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Yale 62

Another View of the DOJ Case

By Larry Price

Lee and Roman have both written very eloquent statements about the DOJ action and Yale’s response, but I think that both may be missing the point. Yale does in fact, discriminate in favor of African-Americans and against whites and Asian-Americans.

While discrimination in favor of legacies and applicants with strong passing arms is perfectly legal, discrimination on the basis of race is not. Yet Yale, and other schools, are permitted to do so. The justification is as follows: a college education is as much a function of one’s classmates as it is of the professors. A class which consisted only of legacy children with 1600 SAT scores and who all went to Andover or Exeter, would be a very one-dimensional education experience. Therefore, to provide a balanced educational experience, Yale favors underrepresented groups and disfavors over-represented groups. This is why President Salovey in his statement said:

By bringing people of different backgrounds, talents, and perspectives together, we best prepare our students for a complex and dynamic world.

In other words, racial discrimination is to be allowed in the service of a better educational experience. And the Courts have allowed it. But an increased number of people are increasingly unhappy with what could only be described as an inconsistent policy. And that number now includes the DOJ. A significant addition.

Once filed, these things tend to take on a life of their own. The IBM antitrust suit, filed on the last day of LBJ’s term, was finally settled in President Reagan’s first term. I think that we shall be hearing about this for a long time.

[Ed. Note The comments to which Larry refers to are found here.]

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3 comments to Another View

  • Roman Weil

    Larry quotes President Salovey who says, “By bringing people of different backgrounds, talents, and perspectives together, we best prepare our students for a complex and dynamic world.” And then Larry says, “In other words, racial discrimination is to be allowed in the service of a better education experience. And the Courts have allowed it.”

    Let’s agree with the above. The President’s words do not lead to unambiguous admissions criteria. For the sake of discussion, I’ll pose hypotheticals, which is how I like to move forward discussion with crisp focus. We have plenty of time here, so I’ll wait to see responses before I pose the follow-ups I have in mind.

    Imagine that in searching for “people of different backgrounds, talents, and perspectives,” Admissions finds two distinct types of Black applicants, only two for the sake of discussion.

    Type A. From impoverished family in one of the ten poorest zip codes, such as Erie PA, single mom, has had to work to support the family. Finished in top half of high school class. All interviews and investigation suggests will struggle to survive academically at Yale, even with tutors. Still, one of the best candidates from these ten zip codes.

    Type B. From rural Oklahoma and Alabama, discovered by an outfit like Questbridge, who has worked with the student and who vouches for the talent of this student who has done poorly in high school because of her family responsibilities and mediocre teachers, who appear to be a bit racist. The Questbridge-type and Yale interviewers both rate this student highly in spite of her lack of grade and test scores.

    I’ve tried to construct these so that you agree to admit all the candidates of Type B, but worry about Type A. Assume there aren’t enough Type B applicants to give President Salovey as many as he’d like to have. What next?

    • Larry Price

      Roman has proposed a hypothetical for admissions. The hypothetical is not very good. In point of fact, both Type A and Type B should be rejected. To admit either of them would be setting them up for failure. That would not do anyone any good. Not the applicants who would be in hopelessly over their heads, nor Yale, nor their classmates who would have to deal with grinding frustration.

      And the hypothetical masks the real problem. In the Harvard case, the allegation was made that black applicants were admitted with SAT scores 120 points lower than rejected Asian Americans. In a recent freshman class, the median SAT score was 1560. 120 points lower is 1440, hardly the bottom of the barrel. An applicant with a 1440 SAT score should be fully capable of doing Yale level work. (As I remember, my SAT score was 1450, so I know of what I speak.) The problem is that a black candidate is being admitted with a SAT score of 1440; the same score for a white or Asian American would bring rejection.

      This blatant racial discrimination is justified because the black applicant brings a different background and perspective. And I think most of us would admit that it is an improvement over the “lily white” classes of our day. But even with that admission, questions linger. The goal is to expose all of the members of the class to a different perspective. What level of black admissions is required to do that?
      Clearly it cannot be a token number, but does it have to 10% as in recent classes? If we admit a black kid from NYC whose father is a surgeon and who went to Andover, are we really adding a different perspective? I have never seen articulated the actual criteria used. I am sure that there is a very real reluctance to do so.

  • Roman Weil

    Larry rejects the hypos, but assume there aren’t enough applicants with the qualifications he’d like to fill Salovey’s hope/constraints. Something has to give. What? I use extreme cases for discussion. I want to have a discussion with those who agree to Salovey’s wishes and who concede that the only way to get there is to admit students of Type A in my hypo. I’ve had students like that in teaching at universities ranked at least as high as Yale. It doesn’t move the discussion forward to say the hypo is no good. One must either say, “Salovey, we can’t have that many or we have students who create a problem of grading, counseling, and the like.” Don’t say there isn’t a problem. Larry seems to opt for the solution to reduce the number/percentage, but not relax the criteria. Salovey won’t buy that, I’ll wager. He likely won’t concede that Yale can’t find enough admits to meet his criteria. I teach STEM-like subjects where objectivity in scoring is easier than in the humanities.