Next month, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The case will look at the constitutionality of Michigan’s 2006 ballot initiative to ban affirmative action in public university decisions. I can’t wait for John Roberts to blithely declare an end to racial struggle in Michigan the same way he decided it was okay for North Carolina to be racist again, because racism is over in the South.
Not that Roberts cares about pesky things like facts, but the facts on the ground in Michigan since the state’s ballot initiative show that without affirmative action, minority enrollment has plummeted. At the University of Michigan, minority enrollment at the college and the law school is down 30 percent.
Now, I know a lot of conservatives will respond to that number with “so?” I get that there are entire swaths of America that could give a crap if minorities are going to public universities or not. I’m sure the hatred for “undeserving” minorities will be well expressed in the comments.
Those people aren’t running the University of Michigan, however. The people running Michigan would like to admit a diverse group of students, and the state’s ballot initiative has clearly hampered that effort. For that law school, it’s a very complicated problem, because as we’ve been reporting, law school applications are down across the board, and that includes minority applicants….
In 2006, the last year Michigan was allowed to consider race in admissions, Michigan Law enrolled 25 African-American 1Ls, which represented only 6.8 percent of the class. Since then, according to Bloomberg, that number hasn’t topped 18. Let me point out that when people bitch about the scourge of supposedly undeserving minorities allowed to go to school by a race-conscious affirmative action regime, we’re talking about something like ten kids.
In any event, here’s a Bloomberg quote from Sarah Zearfoss, dean of admissions at Michigan Law:
“So many things, so many things, and — spoiler alert — none of it really has helped,” Zearfoss said.
She pointed to a list of efforts to recruit more black applicants and persuade more admitted students to enroll. The school has enlisted black students, professors and alumni to help — all to no avail.
Part of the problem is that virtually every accepted black student also has offers from a half-dozen or more other top-flight law schools, guaranteeing that Michigan will enroll only a fraction of them.
“These are all people who anyone would want to admit,” Zearfoss said. Unable to consider race, she said she can no longer bolster minority enrollment with “hidden gems” who escaped the attention of other schools.
Here’s the thing that frustrates affirmative action supporters and detractors alike: minority students who score just as well as white students on standardized tests can go pretty much anywhere they like. They don’t need affirmative action or “plus factors” or help. Some high-scoring minorities even get pissed off at affirmative action, as if it’s the policy’s fault that white people denigrate their accomplishments by mistakenly assuming they only got into school “because of affirmative action.” It’s not “affirmative action” when you admit a black kid who scored just as highly as all the white kids you admitted. It’s just called “not being racist.” It’s affirmative action when you admit a black kid who didn’t score as highly as all the other white, black and brown students, instead of other white kids who also didn’t score as highly as all the other white, black, and brown students already in your class.
But the Michigan statute prevents Michigan from taking minority students who are just off the pace over similarly low-scoring white kids. In fact, they’re free to admit whatever “low-achieving” white student they like, for whatever reason they choose.
In a market with dwindling law school applications, the way it plays out is that Michigan is going to lose out to HYS or CCN schools for the top-scoring minority students at relatively the same rate as they lose out on the top-scoring white students. So Michigan can still admit white students who scored just below whatever the top standardized testing level is and those kids are going to get in and go to Michigan. The “low-achieving” black student, however, is going to go to a better school that is still allowed to practice affirmative action. It’s not like Michigan can no longer compete as effectively for minority students who would otherwise end up going to whatever crappy school you can think of. It’s that Michigan can no longer compete for minority students who are going to Duke, UVA, or Penn.
The “hidden gems” Zearfoss is looking for aren’t Stringer Bells… educated drug dealers looking to better themselves by moot courting their way out of the ‘hood. They’re middle-class minorities just as average as half of the white kids in the Michigan class. Only now Michigan is prevented from looking at “race” to distinguish those kids, but they’re still allowed to look at whether or not Daddy was an alumnus to give a comparable white student a spot in the class. The reality of Michigan’s statute is that it allows Michigan to look at any stupid factor it wants to when trying to pick from largely unremarkable students, except race. The statute, perversely, prevents Michigan from competing for minority students who are going to do fine at Michigan’s rival law schools, while still preserving the school’s ability to admit white students who score just as poorly.
You call that a meritocracy? I call that a butthurt overreaction by middling white people.
We’ll see what happens at the Supreme Court. It’s all about Anthony Kennedy. I don’t think anybody can know what he’s thinking. But the future of affirmative action is in the convoluted hands of a 77-year-old white man appointed by Ronald Reagan.
We do know what the rest of the conservative majority will do. We all know how Chief Justice Roberts likes to tell black people what’s best for them. We all know how Clarence Thomas is more concerned about the 18 or 14 or freaking one black person who can get into the special club more than he cares about the community that is excluded. And we all know that Scalia and Alito think that if the Founders wanted women and minorities to have rights they would have said so.