All my Facebook lefties have been linking this article about Fisher v. Texas, the bulk of which is the usual accusations of racism and image-manipulation against opponents of affirmative action, but the chewy center (and what all my FB linkers have attended to) are these numbers:
Even among those students, Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school's rejection rate that year for the remaining 841 openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard.
As a result, university officials claim in court filings that even if Fisher received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor, the letter she received in the mail still would have said no.
It's true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were black or Latino. Forty-two were white. [MSI note: this is on. pp.15-17 of the brief.]
Neither Fisher nor Blum mentioned those 42 applicants in interviews. Nor did they acknowledge the 168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher's who were also denied entry into the university that year.See, so racial discrimination against Fisher was, if not impossible, at least unlikely, because 42 white students with worse overall admissions scores (as determined by the admissions committee, and including both academic and personal qualities) than Fisher were admitted, and 168 minorities with better ones denied. What interests me about this is that, under the "holistic review" regime, this is what it takes to disprove discrimination - the university must divulge the profiles of all applicants, rejections, and "provisional admissions," by race and admissions score for the given year. And I'd think this disclosure does not go quite far enough to prove that in Fisher's case, race was not the decisive factor. How many white students with equal or better admissions scores than Fisher were denied that year? Was it proportional to their application numbers? Was the minority rejection rate similarly proportional? The brief submitted by the University of Texas omits not only these details, but also the factors that went into the admissions scores in the first place - that is, what were the data behind these admissions scores, broken down by race? And this is only Fisher's single situation; think of how many Abigail Fishers there are in the country who apply to universities whose admissions profiles they more or less fit, even if at the low end, and are rejected. Can each one demand such exhaustive evidence from a school that her rejection was free of discrimination?
The goal of holistic admissions was of course to avoid this very outcome, in which every application datum would have to be quantified and plugged into a formula like the one that the medical school in Bakke used. Universities would henceforth not count race alone as a plus factor, but also such various pluses as violin aptitude, demonstrations of humanitarian concern, and being from the sticks. Everyone can get pluses, and from practically anything! The only catch is that these schools would not have to say how much of a plus any of these pluses was worth in the whole plussy scheme of getting in, because of course individualized evaluation varies by individual. So no reasonably qualified applicant can ever know why he was rejected, only that he was evaluated in his wholeness by professionals, and found wanting. There is a parallel anxiety from acceptance as well, the quiet hope that it was real qualification and not some accidental trait that determined one's admission, but this anxiety generates fewer public complaints, just as few students complain to TAs that their grades are too high. So although the opacity runs both ways - you can never know why you were either accepted or rejected - it's the opacity of rejection that is the source of public ire.
Ironically, under the very regime intended to avoid simplistic comparisons, the only persuasive defense against accusations of racial discrimination is near-total transparency in university admissions. It's not enough to insist that the school is X percent white/black/Hispanic/Asian to demonstrate nondiscrimination, since we can't know what percent it should be without knowing who was rejected and why. Harvard is 17 percent Asian, explains the Crimson, which is three times the percentage of Asians in the population, so we can know "that affirmative action is not resulting in far fewer Asians being admitted than there would be otherwise." But, of course, this - how many of the total the Asian applicants should have been admitted - is precisely what we cannot know simply from the number who were admitted.
And when it's some place like Harvard or Princeton, we can all pile on the sore losers who whine that their rejections were "not fair" because, with the overall acceptance rate so low, there is apparently no fairness or desert worth considering, so the opacity of admissions is actually an asset for the most selective schools, a kind of metaphorical analog to the statistical reality. Thus sayeth the ever-humble Crimson in the same editorial:
Making such a claim in the first place smacks of hubris—it is difficult to argue that any applicant definitely deserved to have gotten into Harvard, no matter how good his or her SAT scores or impressive his or her extracurriculars. Amazingly qualified applicants get rejected from Harvard all the time, making it almost impossible for this student to prove that it was his race, instead of any other factor, which resulted in his not being admitted.It's because we Harvard students are all so amazing that you can't ever prove that you deserved to dwell among us. No one deserves such favor; it is a pure act of divine sovereign grace to be admitted. You should be grateful that the gods of Harvard even bothered to consider your application, little worm. This view obviously does not apply to state universities, access to which is viewed as a matter of desert and even right rather than divine election, subject only to some basic quality control. But the problem of proof, should an institution choose to undertake proof, is the same for both.
Private universities may be under less pressure to prove that they do not discriminate, but in either case, the only real demonstration of nondiscrimination under a holistic review system is transparency. Names might be withheld, but to show that a holistic review of an applicant did not discriminate in any partial aspect of his wholeness, the rest must be brought out into the light - how much did his violin playing compensate for his lower verbal SAT, and was that enough to merit admitting him over a minority with a higher verbal SAT score but lower class rank? Of course, this is precisely what universities least want to reveal, so much so that they won't release their admissions data even for academic research.
And their institutional caginess is understandable - the people who work in admissions are full of biases like the rest of us, and while few of them are likely acting on a grand racial agenda to either deny or admit all the minority applicants, they are given access to very personal information about each applicant, and they can't help forming judgments about them. This is where Unz's argument (adapted from The Gatekeepers) pointed to what I thought was the most likely cause of bias in admissions: people like people who are like them. So if the people doing admissions have never encountered 4-H clubs (and neither have I!), or think that good students who have few extracurriculars and little evidence of out-of-school engagement are boring drones, then subjecting such people's "holistic" admissions decisions to public scrutiny will reveal that yes, schools have been discriminating against some white (rural) students, or against Asians and other recent immigrants, but it won't reveal that this was not racially motivated, but rather the natural outcome of asking people with all kinds of pre-existing cultural and political interests to select a set of "interesting" candidates from a large pool. That is, it's the inevitable outcome of "holistic admissions." This is not necessarily because admissions committees are comprised of under-educated morons, as Unz alleges, or because membership in 4-H clubs and singular focus on academics are "regarded with considerable disfavor by the sort of people employed in admissions," but simply because they're unlike the priorities that these people hold. I suspect that universities know that transparency will make them look pretty bad and they'll be largely unable to justify their decisions as not racist, but having committed to this approach, they now have no way around this situation except to hide it.
So perhaps you can now see why I'm so intrigued by this defense of UT's admissions practices from the pro-affirmative action left. It's almost persuasive against Fisher's individual claim, but at what cost to the broader cause? Is every side now convinced that transparency will only vindicate their own suspicions? Can everyone now sue for - or simply demand - such explanations for their rejections as Fisher has gotten? (If so, perhaps Miss Self-Important will file some briefs of her own... Why you no love me 10 years ago, Wellesley College? No statute of limitations excuses - I demand answers!)