clarify.

First, there are many ways to “measure diversity” at places like Williams. Examples:

1) Percent of non-white students (including internationals).
2) Percent of non-white students (excluding internationals).
3) Percent of under-represented minorities (which excludes Asians).

And so on. Ken Marcus does not care how Williams measures or reports diversity. (Williams prefers option 2, for those interested.)

Second, there are many policy changes which, potentially, impact diversity. For example, if Williams ended athletic preferences in admissions, we would become more diverse. If we went back to the athletic preferences in the 1990s, we would become less diverse.

Ken Marcus does not care (within reason) how much preference Williams gives athletes — even if the level of preference affects diversity — because athletic preferences are “race-neutral.”

Third, Marcus’s position (I assume) is that Williams can measure diversity however it wants and that it can change policies which it knows affect diversity as long as those policies are implemented in a race neutral manner.

The problem is that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants directly, on the basis that they are Asian-American. That is what Ken is going to (try to) stop. He may also try to stop Williams from discriminating against Asian/white applicants in favor of African-American/Hispanic applicants.

#4 Comment By abl On July 12, 2018 @ 11:49 pm

Look, your arguments are going to be much stronger if you fairly represent the positions of those with whom you disagree. As my previous post pointed out, you did not do so above. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make with your clarification, so I apologize if that elucidated your mischaracterizations in a manner that I did not understand.

Your arguments are also going to be stronger if you provide support for the contentious points that you make. For example, you state that “Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants on the basis that they are Asian-American.” That’s a naked conclusion, and a highly dubious conclusion at that. Moreover, it’s a conclusion that I addressed–and softly rebutted–in my immediately previous post. (I think it’s more likely that Harvard uses race neutral assessment measures that advantage white upper middle class applicants — therefore relatively disfavoring Asian-American applicants. Incidentally, although such a practice would fall into the “acceptable” category under your rubric, I’m not so sold on whether it’s kosher.) Likewise, your claim that “Williams . . . discriminat[es] against Asian/white applicants in favor of African-American/Hispanic applicants” is obviously contentious yet entirely unsupported.

Finally, let’s stop pretending that your concern for discrimination against Asian American students is anything other than a white-protective attempt to dismantle programs that give preference to African-American/Latinx/Native American students. If you think that wrapping your anti-affirmative action posts in faux-concern for Asian Americans insulates you from racism accusations, you’re mistaken. (I want to be clear: I’m not calling you a racist. But if I thought you were, your sudden attention to the plight of the Asian-American college applicant wouldn’t be a point weighing against your bigotry.)

There are many systems in our country that are inequitable or unfair. Your disproportionate concern for the one system that potentiallydisfavors upper middle class white people — when the vast majority of inequity in the country falls on the shoulders of members of other races — is disappointing.

#5 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On July 13, 2018 @ 12:51 am

> your arguments are going to be much stronger if you fairly represent the positions of those with whom you disagree.

I am really confused about what we are disagreeing about, to be honest. My claim simple: Ken Marcus does not care if Harvard uses “race as a measurement of diversity in education.” The Times is wrong to imply that he does.

You think that it is a “highly dubious conclusion” that Harvard discriminates against Asian-Americans? Have you read the arguments? Start with this one, which I have mentioned at EphBlog before. Or check out the latest filings, especially this one, in the court case. The arguments/evidence is damning, not dubious.

> it’s a conclusion that I addressed–and softly rebutted–in my immediately previous post.

In the context of Williams! You and I agree that Williams did not discriminate against Asian-Americans ten years ago and probably does not today.

#6 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On July 13, 2018 @ 12:54 am

your claim that “Williams . . . discriminat[es] against Asian/white applicants in favor of African-American/Hispanic applicants” is obviously contentious yet entirely unsupported.

You can’t be serious? Are we using different definitions of “discriminate?” I am honestly confused. Again, our debate here is not over what policy Williams should use. We may differ on that. The debate is about what Williams does today. If Williams does not discriminate than why is that Asian-Americans at Williams have SAT scores that are 250 points higher than African-Americans at Williams? This is what affirmative action means.

#7 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On July 13, 2018 @ 12:57 am

Your disproportionate concern for the one system that potentiallydisfavors upper middle class white people — when the vast majority of inequity in the country falls on the shoulders of members of other races — is disappointing.

Uh, this is a blog about Williams, you know. Unless you are a mind reader, you have no idea how concerned I am about issues that have nothing to do with Williams. You think I care more about this policy than I care about, say, US foreign policy or immigration? Think again! I care much more about those topics, but they are rarely relevant at EphBlog.

#8 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On July 13, 2018 @ 1:02 am

Finally, let’s stop pretending that your concern for discrimination against Asian American students is anything other than a white-protective attempt to dismantle programs that give preference to African-American/Latinx/Native American students.

How much “concern” have I really expressed about “discrimination against Asian American” applicants? Not much!

1) I have written thousands more words about the international quota than I have about Asian-Americans. It would be fair to accuse me of (excessive?) concern about that topic.

2) And a big reason for that lack of concern is that I don’t think Williams discriminates! I have no need to express concern about something which does not exist.

3) The purpose of this series of posts is to explain what Ken Marcus thinks, what Ken Marcus is planning and what arguments Ken Marcus (and others) will soon be making in court. If you want to accuse Ken (or Ed Blum, who underwrites the Harvard litigation) of . . . faking their concern about Asian-Americans, then you are free to try and read their minds as well. But, knowing Ken (back in the day) and having seen Blum speak, I think you would be wrong. Even if Harvard did not practice affirmative action, they would still go after it for discriminating against Asian-Americans. But maybe you can look into their souls and know the real truth . . .