Saturday, November 11, 2006

Markets or Elites? Voters Choose in Michigan

Voters in Michigan this week approved a proposal banning the consideration of race, gender, and national origin in admissions decisions. A story in the Michigan student newspaper, the Michigan Daily, gives additional background on this story.
http://www.michigandaily.com/media/storage/paper851/
news/2006/11/08/Government/Affirmative.Action.Banned-2446551.shtml?norewrite200611111856&sourcedomain=www.michigandaily.com

Though 58 percent of voters statewide approved this proposal, the Daily reports that student votes were substantially lopsided in the other direction - with as many as 75 percent reported as voting against this proposal. The administration of the University of Michigan (of which I am an alumnus) held a long-term commitment to racially-sensitive admissions policies, taking those policies to the U.S. Supreme Court last year. However, Michigan voters (who pay the taxes supporting these public institutions) got the last word. The Daily reports that admissions policies must change as soon as the Secretary of State certifies the result of the election.

So, if you are relying on race to get you in, you had better ask for an early decision. However, if you are an Asian, your stock may just have gone up. A story published today on the online edition of the Wall Street Journal asks, "Is the Admissions Bar Higher for Asians?" That story can be found here:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116321461412620634.html?mod=hps_us_at_glance_most_pop
This article reports that " [a] study, by the Center for Equal Opportunity, in Virginia, found that Asian applicants admitted to the University of Michigan in 2005 had a median SAT score of 1400 on the 400-1600 scale then in use. That was 50 points higher than the median score of white students who were accepted, 140 points higher than that of Hispanics and 240 points higher than that of blacks." Though admittedly SAT scores are not the only indicators considered in admissions, one must wonder why there is a systematic difference here based on racial lines. That one seems hard to explain in a manner that does not involve some preference for some, and not for others, based on the color of their skin or other ancestry.

In this area, as in others, there are winners and losers when we move from one system of decisionmaking to another. We can trust markets or we can trust the elites to make the decisions for us. In this case, voters in Michigan rejected the elites. They moved toward systems based on test scores and other academic requirements, though other factors like economic background, work experiences, activities, etc. may also play into these decisions. Moving away from race does not mean that a diverse student body cannot be achieved by taking into account factors other than race or national origin. The elites still get to make decisions, and I'm guessing that their preferences will still be continued, though not on as grand of a scale as before.

Those interested in social justice (and I hope that means all of us) must wrestle with the consequences of policies that favor some and not others based on the categories of race in admissions. Instead of focusing on outcomes, I hope that continuing attention is directed to helping young people get qualified to achieve at higher levels. We may not like the competition out there, but there is no substitute for getting ready to compete and doing it, rather than wringing our hands. That is a longer-term solution, but I believe it is one that is sustainable.


P.S. For additional comments on the minimum wage issue raised in my earlier post this week, see this commentary in the online Wall Street Journal (subscription may be required). It is hard to fight the laws of nature, my friends.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116320581226920449.html?mod=hps_us_at_glance_opinion

1 comment:

Shawn Deluhery said...

Hi Ed,

As you know Michigan has been on the forefront of the affirmitive action issue. I agree, SAT scores are not the only measure of admissions. However, standardized tests are the component of admissions receiving the greatest amount of weight. I am not sure if the admission bar is higher for other races or not. Should we have mean and median scores for different demographies? Isn't this a critical point in affirmative action planning?

I have a question for you though Ed. How do you define markets in the Michigan case? Do you mean schools should simply admit the highest test scores into the best collages? Does this not lead to a class society? The elite system does consider academic ability as it chooses the best of a variety of demographics. The elite system attempts, although with flaws, to improve those demographies of people who are behind.

I agree with your paragraph on social outcomes. Although results do matter.

Helping those left behind requires an increased amount of funding, through taxation. America does not currently have the stomach to do this as was shown by reduction of college funding by republicans. Maybe this will change with the Democrats coming into office in January?

Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving!

shawn