The Supreme Court’s rehash of Fisher and Affirmative Action - Higher Education
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The Supreme Court’s rehash of Fisher and Affirmative Action

by Emil Guillermo

121415_affirmative_actionAfter the Supreme Court’s second go-round with the Fisher vs. UT-Austin case last week, the big headline to emerge isn’t about whether the high court sends it back to the lower court, or if this is the start of the beginning or the end of the use of race in admissions.

No, instead we’re hearing a lot about “mismatch.”

Mismatch?

We aren’t talking dating sites but college admissions.

But there are some people who see affirmative action as akin to taking someone who should be on Blackpeoplemeet.com but going on elitesingles.com instead.

Is that the best chance for a love match?

Not if you ask Justice Antonin Scalia.

At the Fisher hearing, Scalia brought up the idea of the mismatch, the notion that Blacks, and presumably people in color in general, would be better off if they just didn’t gain admissions to  the harder, mostly White  elite schools.

“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school, where they do well,” Scalia said.

“One of the [legal] briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

You probably saw that quote a lot over the last week.

The problem is the mismatch theory has been thoroughly discredited, according to Richard Lempert, University of Michigan law professor, who called Scalia’s analysis “dead wrong.”

“Study after study tells us that whether one looks at graduation rates or future earnings, minorities admitted to more selective schools with an assist from affirmative action do at least as well as and more often better than they could have been expected to do had they gone to less selective institutions,” Lempert said in the British newspaper, the Guardian.

Lempert was part of a study that went over three decades of affirmative action data at Michigan. It showed affirmative action students were as successful as White students.

Opportunity really did result in equality.

That’s no mismatch.

You want to know the real mismatch?

It isn’t between student and institution, but rather in an institution’s half-hearted commitment to diversity itself.

When the heart isn’t in it, and it’s just about compliance, an institution’s chance for success is limited at best.

From my own experience, here’s what it takes.

Once you let disadvantaged students in, what are you going to do for them?

Is there faculty to help? Are they tenured?  Of the same race?  Is there a department of ethnic studies even?

In general, is there the availability of a support network? Is there counseling?  Is there a center where students can gather and feel at home?

If the answer is “NO,” more than “YES” then anything that looks like an affirmative action program is being set up for failure.

When I went to an Ivy League school in the early ‘70s it was still a pioneering moment for minority students.

In many cases, it was like sending the Donner party to California in winter.

Even half-hearted diversity efforts now are better than what existed back then.

Subsequently, when I’ve heard of ideas like “mismatch,” it came during the time when affirmative action was under heavy attack. To me, the mismatch idea seemed like a way anti-affirmative action advocates could feel better about not supporting real attempts at equality and fairness.

Because, you see, those people really cared about the real victims of affirmative action. And who were they? Why the recipients of it, of course.  Add them to the Whites who are victims of reverse discrimination, and what kind of deranged person could even think to back affirmative action?

I’m a firm believer that if affirmative action didn’t work in an institution, it wasn’t because students were mismatched with their universities.

It was simply because universities’ ideals were mismatched with their will to implement a real remedy.

It’s often said minority students at elite programs had to work twice as hard to get in, to stay in, and to succeed.  That’s true.

But no one has sufficiently questioned the effort on the part of college administrations. When a university only makes a half-hearted attempt at real diversity, that’s what you call a mismatch.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator. He blogs for http://www.aaldef.org/blog

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