Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Times fronts an article today entitled Top Colleges Take More Blacks, but Which Ones? dedicated to a discussion of affirmative action at Harvard and across the nation. The emphasis is mine:

In Professor Guinier's view, there are plenty of other blacks who could also succeed at elite colleges, but the institutions are not doing enough to find them. She said they were overly reliant on measures like SAT scores, which correlate strongly with family wealth and parental education.

"Colleges and universities are defaulting on their obligation to train and educate a representative group of future leaders," said Professor Guinier, a Harvard graduate herself who has been studying college admissions practices for more than a decade. "And they are excluding poor and working-class whites, not just descendants of slaves."

Ummm. When exactly did it become reasonable to assume that colleges and universities have taken on an obligation to produce a representative group of future leaders? As far as I am concerned, the only obligation colleges and universities have is to scholarly research and education.

Arguments can be made that universities should, in fact, try to educate a representative group of future leaders -- this is a debate we are still having. Its intellectually dishonest to pretend everyone has agreed on this but universities, even those that maintain affirmative action programs, are defaulting on their natural obligations.

And if these people think that its so important to train a representative group, it follows they should think that the disproportionately large number of asian kids who perform well is a bad thing?

Anyway: the article is mainly about immigrants from africa and the west indies being the main beneficaries of Harvard's affirmative action program,

At the most recent reunion of Harvard University's black alumni, there was lots of pleased talk about the increase in the number of black students at Harvard.

But the celebratory mood was broken in one forum, when some speakers brought up the thorny issue of exactly who those black students were.

While about 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, Lani Guinier, a Harvard law professor, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's African and African-American studies department, pointed out that the majority of them — perhaps as many as two-thirds — were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.

They said that only about a third of the students were from families in which all four grandparents were born in this country, descendants of slaves...

"This is about the kids of recent arrivals beating out the black indigenous middle-class kids," said Professor Gates, who plans to assemble a study group on the subject. "We need to learn what the immigrants' kids have so we can bottle it and sell it, because many members of the African-American community, particularly among the chronically poor, have lost that sense of purpose and values which produced our generation."

Doesn't this fact dramatically undermine the arguments for affirmative action? If black immigrants -- who typically arrive in the country no richer than most American-born blacks -- dramatically outperform blacks born in the US, shouldn't this suggest that cultural factors are ultimately responsible for the poor performance of African- Americans? Not, as one person in the article put it, "being dealt a crooked hand?"


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