Tag Archives: admissions

The Flawed Logic of Anti-affirmative Action Bake Sales

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

metzlerThe Affirmative Action Bake Sale is used by conservative groups on college campuses to further polarize college campuses along racial lines using affirmative action as a hammer. Writing for Fox News, Wendy McElroy said, “Through Affirmative Action Bake Sales, conservative groups on campuses across America are satirically and peacefully spotlighting the injustice of AA programs that penalize or benefit students based solely on gender and race.” Seeking to dramatize the “ills” of affirmative action, the groups charge different prices for baked goods based entirely on race. For example, White and Asian males may be charged $1 for a muffin while Black and Hispanic males might be charged 25 cents.

Recently Bucknell University students held such a bake sale that was shut down by the university. Citing the First Amendment, Bucknell students claimed that their free speech rights were violated. Of course, they conveniently forgot that as students at a private university, the First Amendment simply does not apply. But, the issue goes beyond the technical question of the First Amendment and whether it applies to a private university. Instead, the issue is that students such as those at Bucknell, who put on the bake sale, continue to propagate the myth that only White and Asian males are qualified to be admitted to university study.

First, far too many admissions committees make decisions to admit or deny students based strictly on quantitative factors such as test scores and “standardized” tests. The reality is that in our capitalist society, the more money one has, the more money one can spend on commercial test preparation services. Let us not forget that while the income disparity between Blacks and Whites has changed some, they are not even. Thus, more Whites than Blacks are able to purchase commercial test preparation services, increasing their quantitatives and admissions to colleges and universities.

Second, the Bucknell students chose to ignore completely affirmative action for White men, which is a staple of the admissions process of many colleges and universities. Of course, given that the right wing has so racialized the term affirmative action, they dare not apply it to White men. Instead, it is admission by legacy. Legacy admissions means that colleges and universities reserve places in the class for the children of alumni who have given significant sums of money. The reality is that those admits tend to be overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly male. In these cases, the only quantitatives that matter are the dollar value of the contribution. Often these legacy admits are outside the regular admissions process and admissions committees are blissfully unaware of them. So, why don’t the Affirmative Action Bake Sales offer a discount for legacy admits?

Third, affirmative action continues to be a divisive issue on college campuses in large part because of the elitism that affects too many universities. Students on far too many college campuses have accepted the notion that Black and Brown students who have been admitted to colleges and universities are academically inferior and could not have been admitted to the exclusive halls of academe but for naked racial preferences. Students sponsoring the Affirmative Action Bake Sale are operating from a superiority complex. The logic of that complex is that they (the predominantly White students) have been admitted strictly on merit and that the Black and Brown students were not. The Affirmative Action Bake Sale is the method by which they seek to further marginalize the Black and Brown students on their campuses. The Black and Brown students are then forced to prove that they belong by denying that affirmative action had anything to do with their admission. Of course, by virtue of the way the conversation is framed, legacy admits have nothing to prove as they are the silent elite.

Fourth, the students who have these bake sales engage in racial profiling. By choosing to offer the discount to Blacks and Hispanics, they are further advancing the stereotypes of Asians as the “model minority,” whose intellectual capabilities are on par with Whites. The assumption being that students are intelligent and thus worthy of admissions based on how close they are to a “white norm” of intelligence.

Fifth, I disagree with the Affirmative Action Bake Sale because I think that such events are ahistorical, race-baiting and political pandering of the most vitriolic kind. Moreover, students who will be our future leaders should be able to engage in serious debate without relying on divisive and trite tactics that are designed to belittle rather than engage those with whom they disagree. This is a valuable skill that they need when entering the real world. Name-calling and identity politics is in large part responsible for the racial divide that still permeates America. The students in this case are choosing to repeat these tactics. However, I do not agree that the students should be silenced in the free market place of ideas.

Finally, I am also deeply disturbed by the way the Bucknell administration chose to shut down the bake sale. Here, the school had the opportunity to mount a spirited defense of affirmative action if it assumes that affirmative action has merit. It squandered that opportunity. Wayne Bromfield, Bucknell’s general counsel wrote that students did not have the required prior permission to hand out the handbills at the cafeteria entrance.  According to Bromfield, permission is required to prevent cross-scheduling and allow management to prepare for “possible reactions” to the events, “including for the safety of those involved.”

In an academic environment, we should never send the message that academic freedom is only free when we agree with the content of the message.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.

Predicting Academic Success Using Shoe Size: Affirming the Action in College Admissions

By Robin Lee Hughes

newlastword-robin_hughesMany higher educational institutions no longer rely exclusively on standardized tests as a primary indicator of future academic success. However, the courts continue to be bombarded by numerous allegations of rampant reverse discrimination, and public outrage that stems from students’ performances on standardized tests. In light of the insurmountable testimony from students and subsequently courts that profess that such policies undercut the university’s traditional colorblind, equal opportunity approach to admissions, educational affirmative action policies have come under considerable attack. And that approach, inevitably entails the overwhelming use of standardized scores as an indicator of subsequent success and admission.

Meanwhile, there has been no significant testimony to prove that the ATs (SAT, MCAT, LSAT) and GREs accurately predict academic success. In other words, a 1400 on the SAT still does not assure us of a rocket scientist. William Bowen and Derek Bok, in “The Shape of the River,” and researchers from the social, political and other sciences have unequivocally shown that exclusive use of standardized test scores are poor predictors of school success. In fact, academicians routinely disagree on the predictive nature of the SATs—the end result, multiple interpretations and somewhat murky conclusions and possibilities. Many believe that the SAT under-predicts the potential collegiate scholastic achievement for African-Americans and others, although few present supportive evidence to the contrary. In contrast, SATs are thought to be better predictors for Anglo academic achievement, and then, they still remain elusive in their predictive capabilities. Noted critic of affirmative action, Roger Clegg, in many of his articles appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, claims that the ATs are valid cognitive test for everyone. On the other hand, Critical Theorists such as Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic in “Critical Race Theory” argue that, in fact, they provide little predictive value at all.

These conclusions should neither be considered good nor bad — just research that supports either argument. But, most importantly, all of the arguments support the fact that exclusive use of the ATs may be poor predictors of academic achievement—for everyone. Moreover, these seemingly complex admissions computations (which are not really that complex, they are typically basic mathematical manipulations of GPA, class rank, and test scores that assume students are disconnected variables, and only describe tangible variables –like grades) force us to be believe that intellect can be easily measured and predicted—or so one would be led to believe.

It could be argued that academic predictions and predictors may glean something relevant from the physicists. They know all too well how difficult it is to predict an event (Egon Guba and Yvonna Lincoln used this same argument years ago. See Naturalistic Inquiry, 1985). When Newtonian physics didn’t quite cut it, Schrödinger used something called quantum mechanics to calculate the probability of finding ONE electron in an atomic orbital. In fact, those equations require Hamiltonian operators to explain just where an electron is located at any given time. In fact, many physicists use supercomputers to do the calculations, and they still call it an estimate of where that ONE electron is located.

In fact, it is quite evident that, one should require more than algebra to describe human interaction, psychology, physiology, sociology and a host of other ologies. Especially, since none of us can seem to even predict something as simple as what college kids will wear to class from year to year. I would contend that these “prediction” equations would have some use, if you could supply… oh, about 1600 (1 for each of the AT points) variables to describe the complexity of each student—perhaps, and we would certainly need a supercomputer to derive the computation. For instance, a traumatic event, listening to music , walking early, playing some musical instrument, and parental education could all be weighted and assigned some human function (like the wave functions in quantum mechanics); or, perhaps we could consider shoe size. I would argue shoe size may be most cost effective. Accordingly, institutions of higher education may require a foot imprint on the application for the sake of authenticity. It would be much simpler. Ludicrous, perhaps, but do remember many current equations attempt to predict academic success by mathematically manipulating a few variables with a heavy emphasis on the power of a standardized score in an algebraic equation (not a differential equation, which would be more accurate given the assumption that one can predict the future).

The question then becomes, why is there an emphasis on prediction equations ? I have two hypotheses: First, there is the growing rhetoric and continuing assumption that standardized tests constitute an egalitarian system of selection (an oxymoron in and of itself) of students to higher education. However, they are routinely used throughout students’ educational careers to sort and select, i.e. by tracking, thusly perpetuating a system of inequality as early as kindergarten, and often times well before. Secondly, because, quite frankly, it’s efficient and cost effective. I submit as an example, if university X receives 16,000 applications for 7,300 freshmen spots, and the university has less than 10 admissions readers, it’s just easier to ‘chuck’ the applications with low test scores or test-GPA combinations (the algebraic equation).

So what should institutions of higher education do? What should we be doing? Many people, including myself would like to see a portfolio and interview process put forth into policy and action. Schools like Sara Lawrence College dropped the SAT altogether. Sara Lawrence College administrators describe studying for the SAT as an unhealthy obsession in an already stressful time. So instead, people who are interested in attending Sara Lawrence are expected to show academic success as reflected by course rigor and grades, teacher recommendations, and their ability to write.

Critics of this system argue that it is time consuming, and expensive to thoughtfully read and critically analyze this sort of thick descriptive data. But, is this not one of the main reasons why many choose a profession in higher education—research, rigor? Unfortunately, still others argue that it is a waste of time to interview potential candidates or look at portfolio information when we have bills to pay and no time to waste? Plus, we already have that prediction equation. Simply put, it makes good institutional economical sense to use numeric descriptors— that prediction equation. And, quite frankly many people honestly believe that they are some type of academic crystal ball that accurately predicts who will succeed and who will not. So, for now, I guess higher education will continue with this sort of skewed psychic hotline approach to admissions, where shoe size might one day become a variable for predicting academic success.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the school of education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.


20 . . . and Counting

By  V.I. King


A 25-year deadline is fast approaching; in fact, 5 years have expired, and there are only a short 20 years remaining.


In July, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court issued landmark legal opinions in the two lawsuits filed against the University of Michigan. It held, essentially, that universities can continue to give preferences in admissions on the basis of race for the purpose of promoting diversity.  However, in an opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court gave our society a deadline.  She wrote, “Race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time . . .  The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”


Five years have passed.  Time is running out fast, and—as unpleasant as the task may be—political leaders, public intellectuals, journalists, social scientists, and voters need to start a national debate about affirmative action — whether to keep it, how to fix it, and what it means for the future of the country. 


Those who might believe that there is no urgent need to confront these issues now should bear in mind the long road to Brown v. Board of Education.  The legal path to that decision in 1954 actually began 20 years earlier, when civil rights attorney Charles Houston joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  The following year, in 1935, Houston and his protégé – the young Thurgood Marshall – won the first battle against the separate-but-equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, in the case of Murray v. Pearson (which forced Maryland to open its law school to African-American applicants).  Nineteen more years of hard-fought litigation followed, including landmark cases such as Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938), Smith v. Allwright (1944), Morgan v. Virginia (1946), Patton v. Mississippi (1947), and Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), culminating in the issuance of the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.


To play a role in shaping how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in 2028, higher education leaders and lawyers need to strategize – as Houston and Marshall did – about what test cases are emerging in all 50 states, how those cases will create appellate opportunities, and how each court decision can build upon a prior decision.


If the goal is to push back against Justice O’Connor’s expectation of a race-free admissions process after 2028, then those who support race-based admissions must think about what legal cases can best frame the argument that 2028 is too early a year to abandon that system.  If the goal is to recast affirmative action as a class-based system starting in 2028, those advocates need to build the case for why class is a fitting substitute for race when it comes to admissions.


There is a possibility that no appropriate case will reach the U.S. Supreme Court in 2028 to cause it to issue a ruling that will change affirmative action.  But there is an even greater possibility that opponents of race-based admissions are preparing, even now, to file test cases in the near and distant future that will drive these issues to the U.S. Supreme Court just in time to try to turn Justice O’Connor’s 2003 expectation into the law of the land.


V.I. King is President of the Board of Trustees at Glendale Community College and University Legal Counsel at California State University, Los Angeles.