Carpe Diem

For ‘representational equity,’ Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison calls on professors to use racial profiling for assigning grades

In the summer of 2006, as the citizens of Michigan were getting ready to vote that November on a ballot proposal that would decide whether publicly-funded Michigan universities could continue their admissions practices of racial double standards and affirmative discrimination, I wrote an op-ed about Proposal 2 that appeared in the Detroit Free Press. An excerpt of that article appears below. (Note: The ballot proposal passed by a wide 16-point margin of 58% to 42%.)

To understand why it’s time to end racial preferences in higher education, consider the following scenario. A university professor walks into class at the beginning of the semester. After a review of required texts, assignments and examinations, the professor discusses grading. The professor explains that there is a new university policy that applies a double standard for grading and is an extension of the university’s race-based admissions policies.

A standard grading scale will apply to all white, Asian and Arab students. African-American and Hispanic students will automatically receive extra points for all assignments and will receive a final letter grade based on a preferential grading scale.

Most people would find this a blatant form of discrimination.

First, the students receiving academic favoritism might justifiably object that they are being stereotyped as a homogeneous group. It would be offensive to many of those students to assume automatically that they all need preferential academic treatment.

Second, this form of academic profiling creates a disincentive for black and Hispanic students to study as hard as they would otherwise. Moreover, these students could face a special-preference stigma when they enter the job market or apply to graduate school. Their academic credentials could justifiably be questioned.

Moreover, these students could face a special-preference stigma when they enter the job market or apply to graduate school. If a student graduates from college with a 3.5 grade point average, a prospective employer or graduate program would justifiably question the academic credentials and potential abilities of those students who received race-based adjustments in all of their undergraduate course work.

Finally, most everyone would object to the fundamental unfairness of giving preferential treatment to certain groups of students. The students who didn’t receive special grading preferences would rightfully feel they were being treated unfairly and being discriminated against. Why should an Arab or Asian student with an 85% score in an accounting class get a letter grade of B if a black or Hispanic student with the same percentage gets an A?

These and many other reasons explain why the only acceptable practice in the classroom is the equal treatment of all students as individuals, without regard to race, sex, ethnicity or religion. And yet the hypothetical classroom-based discrimination is exactly the type of admission-based discrimination that prevails at some public universities in Michigan. And it is the obvious objections to academic favoritism in the classroom that explain why racial favoritism in college admissions is being legally challenged.

Students are already treated as individuals without regard to race by university professors once they enter college. Treating all students as individuals when they first apply to college will ultimately move us further along toward the ideal of a colorblind society than maintaining the current admissions practices of double standards, special preferences and racial discrimination.

MP: Never did I think that the hypothetical example of race-based grading used in my op-ed to illustrate why race-based admissions are equally objectionable and offensive would ever be seriously considered. But I guess I underestimated the extent to which racial profiling, affirmative discrimination, and diversity remain so deeply embedded and entrenched in the liberal minds of college administrators and professors.

Exhibit A: In a major departure from race-neutral grading that has been a central part of higher education in America for hundreds of years, it looks like the University of Wisconsin-Madison is now actually calling on its professors to engage in racial profiling and affirmative discrimination when they distribute grades in their classrooms.

W. Lee Hansen, University of Wisconsin-Madison economics professor emeritus, explains in a recent op-ed (“Madness in Madison“) what is happening at his institution:

Many American colleges and universities are in the thrall of “diversity,” but none more so than my institution, the University of Wisconsin. This spring, the university adopted a new plan that, according to Board of Regents policy, “places the mission of diversity at the center of institutional life so that it becomes a core organizing principle.” That is, promoting diversity appears to be more important than teaching students.

This Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence sailed through our Faculty Senate without the least bit of attention, much less the “sifting and winnowing” on which it prides itself.  Although much of the language is a thicket of clichés, no one dared challenge it. Moreover, there was no probing of the ramifications of the plan. Apparently, “diversity” has become such a sacred cow that even tenured professors are afraid to question it in any way.

…….

The new framework includes eight essential “working definitions,” among them the already-discussed diversity, as well as others: “compositional diversity,” “critical mass,” “inclusion,” “equity mindedness,” “deficit-mindedness,” “representational equity,” and “excellence.” Let us take a closer look at one of these working definitions included, namely “representational equity.”

It calls for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

Especially shocking is the language about “equity” in the distribution of grades. Professors, instead of just awarding the grade that each student earns, would apparently have to adjust them so that academically weaker, “historically underrepresented racial/ethnic” students perform at the same level and receive the same grades as academically stronger students.

At the very least, this means even greater expenditures on special tutoring for weaker targeted minority students. It is also likely to trigger a new outbreak of grade inflation, as professors find out that they can avoid trouble over “inequitable” grade distributions by giving every student a high grade. Is there any reason to believe that the UW system’s Inclusive Excellence plan implemented at UW-Madison is going to improve the education of its students? I can see no reason to think so. Actually, the contrary seems more likely.

The University of Wisconsin adopted its first diversity plan back in 1966 and every few years it launches a much-touted new one. During my 30-year teaching career at Madison, followed by more than a decade of retirement, I have seen not the slightest bit of evidence that the fixation on “diversity” has made the campus better in any respect.

Update: Patrick Sims, Chief Diversity Officer and interim vice provost for Diversity and Climate at UW-Madison issued a statement a few days ago disputing Professor Hansen’s article. In that statement Sims said that UW-Madison’s diversity plan “absolutely does not extend to how instructors should or could grade students.” Further, Sims called Professor Hansen’s column “a gross misrepresentation of our current efforts.”

HT: Morgan Frank

13 thoughts on “For ‘representational equity,’ Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison calls on professors to use racial profiling for assigning grades

  1. It’s like the South Park episode of Sarcastiball! You make a sarcastic comment and somebody decides it’s a good idea…

  2. As an instructor who has automated students’ grading, I don’t miss arguing about grades a bit. I don’t even know what their grade is until I look at it and enter it through a link the last day of class because it is the students’ job to acknowledge their grade weekly in an uploaded summary. Students can get their grade at any time on their phone or computer.

    I think any narrative about ‘giving” grades is wrong by design. Students earn grades by completing assignments and turning them in on time and any late penalty is programmed into the automatic gradebook with a date and time stamp. Turning in an assignment late is just like coming into work late: you don’t get your full pay.

  3. If my college does this, I will have to get information about a gender and/or race code I don’t currently get, and the percentage of grade premium to program into the gradebook for each code (you can’t tell this online and because of our multicultural students, I often don’t know even when I see them in person). And, of course, all of the students would need to be notified about the grading process because it is a posted and transparent policy.

    I wonder how colleges would handle the current widespread policy of self-declaration of race? (colleges are only allowed to decide undeclared gender of male or female at this time for federal reporting)

    • I like it — as a freshman you self declare yourself a victim (minority) that gets you the most free stuff and higher grades. When you graduate with your way to high gpa you self declare you are white and straight. What a system.
      Sounds kinda like the current senator from Mass.

  4. what’s amazing here is that this actually sounds like a new form of jim crow: separate grading system, equal grades.

    of course, it will not look like that in real life, will it?

    if you were an employer and you knew this was going on, why would you take the grades of a basque-Cherokee student seriously?

    you’d tend to discount their degree and gpa as less impressive than a similar one from a white or asian student.

    suddenly, even having the same degree and same grades is not parity.

    how are talented minorities even supposed to prove themselves under such a system?

    even if they do the same work and would have earned the same grade, they no longer get full credit for it.

    this is yet another program that does real damage to those it purports to help.

    • It is interesting that we have come full circle on this. One of the big pushes for colleges was supreme court ruling that employers could not give IQ type tests because of potential discrimination. A college degree became a proxy for having a certain level of knowledge.
      Now because of grade inflation and this sort madness with minorities grades — employers are starting to give IQ type tests again.
      I wish do-gooder would just go away!

  5. UWM and the rest of the big liberal schools have moved ever closer to grade equality over the years through grade inflation. The disadvantaged have already been covered over through that ploy.

    Folks over at Minding The Campus suggest that the time has arrived for the Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers.

  6. “It calls for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

    The people illegally swarming over the southern U.S. border certainly are broadly diverse, underrepresented racial-ethnic groups. The growing proportions will make an interesting set-aside of grades at the top of the curve.

  7. “Let us take a closer look at one of these working definitions included, namely “representational equity.”

    It calls for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

    I can’t find the terms “representational equity” “distribution” “grade” or “grades” performing a search of the Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence PDF report. Where did the quotation above come from? I was looking for context for that remark and struck out. Maybe the terms are somewhere else not referenced or maybe my PDF “Find” function does not work?

      • Thanks for the link. I don’t know the race of some of my students even if the college ordered me to increase grades for them, but that does not mean that can’t happen administratively because I don’t see students’ official college records in my capacity (I don’t know for sure the student I put in for a C actually gets a C, a B, or an A.). My gradebook is electronic, and the dean, me, and the student knows any student’s current grade any time we want to check it.

  8. so first the do gooders push for racial diversity in universities using race based admissions. As a result we have a lot of blacks and hispanics in these universities who would not have been admitted soley on their grades in high school.

    Now the inevitable happens and these students are achieving lower grades than the students who did not get the preferential race treatment so the do gooders are pushing for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

    makes sense to me………..

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