Scalia stirs controversy again with questions in affirmative action case

11 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Black college grads use #SlowTrackBlacks to reject Justice Scalia’s affirmative action comments.

It is unknown whether the Supreme Court will approve or reject the race-conscious admissions plan at the University of Texas at Austin, but there is no question about what has emerged as the most controversial moment of Wednesday’s hearing. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s suggestion, during an oral argument Wednesday, that black college students might be better off at a “slower-track school” where they “do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them” has sparked a national uproar. Scalia lit up social media and was denounced Thursday on the Senate floor for comments he made that seemed to scoff at the value of diversity at selective universities by sharply questioning whether African Americans might instead be helped by “having them go to a less-advanced school . . . a slower-track school where they do well.” It is hardly surprising that Scalia stirred controversy at the hearing: If anything, his recent public comments about the court have become even more blunt and the criticism of his colleagues when he is on the losing side ever more stinging.

Why, today, would you end a system that helps minority students who otherwise are disadvantaged and discriminated against win a place at a decent university and helps make those universities reflect the diversity of this country’s population? Texas, is whether the university needs to consider race in its admissions process in order to create an environment diverse enough to benefit all students.

University of Texas-Austin. “What we don’t need during finals is Justice Scalia telling us black students should not be placed in higher performing schools,” tweeted @UrbanPariah95, one of the many who disagreed with Scalia. That assertion, put forth in the book “Mismatch” by UCLA professor Richard Sander and former New York Times reporter Stuart Taylor Jr., has been hotly debated. Black college graduates took to social media to flaunt their degrees and academic accolades using #SlowTrackBlacks to prove it is possible to excel at so-called tougher schools. Though Ms Fisher had less than stellar grades and could not prove she would have been admitted under a race-neutral admissions policy, she and the organisation backing her, the Project on Fair Representation, insist that the UT scheme violates the constitution.

Sander and Taylor filed a brief laying out their argument (see p. 16ff) while the American Educational Research Association disputed it (see pp. 26-30). When the plan was first under a microscope in 2013, the justices sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals with instructions to inspect it more carefully. That theory holds that granting preferences to minority candidates who have not been prepared for the rigorous academic challenges at elite universities is self-defeating and sets up the students for failure. Just on Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologised to the Chicago City Council for police abuse and recalled a young black man asking him whether police would treat him, Rahm, out there in the neighbourhoods the same way they treat him. The regular admissions program, which currently accounts for 75% of entering freshmen, accepts all Texas applicants who graduate in the top 10% or so of their high school class.

Many of the arguments about those broad benefits, meanwhile, are about discussion-based classes in the social sciences and humanities, where students’ backgrounds could influence their perspective and contributions. UT’s affirmative action program seeks out minorities who attended the state’s most competitive high schools and graduated with high grades—but below the top of the class cutoff. Though strict racial quotas do not square with the 14th amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, Bakke says, universities may consider racial and ethnic identity as a factor in a holistic look at student files to secure the “the educational benefits that flow from an ethnically diverse student body”. They “are, on average, more likely than their top 10% counterparts to have attended an integrated high school,” and “on average, have higher SAT scores than their top 10% counterparts,” the school said in court papers.

Maybe it ought to have fewer . . . you know, when you take more, the number of blacks, really competent blacks admitted to lesser schools, turns out to be less.” Scalia was equally provocative last month when addressing law students at Georgetown. He has criticized the Supreme Court’s recent decision that said same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. “It’s up to me to decide deserving minorities?” Scalia asked. “What about pederasts? Sometimes there are direct educational benefits: A study of students in medical school found that white students studying at more diverse colleges said they felt more prepared than their peers at less diverse schools to meet the needs of patients of different races. News & World Report’s influential ratings. “The African-American or Hispanic child of successful professionals in Dallas who has strong SAT scores” has “great potential for serving as a ‘bridge’ in promoting cross-racial understanding,” UT said. It’s a throwback to a time that America left behind a half a century ago. … That Justice Scalia could raise such an uninformed idea shows just how out of touch he is with the values of this nation.”

But the grilling that Mr Garre got when he was before the justices on Wednesday suggested that the conservatives on the Court are straining to deliver the mortal blow to affirmative action. Nobody loves them.’ Scalia’s comments about what is called the “mismatch” theory of affirmative action also seemed to be unconnected to what the court was debating at the time. This underrepresentation can create a vicious cycle: Students don’t have mentors and role models of their race, they don’t feel they belong in their classroom or department, and they don’t have a support system.

In UT’s unique system, the flagship university admits about 75 percent of its freshmen based on their graduation rankings from Texas high schools, under the “top 10 percent” rule. Thirty-six percent of black students who entered college as STEM majors changed their mind before graduation, a higher rate than any other racial group, according to a 2013 study from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

It happens that the 75 per cent who qualify under the top-10 system are already diverse because Texas schools are so segregated – most are either very black or very white. More diverse classrooms and better support systems can help stop that attrition, the National Academy of Sciences, a group of leading researchers, has argued. In UT’s “holistic” evaluation of those applicants, race is one of several considerations, along with leadership, obstacles overcome and socioeconomic factors. Mr Garre was offended. (He is unlikely to have been alone.) “Frankly, I don’t think the solution to the problems with student body diversity can be to set up a system in which not only are minorities going to separate schools, they’re going to inferior schools,” he replied.

She precisely said that universities want to sustain levels of diversity because of the still high rate of race-related turmoil on campuses like Yale and Missouri, though she didn’t name them, and the enduring worry that minority students often feel isolated. If the benefits from race-conscious policies are insubstantial, he said, they may not justify resorting to the “very difficult decision to allow race to be considered”. With an ”approach to equal protection [that] is focused on individuals”, Mr Primus said, Justice Kennedy is likely to approve UT’s plan that considers race as “one part of a complex calculus” for each student.

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