« previous post | Main | next post »

May 31, 2005

what's up in Oregon?

Don Herzog: May 31, 2005

The University of Oregon has published a draft of a Five Year Diversity Plan.  I don't teach there.  I've never even been there.  So maybe I'm not entitled to a view.  And maybe it's just bureaucratic gobbledygook and nothing much will come of it even if it's formally adopted.  Maybe.  But the thing turns my stomach.

I'm no opponent of diversity:  I discussed the politicization of universities and intellectual diversity here.  And I'm no opponent of affirmative action, either.  But both "diversity" and "affirmative action" admit sharply different interpretations.  And I am a fierce opponent of what the University of Oregon apparently has in mind.  To their inadvertently hilarious echo of Soviet five-year planning, I shall have to respond with fratricidal leftist infighting.

I'll start here:

The UO predicts a long-term future that rises above constraints to recognize, respect and ensure diversity, including the ethnic makeup of the freshman class, the racial and gender balance of tenured faculty, accessibility for the disabled, and the range of perspectives shared in campus classrooms around issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, religious differences and other characteristics that make up the campus community.

Oh, I'm all in favor of making campus facilities readily accessible for the disabled.  (Notice, please, that there is no way to get a handle on whether enforced spending on ramps and the like counts as illicit redistribution or equality of opportunity without deciding whether the disabled properly are entitled to them, or whether architecture not so equipped counts as discriminatory or the unremarkable, benign status quo.)  And you know, I kinda like respect, too.  But I read this statement as sliding past those sentiments into dangerous terrain.  Let's distinguish two approaches to equality here.  One:  we should publicly affirm the worth of all kinds of differences.  Two:  we should be blind to such differences, or treat them as private.  I wouldn't rule out the first strategy wholesale, but my sympathies run strongly to the second.  When I grade my students, I ignore whether they're male or female, white or black or Asian or Hispanic, straight or gay, wealthy or poor, Republican or Democrat, and so on.

In fact here at the law school we have a regime imposing blindness:  when I receive the final exams, all they have on them is code numbers.  I don't get the names matching the numbers until I've filed provisional grades.  (Provisional because I'm allowed to adjust the grades for class participation.  But no one in his right mind would defend adjusting grades to reward students for good looks, or devout religiosity, or left- or right-wing views, or racial or ethnic background, or anything of the sort.)  I could happily live without endless campus sessions in sensitivity and diversity and the like.  Even in response to ugly racist incidents, let alone everyday boorishness, they're offensive, probably counterproductive too.  I think Oregon means to embrace more of them.

And then numbers, targets, why if it weren't such a charged category they might as well just say quotas and be done with it.  The Plan proposes "a goal of doubling the current representation of students in each of the four federally recognized underrepresented groups," in part by adding 800 scholarships apparently reserved for minorities — and in part by increasing "the number of Math and English classes offered by the Office of Multicultural Academic Support."  Apparently that Office sets aside spaces in smaller classes for minority students.  It looks blatantly illegal to me.  But whether I'm right or wrong about that, it's offensive.  You bet, plenty of undergraduates are woefully unprepared for college.  Plenty of them are white, too.

What does doubling the current minority numbers mean?  AP reports that the University now has 2,706 nonwhite students in its population of 20,339.  (The Census Bureau reports that Oregon was 87% white in 2000.)  The Plan pays homage to the Supreme Court's approval of "critical mass" in Grutter.  But critical mass isn't a quantitative concept, and I'd love to see a jot of evidence that Oregon needs over 25% of its student body to be minority in order, for instance, to get past the expectation that there is "a minority point of view."  Or a jot of evidence that Oregon is entitled to use these numerical targets to overcome its own past history of de jure discrimination.

And the Plan sets its baleful sights on faculty hiring and promotion.  Yes, gang, time for more quotas:  "Under-represented faculty will be recruited, hired and tenured at rates reflecting national trends among our university peers."  The Oregon Students of Color Coalition just gave Zero Awards to the five departments on campus with "no tenure-track faculty of color."  I quite like this kind of student politicking and publicity.  But what follows?  You might wonder if there's some kind of invidious discrimination going on, for the same reason that labor law permits the use of statistics to try to help support a finding of a "pattern or practice of discrimination."  But the numbers can't themselves establish discrimination.  They couldn't even if the students had added the numbers about how many minority candidates are in the pool of candidates.  What matters is that hiring procedures are fair, not that minorities gain faculty positions at "rates reflecting national trends."

The Plan has more to say about faculty.  Tenure and pay should be based in part on "demonstrable commitment to cultural competency."  And the university shall

Require that all requests for new tenure-track searches include an explanation of how the new hire furthers the unit’s long-term hiring plan (and therefore meets some aspect of the University’s affirmative action, equity or diversity goals).  If a unit believes that a particular hire, by its nature, cannot address these priorities, it needs to provide a rationale for such a claim.

I won't bother spelling out what's repulsive about these proposals.  I suspect only the authors of the Plan, locked in endless committee meetings, could have failed to notice.  But I wouldn't be insistently dour.  AP adds that the faculty is unhappy with the draft Plan.  And the student newspaper has reservations, too, if not the kind I do.  "Sometimes you just have to shake your head in slack-jawed wonder at what's going on in the name of 'celebrating' diversity on our campuses," commented a columnist in Portland's Oregonian.  Amen to that.  Disasters like this Oregon plan don't make life easy for those of us who are sane and favor diversity.

"You may be sane, Don" — relax, I know some of you would never concede that much — "but now you see what diversity and affirmative action lead to."  Sorry, I don't buy slippery slope arguments.  (Compare:  "no one should be allowed to freely buy and sell things, because next thing you know baby-selling will replace adoption queues.  Or we'll have chattel slavery.  Or Bill Gates will buy the right to be president from the next victor.")  Actually, there's one slippery slope argument I do buy:  never make slippery slope arguments, because once you start making them, you'll become incapable of drawing any sensible distinctions and your brain will turn to mush.  If you think affirmative action has to mean quotas or numerical targets on race, try this.  Other things equal, applicants to universities are more likely to win admission if their files include strong, detailed letters of recommendation.  Those letters are a "plus" factor, in the immortal language of Bakke.  But it would be crazy to infer that universities have quotas or targets for how many of their students should have glowing recommendations.

Regardless, those of us who favor affirmative action and diversity need to be loud and clear in denouncing travesties like the Oregon plan.  So please, consider it well and truly denounced by this academic leftist.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference what's up in Oregon?:

» Lame Duck from blogs for industry
Much furor in the blogosphere over a proposed diversity plan at the Univ. of Oregon. (See Cold Spring Shops, Left2Right and links therein). The Chronicle for Higher Ed quotes the U of O President:Mr. Frohnmayer has sent the plan to a committee, which... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 1, 2005 11:27:37 AM

Thus does Professor Plum comment on the Oregon diversity initiative ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 2, 2005 2:57:45 AM

» "Yes, gang, time for more quotas..." from Oregon Commentator Online
I've been lax in keeping up with this story, but the Five-Year Plan pie-fight has been drawing attention nationwide, and not always from people you'd necessarily expect. Here 's Don Herzog at Left2Right:Regardless, those of us who favor affirmative act... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 23, 2005 8:08:47 PM

» "Yes, gang, time for more quotas..." from Oregon Commentator Online
I've been lax in keeping up with this story, but the Five-Year Plan pie-fight has been drawing attention nationwide, and not always from people you'd necessarily expect. Here 's Don Herzog at Left2Right:Regardless, those of us who favor affirmative act... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 23, 2005 8:09:23 PM


Posted by: Yvette

It is often hard for me, an African American 40-ish woman and graduate student, to read arguments critiquing "diversity" plans such as this essay, and the columns linked to in it. The overall message I often get is "These plans ["quotas," "cultural competency training," etc] will create bias [discrimination, racism, "ill feelings," prejudice]..." As if bias et al don't already exist and will continue to not exist in the absense of such plans.

I do respect your analysis of this particular plan, in that I do not see that--even if it manages to pass (which is unlikely, for many of the reasons you cite)--it will accomplish what it sets out to. But unfortunately, I did not read anything here that offers a suggestion about what should be done, in place of such a plan as Oregon's, to address the issues the plan's drafters apparently identified.

I am sorry that very intelligent, well meaning people in academia are tired of "endless campus sessions on sensitivity and diversity." I am tired, too--of "teaching" them in all sorts of ways in many interactions that I have with undergrads, grad student peers, faculty, staff, and others every day.

For me, the sessions actually are "endless." (This is not a complaint, or a pity-party. Merely an observation.)

And I take offense that "color [or whatever else] blindness" is a way to go to reduce racial disparities. Not being seen at all is as bad, in my opinion, as being seen in a negative light. My "differences" are not "private": they are written--literally--all over my face. To pretend otherwise is as much a "travesty" as classroom racial quotas.

Posted by: Yvette | May 31, 2005 8:49:39 AM

Posted by: sean

I don't quite follow your complaint, but it seems that you object to quantitative measures to achieve diversity, preferring some sort of more personalized "plus factor." I think you aren't giving sufficient attention to the fact that we are dealing with a giant state university, not Harvard College. The admissions officers barely read the recommendation letters; admissions decisions most just involve plugging grades and board scores into a formula, with preferences (possibly) for in-state residence and race. And since there isn't a high level of personal involvement in these decisions, the question of how much of a plus to give for race can't be left to intuition: it has to be quantified.

Posted by: sean | May 31, 2005 11:50:17 AM

Posted by: Achillea

I share Sean's puzzlement, though this sentence caught my eye:

I am tired, too--of "teaching" them in all sorts of ways in many interactions that I have with undergrads, grad student peers, faculty, staff, and others every day.

"Teaching" them what, exactly? (I'm not trying to be sarcastic -- I genuinely don't know what you're talking about, and suspect it would help me in understanding your point if I did).

Posted by: Achillea | May 31, 2005 12:08:33 PM

Posted by: Bret

Once again I find myself to the left of Don Herzog, the milquetoast moderate (whereas I'm far, far, far to the right of other Left2Right posters). I'm surprised David Velleman keeps Don around.

If OU were private, I would have absolutely no objection. They're creating a product, people (students) can either buy it or not. They're public, but unless the voters of Oregon are against the program, the funders (i.e. Oregon taxpayers) are getting something that they want, or at least don't have strong feelings against it.

Sure, they are drawbacks to such programs. But when I consider what will make my descendents better off, one thing is for everybody, especially minorities, to achieve their full potential. These sorts of programs, even those not particularly well designed and inefficient, will help achieve this. Every family that possibly can needs to get in the habit of sending its children to college. Those children need to feel comfortable enough to get through, and then get into the job market or become entrepreneurs and contributing to society as much as possible. Building such habits, even if you accept such concepts as the soft bigotry of low expectations, will eventually lead to higher productivity and great gains for everybody.

Posted by: Bret | May 31, 2005 12:12:25 PM

Posted by: OldMountainGoat

The ernest pursuit of truth and knowledge is the best weapon we have against prejudice. And what a happy coincidence! That is what a University is for. Students enter with potential and an inner spark. Unfortunately, in a large University, some will inevitably fall through the cracks. The administration could be fostering an environment to minimize such tragedies. But I get the feeling that the UO has other priorities.

Today, somewhere on campus, a professor failed to notice a promising student because the professor was too busy demonstrating "commitment to cultural competency." That, or the oversight could have been caused by any number of manufactured distractions that plague our Universities. Time to refocus on the main goal. Get back to the business of knowledge and inspiring students with a love for it. To me Don's post is evidence that the UO is on the wrong track and veering further off course.

Posted by: OldMountainGoat | May 31, 2005 2:34:42 PM

Posted by: too many steves

If the objective is to achieve some measure of racial, cultural, economic, and ethnic diversity, and this is justified by the fact that UO is a publicly funded university whose student population should match, as closely as possible, the broader population that it serves, then the solution seems very simple: make sure the racial/cultural/economic/ethnic breakdown of the accepted freshman class matches that of the State census.

But I get the impression from the post and the linked reading that a different objective is in play. The idea is not for all groups to be properly represented - as defined by their proportional representation in the State - but rather for some groups to be over-represented (at the expense of others, btw). This could be justified because of evidence or proof that certain groups are disadvantaged, but that argument is not the one being made here.

The argument seems to be that the quality of learning is enhanced by focusing on the goal of diversity. But if diversity is measured by such superficial traits as skin color and ethnicity then, well, I judge that idea to be dubious, at best.

Cultural differences, class differences, intellectual differences, now those strike me as differences worth encouraging as they bring usefully different perspectives to the learning environment.

Posted by: too many steves | Jun 1, 2005 7:55:01 AM

Posted by: Yvette

such superficial traits as skin color and ethnicity



Posted by: Yvette | Jun 1, 2005 8:28:04 AM

Posted by: Yvette

Achillea, I did not take Sean's comments to be directed to be, but to the original post. (I may be wrong.)

By everyday "teaching" in my first post, I meant my everyday, face-to-face interactions with people who have had minimal experiences with others from "diverse" backgrounds. Through these interactions I frequently must make a choice whether or not to confront what I perceive to be a misconception, unintentional ignorance, or out and out bias.

(Of course, in many contexts I am the one being "taught" and confronted about my own ignorance...)

I will have to continue to make this choice--whether or not formal measures exist on campus to facilitate these conversations. This is made more challenging for me because in the current political atmosphere a prevalent assumption seems to be that these types of formal programs are a waste of time, or "counterproductive."

Posted by: Yvette | Jun 1, 2005 8:36:24 AM

Posted by: too many steves

Main Entry: su·per·fi·cial
Function: adjective
1 a (1) : of or relating to a surface (2) : lying on, not penetrating below, or affecting only the surface
2 a : concerned only with the obvious or apparent : SHALLOW b : lying on the surface : EXTERNAL c : presenting only an appearance without substance or significance

In my experience skin color and ethnicity are generalizations and wholly inaccurate predictors of the traits of the individual (i.e.; ideological, intellectual, moral, ethical) and, therefore, unequal to the task of helping achieve the sort of diversity that this institute of higher learning purports to seek.

Unless I've completely misread the post and linked articles.

Posted by: too many steves | Jun 1, 2005 8:45:30 AM

Posted by: Yvette

tms, I do understand what the word means. And I also understand--and even agree with--a desire to move beyond solely ethnicity and "skin color" as markers to achieve campus diversity.

However, it has been my experience that my being Black (and female, and middle class, and a former Army brat...) are all tied together, incapable in actual practice of being meaningfully separated (or "controlled for" like in a statistical sense).

As such none of these aspects of my self are in any way "superficial" to me, as I experience the whole that they make up.

But that is just me. I recognize that not everyone experiences their personal identity in this way. Not even other African American middle class women who are former Army brats.

Posted by: Yvette | Jun 1, 2005 9:00:10 AM

Posted by: too many steves

Ah, I see. Fair enough. I don't mean to take anything away from you that you hold dear and consider an integral part of yourself. And I understand how my earlier comment could have been unclear and, perhaps, a bit flippant.

Posted by: too many steves | Jun 1, 2005 10:44:09 AM

Posted by: Jim Hu


I am perplexed by your objection to color-blindness, which is hardly the same as not being seen at all. Certainly I don't want to treat everyone as if they are white anglo-saxon protestant males, and expect/require everyone to have the shared cultural baggage of same, but in context Don was talking about policies on grading. I can argue that admissions and hiring should not be mechanically based on numerical rankings based on grades and scores because the grades and test scores fail to capture things that I want on campus related to diversity in many different senses...and I say this fully conscious of the potential and historical record for abuse. The mechanical ranking model also is based on false assumptions about the predictive value of the inputs, AFAIC. But I have a hard time envisioning the argument that grading should not strive to be color-blind.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Jun 1, 2005 12:05:13 PM

Posted by: Mona

Well, in my view, the last thing the academy needs is further striving to enforce "multicultural and diversity" norms on campus. Freedom of inquiry and speech are already inhibited at many universities in the name of such lofty goals, as this book review here describes.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 1, 2005 12:10:55 PM

Posted by: OldMountainGoat


It's hard for me to imagine the kind of interactions where you encounter "misconception, unintentional ignorance, or out and out bias." But this is not surprising since I am a white male. Could you narrate a typical encounter? I'm curious to know the setting in which they are most likely to occur. Also what age group, if any, is more typically at fault? Additional observations in the same vein would be helpful.

Posted by: OldMountainGoat | Jun 1, 2005 2:45:17 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I didn’t understand Yvette to be opposing color-blind grading but only to be saying that the cultural reality of her demographic identity as a black woman in her 40s would invariably lead to certain sorts of encounters on campus whether or not the university took steps to “facilitate ... conversations” to address those encounters.

While I oppose mandatory, um, facilitation of cultural, racial, sexual, etc. sensitivity training and so forth on campus, I favor the sort of informal education that can occur in a heterogeneous college community. What I find interesting about Yvette’s comments, however, is the suggestion that “in the current political atmosphere a prevalent assumption seems to be that these types of formal programs are a waste of time, or ‘counterproductive.’”

I don’t know whether that is so or not. Certainly the answer depends upon both what the objectives of such programs are and what actual effect they may have. Thus, for example, (though I don’t presume to speak for her) I could imagine Yvette concluding that they were valuable because they reduced the number of informal and possibly tedious conversations and confrontations she would otherwise have even if the overall impact on non-minority students, themselves, was somehow counter-productive (e.g., their resentment over such programs further alienated them from or antagonized them about the concerns of women, minorities, etc.).

My point here is that there are always multiple issues involved in these topics, not the least of which is qui bono. If there is indeed a consensus that such programs may be counter-productive then the psychological reality is that they probably are to some extent counter-productive; but they may nonetheless be beneficial to some. On the other hand, those who do benefit might well want to consider whether the benefit is worth the bargain. I don’t mean to suggest, however, that there is a single, obviously correct answer to that question.

I really don’t know what people do mean when they say such things as “celebrate diversity.” I’m very fond of some sorts of diversity, decidedly against other sorts. So, I think, are most people. I continue to believe that “diversity” advocacy too often reduces to advocacy for “affirmative action,” itself code-speak for reverse discrimination. However, here too it will be useful to distinguish between questions about means and questions about objectives.

Thus I return to Mr. Herzog’s general but qualified preference to be ‘blind to’ or treat many such differences as private matters and Yvette’s response that we cannot nor should we avoid the fact that we ‘wear’ many of our socially significant differences publicly. I find that I agree with them both (and suspect they substantially agree with each other) as far as that goes. Alas, that leaves two critical questions unresolved; namely, what is the proper role of a university administration in facilitating gender, ethnic, etc. learning in the university community, and what should we consider and how should we weigh the tradeoffs in the advantages and disadvantages of various means to that end.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 2, 2005 12:03:08 AM

Posted by: ann

I'd like a response to the comment above about the distinction between a "plus factor" and a "quota." The SC overturned the Michigan University program which awarded a certain amount of "points" to a person for being black. Almost all reasonable sized universities use a point system, with yes, including a certain amount of points for letters of rec. I fail to see how a "plus" is different from adding, say 30 points to someone's file. It amounts to the same thing: a person is rejected because he is not black, and a person is accepted because he is black. Are people accepted because they have good letters of rec? Of course they are. If I grade an exam based on "intiution" I am assigning a value to various factors whether I acknowledge it or not. I fail to see how refusing to articulate the weight I am assigning a factor makes it superior.

Posted by: ann | Jun 2, 2005 1:38:40 PM

Posted by: kathe

Yvette may not have intended to say that her color made her actually "invisible," but we had an experience when exactly that happened. We adopted severl kids from Ethiopia. While in middle school, one of them was put into two sections of an art class instead of the usual one, because of scheduling difficulties. At conference time, it turned out that the teacher of the art class adamantly denied that Ash was in both of the sections. Ash, on her part said that the teacher never helped her, even when she had her hand up all period (granted, she's kind of shy, and not likely to insist on what she deserves). I said to her "That must be because she doesn't know you're there. In fact she can't even *see* you. Too dark where you're sitting, you think?" I really think that the teacher was so reluctant to see a black student in her classroom that her eye just slid right past. Fortunately, Ash has a robust sense of humor, so she accepted my making fun of the teacher as partial repayment, and on the plus side, she did lovely work even without the teacher's help. But it was obvious to me that she was in fact invisible to that teacher.

Posted by: kathe | Jun 2, 2005 11:14:34 PM

Posted by: Untenured Republican

As long as we all agree on the goals, then finding effective means to them should be no problem.

The first step is to make sure that K-12 education is dramatically underfunded for African-Americans. That way, they can't possibly acquire the skills necessary to be objectively competitive for positions in academia at any level. The next step is to redefine middle-class heterosexual white women as an oppressed "minority." You may need to fund some scholarship, and even create whole departments to make this remarkable idea credible. Last but not least, you create very earnest policies allegedly designed to bend over backwards to assist African-Americans in higher education despite qualifications, claim that qualifications have nothing to do with it by splashing the word "diversity" around a lot, implement the policies by assisting middle class heterosexual white men's wives instead of the middle class white men themselves, and then pat yourself on the back for trying *really* *really* hard to do something positive for African-Americans.

Figured it out yet, Yvette?

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Jun 3, 2005 9:16:05 AM

Posted by: john eden

I think that the issues that Prof. Herzog are much more complex than he appears to realize. A few examples to illustrate in greater detail what I mean:

1. It is not clear at all what the analogy to blind-grading is supposed to show. The most appealing reasons to adopt a blind-grading system (reduction of pro-gunner or pro-buttkisser bias) have little to do with the most appealing reasons to adopt affirmative action, regardless of the form that such a program takes in its ultimate implemented form.

Blindness in grading is designed - wisely or not - to increase the accuracy of the resulting grades (an objective that most would agree is a core feature of any well-functioning educational system), whereas imposing blindness in admissions in a world where affirmative action has been in-play for some time would serve a number of objectives, some of which we would all agree are important for education broadly construed (e.g., imparting a sense in applicants that educational institutions adhere to procedural and substantive fairness).

But some of the objectives that blindness in admissions serve are not necessarily the object of wide consensus (e.g., making it absolutely certain that white applicants will never be harmed, even in statistically small increments, by pro-minority preference programs).

But even if the analogy between grading and admissions were stronger, Prof. Herzog ignores the fact that many law professors DO NOT think that the anonymous grading system currently in vogue at American law schools really does increase the "accuracy" of grades - a fact that might make one think a bit more deeply about what effect "blindness" - in admissions or in grading - really has in practice.

(Perhaps Prof. Herzog has heard of Richard Kahlenberg or Wendy Williams, two scholars that have not only suggested that blindness is not an unqualified good, but also that admitting minority students has the collateral effect of integrating some truly intellectually curious souls into the undergraduatecommunity.)

2. More importantly, while the Oregon plan can certainly be interpreted to involve or endorse quotas, it is not clear whether any serious affirmative action program - "serious" meaning something like "effective enough to change the composition of the faculty and student body over a sufficient period of time" - could escape characterization as a "quota" system. (Wasn't this the reaction to the distinction made in Grutter and Gratz between quotas and individually-sensitive "plus factors"?)

Given that most programs could be so characterized, I still wonder precisely what Herzog finds so morally disconcerting - mainly because he opts not to specify exactly what is morally worrisome about what he calls "quotas" (setting aside the constitutional issues for a moment).

Is it that intellectually inferior minority candidates will be hired over (allegedly) superior white candidates? Is it that the chances of finding an acadmemic post become statistically more difficult for non-minority candidates? Surely all of these are related concerns, but it should worry the reader that Prof. Herzog never quite deals with what is arguably the most contested feature of any affirmative action or quota system: Even if such a system or scheme is not explicitly designed to remedy the historical disadvantages that are associated with membership in certain minority groups (since "diversity" is often the explicit goal or purpose after Bakke), the scheme effects its end by harming, to various degrees, the chances that a white candidate might obtain a university teaching post or slot in an incoming class.

And so, in an attempt to simplify what I just said, let me offer this two-part challenge to Prof. Herzog: First, on what moral grounds should we distinguish between quota schemes and plus-factor approaches to racial progress in our cherished educational institutions?

Second, should affirmative action only be allowed if it is costless, and if not (that is, if affirmative action schemes ARE acceptable even if whites are harmed by them to some measurable degree), on what moral theory (we all understand the constitutional objections Prof. Herzog would likely raise) is the Oregon program so anathema to the values of substantive equality to which we (as committed lefties) ostensibly adhere?

Posted by: john eden | Jun 14, 2005 11:46:41 PM

Posted by: Don Herzog

You can (and should) build a firewall between affirmative action in admissions and then what happens once students are on campus. The blind grading point is there to remind people of the firewall, and to suggest that the Oregon language about respecting diversity in classrooms &c is weird. If it means that people shouldn't be dismissed on the ground that they're from various minorities, well, duh. But you can defend ordinary civility and vigorous free speech without saying things like, we're going to hire and promote faculty on the basis of their "cultural competence."

I've thought a lot about affirmative action in admissions -- I was a member of the committee that drafted the law school policy here challenged in Grutter -- and I see no reason whatever to believe that a serious affirmative action plan requires quotas. As to "substantive equality," I'd need to know what you mean by it, but I well may not adhere to it at all.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 15, 2005 2:23:25 PM

Posted by: john eden

Now the point about blind-grading seems more relevant: Because the classroom is a venue in which one can assume (unless evidence to the contrary emerges in a given educational institution) that individuals from minority cultures will be afforded respect and given a voice, it would be silly and superfluous to implement a "cultural competence" requirement as per the Oregon plan.

As for the riposte that a "serious" affirmative action program does not require quotas, that's fair as far as it goes. But my complaint was not that the distinction between quota and plus-factor approaches is intuitively implausible, or that it amounts to a distinction without a difference.

Rather, my complaint - reframed a bit, hopefully with the effect of clarifying it - is that many conservatives don't see a principled distinction between quota and plus-factor schemes. For conservatives, and I would included Justice Scalia in this camp, plus-factor and quota approaches both represent a form of interference with procedures that would IN THEIR ABSENCE more accurately track scholarly promise, academic achivement, you know, the sort of things we classify under the broad umbrella of merit. Since merit is what we ought to be tracking, anything - a quota or plus-factor system - which interferes with such procedures is impermissible.

And so, the moral outrage in your earlier post may make a lot of sense to you, but as someone who supports affirmative action but at the same time thinks that the conservative objection just described applies to quotas and plus-factor schemes (because they both interfere with merit-tracking selection procedures), your claim that the slippery slope can be avoided is not satisfying. Because while I reject the premise (held by most conservatives and many liberals) that admissions and selection procedures usually do track merit reliably, if one adopts that premise (which you seem to do) then calling attention to the conceptual differences between explicit quotas and plus-factor approaches does not suffice to explain why affirmative action is fine and quotas aren't.

At the end of the day, this issue may be far afield of what you intended to address in your initial post anyway - after all, the primary issue was that 800 special scholarships would be required under the plan as well as special registration requirements for minority courses. Perhaps the moral outrage in your post was caused simply by your intuitive revulsion to the plan.

Posted by: john eden | Jun 15, 2005 4:33:18 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

« previous post | Main | next post »