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