Monday, January 27, 2003

THE BIG MOVE. It's been fun here at blogspot, but further gtexts blogging is going to be at Please come visit, change any links, etc. Of course, all your favorite old posts will still be here until Ev erases me.

Monday, January 20, 2003

WELL, NOW WE KNOW. Nonetheless, I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school, looking for trouble...
ONE OF MY COLLEGE FRIENDS just praised me for "always [being] the first one to reply" to emails. Of course, this is because I'm always at my computer. Sometimes it feels as if college and law school have basically been one long email-writing session, punctuated by occasional breaks to do schoolwork or eat.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

THIS IS PRETTY WEIRD. But it is nice that William Gibson (author of Neuromancer) is gracing us with a blog.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

DEAN ESMAY COMMENTS regarding the implications of affirmative action policies:
I would not willingly hire a black lawyer to represent me if he or she was under about the age of 50. Nor would I willingly subject myself or my family to a black doctor under about the age of 50....Over the age of 50, and that black doctor or lawyer is, odds are, tremendously talented, especially because they probably had to be BETTER than the white students around them. The opposite is true for the young ones, and I will not willingly put my legal interests or my life in the hands of someone I have substantial reason to believe is less qualified than his or her white counterparts.
Under the reasoning Dean uses for the younger black doctor, given the obstacles the older doctor faced, Dean should have "substantial reason" to prefer the 50+ black doctor to a 50+ white doctor. Note that Dean does not quite make that jump; he does not discount 50+ white doctors. But he is quick to discount all younger black doctors along these lines. Did they not pass the same tests in medical school? Did they not work on the same cadavers? Did they not do the same internships? What about a doctor who was accepted to med school thanks to affirmative action but ends up graduating near the top of her class? Undoubtedly there are good and bad doctors of all races. There are plenty of more accurate ways to find out about a doctor's quality -- say, looking to their reputation in the community -- but Dean limits himself to broad generalizations about what their probability of having had a higher MCAT score at 22 was.

Empirical psychology has repeatedly demonstrated that people have a strong tendency to interpret ambiguous situations so as to confirm stereotypes they hold. For instance, experimental subjects interpret the same situation differently when they are told that the actor is black from when they are told the actor is white. See, e.g., Ziva Kunda, Social Cognition 317-335 (MIT Press: 2001) (collecting experiments on stereotype activation). Regardless of your view of affirmative action, I highly recommend checking out the remarkable ways experimental psychologists of the last couple decades have been quantifying just when our brains take shortcuts and when they do not. These insights about our all-too human tendency toward stereotype confirmation in mind, think of the subjective components that go into making an applicant's overall score, from high-school essays to admissions interviews. In this light, it's hard to conclude that 100% of the point disparity between an average black applicant and an average white applicant is due to a disparity in "merit."

But lest some reader should get in a huff reading this, have no fear. The Court is almost certain to strike down the Michigan program. We can all rest assured that an ideal, utopian, colorblind standard will be applied to our very non-ideal, non-utopian, non-colorblind world. The losers: the same people who always lose. God bless America.

UPDATE: Dean responds here. By the way, I'm not at all against recognizing socioeconomic disadvantages in admissions across the board. Yes, inequalities in wealth are a healthy part of a capitalist society that rewards talent, innovation, and effort, but I see nothing particularly sacred about preserving wealth advantages across generations.

UPDATE: Nate Oman with thoughts on the Michigan case.

UPDATE: Eric Muller, a new law prof blogger, offers some data "from the field" on the value of classroom diversity.

Friday, January 17, 2003

GANGS OF SUCK. I have to agree with Dean, Gangs of New York was a terrible, terrible movie. Adaptation, on the other hand, now that had some merit, even if it was ultra self-indulgent. Still, both those tickets would have been better spent on going to see Two Towers for a fourth time...
INSTAPUNDIT DECLARES IT "BOGUS" to mention preferences for legacies in a discussion of affirmative action. Writes Insta: "[R]ace discrimination [(meaning, affirmative action)] is much, much worse than merely favoring alumni." I think this is unfair -- People who mention legacies aren't making a constitutional point but are offering a reminder of how screwed up our priorities are. Given all the advantages many children whose parents attended elite colleges already have (good schools, expensive test-prep courses, vocabulary-enhancing dinnertime conversation), it seems strange that we're fine with giving them an additional preference on top of that, but we have a national freak-out session if minorities who generally have a disadvantaged starting point get a similar opportunity. While legacy preferences are obviously not worse than minority preferences from a constitutional standpoint, they are worse in terms of things like, say, fairness, a decent society, or equality of educational opportunity.

Additionally, an anonymous reader commented that:
Legacies have, probably for good reason, often been stereotyped as less capable. This is most certainly true as to Bush himself, who is always painted by lefties as an undeserving, apathetic, unintellectual loser who only got into good schools because of legacy status. So the question is, why do you want to create a situation where black students are justifiably subject to such a stereotype?
Whoa. With reasoning like that, this person must be a legacy or something. If only minority applicants could have the good fortune to be subjected to the same kind of "terrible stigma" as George W. Bush. Stigmatized all the way to the White House! If legacies are so greatly hurt by negative stereotypes from admissions preferences, why do people voluntarily list their parents' status as alumni on their application?

UPDATE: Ambivalent Imbroglio comments on this post.

UPDATE: Agonist with more on this topic.
REFERRING TO THE WHITE HOUSE BRIEFS in the Michigan cases (available here and here), reader Danielle Gray emails:
[The] SG's hailing the Texas/FL plans as models is another example of the inconsistency in the right's arguments
that is similar to the one [Eugene] Volokh made on MSNBC last night -- if the state should never take race into account, then why should it be allowed to perform the functional equivalent by cloaking the policy in race-neutrality (taking advantage of deeply entrenched racial segregation in those states)? While this is consistent w/ their professed belief in facial neutrality and rejection of effects/impact, it is entirely inconsistent w/ their Equal Protection/race should not be a factor arguments. So the arguments in the White House brief seem unprincipled on both the "quota" and consideration of race points.
I completely agree, although if we're sticking with the framework set out in Washington v. Davis and its progeny, both anti-minority racial discrimination and pro-diversity affirmative action are fine, so long as the policy does not itself use a racial classification to accomplish that effect. I think it is hardly an improvement to push both racial discrimination and affirmative action under the table like this, but if it has to happen, and the Michigan policy is struck down (as seems likely), then liberals should play the conservatives' game and show that facially neutral but effectively pro-diversity policies are just as possible as facially neutral but effectively anti-minority policies. After the Michigan case, assuming it comes down as most Court-watchers expect, this will be where most of the action is going to be for the pro-diversity left: appropriating the right's regressive tools (facial neutrality is all that is required regardless of effect) for progressive ends.

WHO STOLE THE PEER-REVIEW? Alice on student-run law reviews. She also gives a list of law professors problematizing student-run law reviews in (what else?) a bunch of student-run law reviews...

Thursday, January 16, 2003

QUOTABLE QUOTAS? President Bush and other conservative commentators are calling Michigan's affirmative action policy a racial "quota system." Now, strictly speaking, the program does not set a quota at all; it does not say "X% of the incoming class is going to be African-American." (That would be a quota) Rather, some minority applicants receive points added into their overall admissions score (made up of factors including things like high-school GPA, SAT score, extracurriculars, geographical location, and a whole range of other factors).

Now, I was just watching Eugene Volokh on MSNBC, and he made a compelling argument for why the Michigan program effectively is a quota: the size of the score boost given to minority applicants seems carefully calibrated so that the desired percentage of minorities, X%, conveniently ends up getting admitted anyway.

Opponents of Michigan's admissions program have a perfectly decent argument against the Michigan program (race should never be taken into account by a state actor) but for some reason they feel they have to go further and make the Michigan program sound as bad as possible ("quota" sounds worse than "one of several factors"). Unfortunately, this approach violates the right's long-held principle that the real-world effect, such as a facially neutral progam having a disparate impact, is irrelevant to constitutional analysis. (i.e., Washington v. Davis). With respect to the Michigan admissions program, the reality is probably something like a quota, but I don't think conservatives should get to deny the facial terms of the policy and look for some underlying reality when doing so is convenient for them, because that is exactly the sort of reasoning they vigorously rejected in the disparate impact context. Otherwise, minorities get the short end of the stick on both sides, and to me, this shows a disconcerting unprincipledness about whether facial terms or real-world effects are what matters. In the end, this unprincipled thinking leaves us wondering what the real principle on the right is.

UPDATE: Although missing some of the nuance of this post, John Rosenberg makes a characteristically admirable reply on his blog, Discriminations. In response, let me re-emphasize that I don't think the Michigan program is facially neutral with respect to race, merely that it is facially not a quota. This post was about an inconsistency in the right's logic and argumention style, and not about whether the Michigan program should be upheld or struck down.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

BUSH SPEAKS OUT AGAINST Michigan's admission program. It seems hard to imagine a more inappropriate critic of some people being given a boost in their chances of admission than someone who undoubtedly benefited from preferences due to his "legacy" status in gaining admission to Yale. While there is much to be said for a true meritocracy, so long as we are comfortable giving those lucky enough to be born in the right womb admission preferences, it hardly seems "fundamentally flawed" to give preferences to minority groups that have historically been subject to overt discrimination. Indeed, because of the educational advantages parents who attended elite colleges can often confer -- from the 92nd Street Y preschool on -- giving additional admission advantages to their children is doubly problematic. It is interesting where we look for flaws in the system these days...