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A Different Kind of Affirmative Action

DDF’s post on Wednesday got me thinking. I am a strong believer in the benefits that a diverse population brings to virtually any situation – from the classroom to the boardroom. I have no hesitation in extending that philosophy to include idealogical diversity in appropriate situations. This includes seeing a wealth of benefits to having a faculty with diverse political beliefs. Of course, using a “political beliefs” litmus test when hiring a professor sounds like a bad idea (and could be illegal). So, I am not sure what the remedy is to achieve a more politically diverse faculty but I know I want to get there.

Do you think it is a goal that Williams should strive for?

What would be the best way to get there?

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "A Different Kind of Affirmative Action"

#1 Comment By Anonymous On October 20, 2019 @ 4:59 am


Political belief (left or right) is already used to deny conservative people faculty jobs at many (most) colleges. This is a statistical fact.

At Williams you have less than a five faculty members who identify as (moderate) republicans. This is a statistical impossibility unless political belief is considered and conservative intellectuals are denied faculty positions.

Williams and other schools “get there” by stopping their discrimination against conservative scholars.

#2 Comment By Abl On October 20, 2019 @ 8:02 am

“This is a statistical fact.” “This is a statistical impossibility unless political belief is considered and conservative intellectuals are denied faculty positions.”

Cite sources or evidence, please.

#3 Comment By a_sunny_moo On October 20, 2019 @ 12:43 pm

Anonymous: this is the same logical fallacy used by the progressive left to claim systemic racism / sexism. Just because the proportion of X type of person in an institution / field is smaller than the proportion in the general population does not necessarily imply bias. Correlation doesn’t imply causation.

#4 Comment By abl On October 20, 2019 @ 4:38 pm

To be fair, there’s plenty of evidence for the existence of systemic racism / sexism. There may also be evidence for bias against conservative academics in hiring, but Anonymous hasn’t pointed to any yet.

#5 Comment By a_sunny_moo On October 20, 2019 @ 4:58 pm

abl: Could you please share some evidence? I’d really like to see it. All such claims I’ve ever seen are either backed up by questionable thought experiments (most people in power are white, so they’re more likely to hire white people — an argument which mysteriously doesn’t apply to Asians, and is therefore suspect), or arguments of the kind I described above (for example, comparing wealth distribution among different races in the US and then inferring structural racism).

By the way, racism is obviously alive and well in the US. What I’m talking about, however, is the claim of structural racism.

#6 Comment By abl On October 20, 2019 @ 5:43 pm


One quick and easy example: the difference between the way the criminal law treats crack and cocaine. There are few-to-no material differences between crack and cocaine from a drug policy standpoint. The most salient difference is that most crack defendants are African-American whereas most cocaine defendants are White. And distribution of ~5-grams of crack comes with a federal sentencing minimum of five years. On the other hand, to trigger that same five-year sentencing minimum, you have to distribute 500 grams of cocaine. This is a formalized structural distinction without a strong policy justification that has an enormous and disproportionate impact on the Black community.

This is far from the exception; there are countless examples throughout the legal system of ways in which we police differently in communities of color (even adjusted for income and other relevant factors), how we sentence differently (even for identical crimes), how we prosecute differently, etc., etc. Sometimes, but not always, those differences are based on facially race-blind policy factors (like crack vs. cocaine), and sometimes they are not. And outside of the criminal context, there are a wide variety of other legal or quasi-legal regimes (like redlining and busing policies) that advantage white communities or disadvantage communities of color, many of which are clear predecessors of policies that ~50 years ago were explicitly tailored to accomplishing such a bigoted goal.

Outside of the legal context, there’s a growing body of evidence of the systemic ways people of color and women are disadvantaged in spaces as diverse as grocery stores and doctor’s offices (pain reported by women is not treated as seriously as pain reported by men, for example). And because you brought it up, there is pretty strong experimental evidence showing that people are more likely to hire people who look like them, all else equal; we don’t need to rely on abstract thought experiments to conclude that this is true (and yes, it absolutely also applies to Asians).

Given the history here–people of color and women faced open and explicit structural and systemic discrimination up until about ~50 years ago–the continuing existence of racism and sexism (which you acknowledge), and the contemporary wide and often growing disparity of outcomes, I don’t think it’s necessary to point to these sorts of specific examples to reasonable conclude that there’s probably a great deal of systemic and structural racism. But I’m not saying that because there are only a few specific examples to grasp onto; there is a legion of direct evidence of ways in which structures and systems in the U.S. are built to consciously or subconsciously disadvantage/advantage some populations over others.

#7 Comment By a_sunny_moo On October 20, 2019 @ 11:37 pm

abl: Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed response. You’re right, of course, that there are a number of laws that affect black people disproportionately, even when they do so implicitly. That example with crack vs powder cocaine is an excellent one, and it’s good to be reminded of it. (The history is interesting, by the way–apparently black politicians led the charge to crack down on crack, because they saw white apathy towards the epidemic sweeping black neighborhoods. Less than a decade later, the narrative completely reversed, and the law was declared as racist. Of course this doesn’t change the fact that the law is demonstrably affecting black people disproportionately, and should therefore be amended–but it’s curious that origins of the law were to resist racism.)

50 years ago–just 50!–this country was explicitly, profoundly racist. There are still some racist laws on the books, but they are constantly getting overturned. If the system itself is overturning such laws, it’s hard for me to say that the Law is systemically racist. Rather, I’d say there are some holdovers of some racist laws, and occasionally there are laws introduced that turn out to disproportionately affect black people, but that generally the system is working to eradicate these mistakes. Needless to say, this is my general perception, and I’m not an expert, so I welcome the opinions of those better versed on this topic than me.

As for the interactions at grocery stores, again, I’m suspicious that correlations are being interpreted causally. But I’m not an expert in this field, and defer to those who are and can weigh in.

I’m deeply suspicious of any deduction made from disparity in outcome. This blog post does a much more careful and well-researched job of explaining why than I could (it’s about gender disparity, but illustrates the dangers of inferring much from disparity of outcome).

#8 Comment By abl On October 21, 2019 @ 12:38 pm

Sunny —

And thank you for your thoughtful response! These sorts of discussions are a big part of what keeps me coming back to Ephblog.

In any event (just quickly) you write: “If the system itself is overturning such laws, it’s hard for me to say that the Law is systemically racist.” I don’t think there’s anything inconsistent at all with there simultaneously being systemic and structural racism and systemic and structural anti-racism. That’s exactly what I think one would expect, given the wide range of racist and anti-racist views currently held by the people shaping the system (from state and corporate bureaucrats to state and corporate officers to legislators and other policymakers)–and also given the fact that we are still transitioning, at least to some extent, out of a system that was very recently explicitly and intentionally racist. And so the legal and cultural and behavioral structures in place range from being actively racist, to being neutral, to being actively anti-racist. I don’t think you need to accept that every single aspect of the system, or every single existing formal or informal structure, is racist in order to accept that systemic and structural racism exist.

Along those lines, though, I think it’s also important to recognize that we’re not on a clear straight-line path to eliminating systemic or structural racism. Much of the systemic and structural racism that exists–like the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity–has come into being within the past fifty years, some with well-intentioned objectives and some without. So it’s not as simple as saying that we had a racist system fifty years ago that we’ve been mostly successful in correcting today. I’m an optimist, but even so, progress in this area has been somewhat of two steps forward and one step back.