Jun 09 2009

The Left At Christian Universities, Part 12: Revisiting the Evangelical Mind

Category: affirmative action,diversity,higher education,Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:48 am

The previous post in this series is here.

At the Carnegie Foundation, we find an article regarding the issue of diversity at Christian universities and colleges:

Rallies sponsored by Promise Keepers, the parachurch movement that appeals to men to renounce their sins, are more racially integrated than faculty meetings at Stanford or MIT, and multiculturalism is as likely to be celebrated at a typical evangelical megachurch as it is at Wesleyan or UC–Santa Cruz. The reason is simple: contemporary American evangelicalism is extraordinarily diverse. African Americans are strongly attracted to Pentecostal and evangelical forms of worship; increasing numbers of Hispanics have left their Catholicism behind to be born again; and Asian immigrants, primarily from Korea and China, have fueled evangelical growth from California to Massachusetts.

Yet despite all this ferment, America’s evangelical colleges are not diverse institutions by any stretch of the imagination. Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, which trains more evangelical clergy than any other institution in the United States, is stunningly multicultural, but its success in this area has not been matched by undergraduate institutions. Only about 2 percent of Wheaton students are African American, for example, compared to 8 percent at Earlham and 7 percent at Oberlin, similar but non-evangelical Midwestern institutions. Among universities, Baylor has a relatively robust African-American percentage (6 percent), but it is still lower than at nearby public universities such as the University of Houston (15 percent) or the University of Tulsa (8 percent).

One reason why evangelical colleges lag behind secular ones in their ability to attract a racially diverse student body may be because of their relative lack of religious diversity.

Here the article spends several paragraphs singing the praises of “religious diversity” and praising the choice, where it has occurred, to sacrifice “communal understandings” for the sake of “diversity,” at institutions like Baylor, Boston College, and Brandeis.   And then:

…Does the lack of religious diversity at evangelical colleges contribute to the lack of racial diversity? In theory, it should not. Faith statements say nothing about race and in that sense should attract anyone who subscribes to the faith in question, irrespective of skin color. But in practice, faith statements reinforce a history of appealing to particular communities, particular high schools, and particular churches, which is not the way to bring to campus those who might offer fresh perspectives shaped by backgrounds and upbringings different from those of the Christian students typically attracted to these schools. Diversity, unlike tap water, cannot easily be turned on or have its temperature adjusted.

Boy, ain’t THAT the truth.  As I’ve pointed out in other posts, diversity seems always to come with a giant slice of Left-progressive cake, whether or not it’s iced with God talk and scripture quotations.

But this is what evangelical colleges and universities are trying to do. They want students from many racial backgrounds to attend so they learn to speak in the language of diversity, but they also want to preserve their particular religious identity so they also speak in the language of uniformity. Because evangelical Christianity is itself so multiracial, colleges that speak in its name ought to be more diverse than secular ones. But because they lack sufficient appreciation for diversity in all its aspects—religious and intellectual, as well as racial and ethnic—they fall behind secular institutions in their ability to bring together students from a wide variety of backgrounds.

The writer of this article is nibbling at some truth, but seems reluctant to bite into the gooey center. Yes, it’s true that once a Christian university begins to “diversify” in a certain way, it often brings with it some issues that challenge the mission of the university as it may have been previously understood.  The problem is simple:  Christian universities who want to be diverse have too often selected representatives for diversity who are from the Left.  After awhile, somebody notices this, identifies it as a problem, and is then at risk of being labeled “anti-diversity” or even “racist” when instead they are merely anti-Left and pro-traditional-Christian understandings about faith and values.  The faster a Christian university tries to “diversify,” the more likely it is to have these problems.

There’s really only one solution for Christian universities that want to “diversify” and still maintain their traditional Christian focus.  The solution is to go slow.  Don’t be stampeded by strident activism on the part of anyone, faculty, students, trustees, administration, or whoever.  Carefully consider each step, each new hire (not just minorities, but everyone), each new policy, each new position, from the standpoint that asks, “How will this affect our traditional understandings of ourselves, our Christian mission, and our institutional heritage?”  Be aware of the danger in bringing to campus as your “diversity representatives, speakers and role models” people whose orientations are not consistent with those of your institution.  That doesn’t mean you should never bring them.  It does mean there is danger in a steady diet of them, and they should be balanced, at a minimum, by speakers who support your institution’s traditional perspectives on major issues, but who also see value in gradual “diversification.”

Either there are plenty of “minority” people who basically agree with an institution’s heritage and traditional perspectives on Christianity, faith and values, or there aren’t such people.  If there are, the institution will be well advised to find them, instead of simply bringing as many “people of color” to campus as possible, from whatever perspective, and hoping that everything turns out well.  On the other hand, if there aren’t many “people of color” that can be identified who will support an institution’s traditions, a choice is required:  either diversify, or maintain the traditional identity.

What a Christian university or college must not do is to pretend that there is no issue here, and that diversity is an intrinsic good that transcends all other considerations.  In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss the issue of “white diversity activists” who frequently seem to be a greater danger to the traditional ethos of Christian institutions than the minority ones.  These white activists, in a spasm of white guilt, seem to believe that their commitment to diversity will only appear genuine if they full-throatedly embrace the agenda of the Left.  But whether from whites or minorities, it is the connection of diversity to the Left that is the problem.  “People of color” who see this problem are at risk of being labeled “Uncle Toms.”

Unstated by the author of the article quoted above is this:  all the institutions that have embraced diversity at the cost of theological community have moved farther Left in the last couple of decades, or were reasonably Left to start with.   It is an open question whether they will identify with any religious roots they may have had, over the next couple of decades.  Even now, a quick visit to their web portals does not reveal any immediate evidence of religious heritage or religious intent, unless a person really digs around a bit to find it.

Christian universities have a choice to make, in the end.  They can please the world, look good in US News and World Report (and on Carnegie websites), make their accrediting agencies smile and dance, and try to look respectable to secular, “progressively” oriented universities (which is to say, most of them), or they can understand that by their mere presence and identity, they ARE the diversity in higher education already, and do not need to make themselves “look like” other institutions for the sake of a soundbite, a photo op, or a bit of statistical data.

The next post in this series is here.


Jun 08 2009

Black-white acheivement gap

Category: affirmative action,diversity,higher education,Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:20 am

Probing The Black-White Achievement Gap

The Kellogg Foundation is funding a survey of four college campuses by Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute and the Educational Testing Service to examine how students of color’s experiences on college campuses impact the notorious black-white achievement gap.

Namely, it will examine how the students feel “welcome and unwelcome, respected and disrespected, supported and unsupported, and encouraged and discouraged.”

However, will the researchers be interested in evidence that the black-white achievement gap is connected to aspects of parenting and peer identification that begin long before college? That is, will there be room in their assessment for, as it is put these days, culture over structure?

In his detailed survey of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Black Students in an Affluent Suburb, the late Berkeley Anthropology Professor John Ogbu found that black parents often aren’t aware of how closely they need to attend to their children’s homework and are less likely to confer with their children’s teachers, and that black teens have a tendency to disidentify from school as “white.” Subsequent studies have shown that black students are likely to spend less time on homework than white or Asian students and are less likely to be popular if they achieve in school.

There is, to wit, a culture issue – and not just parenthetically. To mention these things is not “black bashing.” All of them are latter-day results of discrimination in the past, of the kind that Richard Thompson Ford of late described in his The Race Card. They are traits internalized unconsciously – if your parents didn’t help you with your homework because they had modest education and were working two jobs, why would you spontaneously attend to your own child’s, even if you went to college and work just one job?

However, dramatic conversations about “white privilege” and “legacies” leave these problems unresolved. Our attention must be focused on efforts such as that of the Minority Student Action Network mentoring middle-class black students long before college. Or on replicating as widely as possible the methods of the Knowledge is Power Program academies and other programs that distract black kids from thinking of braininess as racially inauthentic.

Or looking at how in the charter school run by the Harlem Children’s Zone, zeroing in on poverty block by block, study by heavyweights such as Harvard’s star Wunderkind economist Roland Fryer is showing that longer hours spent in school each day are leading to sterling achievement by students growing up in circumstances that we are told condemn all but superstars to failure. Even among eighth graders, considered the toughest nuts to crack intervention-wise.

I learned the latter attending a bookstore talk recently by Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson on his new book More Than Just Race. The talk, however, was Exhibit A of the kind of unconscious bias that could mar the Kellogg study – a bias that runs throughout academic address of race issues. Wilson’s book argues that culture is key in addressing inner city blacks’ concerns. But throughout the talk, Wilson stressed that structural factors – i.e. “institutional racism” – matter more. He couches the cultural point in gingerly hedging and hair-splitting, e.g. “Parents in segregated communities who have had experiences [with discrimination and disrespect] may transmit to children, through the process of socialization, a set of beliefs about what to expect from life and how one should respond to circumstances.”

Will the Kellogg study be mediated by a like take on the cultural argument, i.e. that it is immoral to address culture when black people are concerned (except parenthetically)? Will the researchers be able to face finding that the black-white achievement gap is not related in any significant way to what happens on campus?

Of course, there will be students attesting that they “experience racism” on campus. However, with protests every couple of years on how “racist” the campus is despite the diversity counseling and black dorms, departments and event budgets, group identification lends the typical student of color a sense of duty to stand up for the idea that racism is part of their experience, even if highly “subtle” (useful: a Stanford survey covered in David Sacks and Peter Thiel’s The Diversity Myth).

To pretend this isn’t true is to exempt people of color from yet another universal human trait, the tendency known to social psychologists as humans’ susceptibility to priming in surveys. Another term is people’s susceptibility to demand characteristics, referring to subjects’ anticipating what the surveyor is seeking and trying to give the “proper” answer. Asking a black undergrad “Have you experienced racism on campus?” in today’s typical campus atmosphere is like asking a white one whether he thinks black people are of lesser intelligence. A certain answer is to be expected.

The real issue: is the amount of racism such students have experienced – and most will attest to something or other – realistically of a kind that would interfere with their schoolwork? This question applies equally to Claude Steele’s famous “stereotype threat” thesis that black students are thrown by private worry that they are not thought of as intelligent. That is, do the students describe experiences that would reinforce this worry specifically?

After all, the notion that any shards of socially unpleasant experience unquestionably hold down black students’ GPAs is an infantilization – given that we assume that Asian students experience unpleasant experierences (and amply attest to such) and yet it does not impact their campus performance. Why are black students supposedly less resilient than Korean ones? And where is the benefit to society in pretending that they aren’t?

Of course, the Kellogg project might actually reveal racism as a serious culprit on campus. I am open to that result if it’s what the data truly reveal. However, the researchers, if their intentions are sincerely to help, face a challenge to be similarly open-minded.

After all, a conclusion that subtle aspects of racism are the deciding factor in our problems is inherently a dead end. It is the last result we should want to find, because no society in human history has ever been perfectly blind to differences of color or tribe. We can’t make America that perfect.

That’s why the Kellogg report will be such a disappointment if it ends up limning the classic portrait of brown-skinned college students going through variations – although “subtle,” of course – on what James Meredith endured in 1962 at Ole Miss. One wonders whether the researchers, however, would be at all disappointed to find this result. If they would instead feel accomplished, vindicated, enlightened to find it, then won’t it color the questions they ask and how they interpret the answers?

Culture matters, and not just parenthetically. Pretend otherwise and certain people feel good, while the ones we purport to be concerned about tread water.


Jun 05 2009

Judicial “empathy”?

Category: affirmative action,diversity,Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:49 am

The issue here is that of the empathy of Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor for a firefighter named Ricci, whose case against the New Haven Fire Department she overturned.  He had sued the city for  failing to promote him when he had met all qualifications, purely on the grounds that no black candidates had similarly qualified.  Apparently taking that fact as proof that the qualifications were racist, Sotomayor concurred that the city had done the right thing in promoting no one.  So we have a very hardworking firefighter, who went far above and beyond expectations to prepare for the examination to determine his qualifications for promotion, for whom the good judge appears to have no empathy whatsover.  Charles Krauthammer makes it very clear that this should be a teaching moment.

Empathy is a vital virtue to be exercised in private life — through charity, respect and lovingkindness — and in the legislative life of a society where the consequences of any law matter greatly, which is why income taxes are progressive and safety nets built for the poor and disadvantaged.

But all that stops at the courthouse door. Figuratively and literally, justice wears a blindfold. It cannot be a respecter of persons. Everyone must stand equally before the law, black or white, rich or poor, advantaged or not.

Obama and Sotomayor draw on the “richness of her experiences” and concern for judicial results to favor one American story, one disadvantaged background, over another. The refutation lies in the very oath Sotomayor must take when she ascends to the Supreme Court: “I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich. … So help me God.”

When the hearings begin, Republicans should call Frank Ricci as their first witness. Democrats want justice rooted in empathy? Let Ricci tell his story and let the American people judge whether his promotion should have been denied because of his skin color in a procedure Sotomayor joined in calling “facially race-neutral.”

When judges are to be evaluated based on their “empathy,” inevitably the question is, “Empathy for whom?”  It is clear that judicial empathy will pretty much never be exercised in favor of the currently most despised class, namely white males, who are presumed to have “white male privilege,” even if they are dyslexic, or come from a poor family or broken home, or were abused as children, or had to work extra hard, etc.

In any case, judicial empathy, to the extent that it is appropriate (which isn’t much, in my opinion) should be reserved for prescribing punishments after triers of fact have demonstrated guilt in criminal cases, or perhaps limiting damages in civil cases, after the facts have been determined.  It is certainly inappropriate in an appeals judge (which is all the Supreme Court is), who is normally NOT there to determine or review facts of cases, but rather whether the law was correctly applied TO those facts.

Will Judge Sotomayor find it acceptable if no fire-fighter in New Haven is ever promoted again?  Would she find that “fair”?

We are supposed to be a government of laws, not of persons.   Lady Justice is supposed to be “blind.”  She certainly isn’t supposed to be opening one eye to check for the level of skin pigment.


Jun 04 2009

Seeking identity in the USA

Category: affirmative action,diversity,left,race,racismharmonicminer @ 9:29 am

Lost in the Labyrinth of Race  (much more at the link)

One of the unexpected results of the Sotomayor nomination is a refocusing on the politics of racial identity and the fossilized institutions of affirmative action-or the belief that the U.S. government should use its vast power to ensure an equality of result rather than a fairness of opportunity.

In the last fifty years, United States has evolved into a complex multiracial state. Race no longer is necessarily an indicator of income or material success-as the record of, say, Japanese-Americans or, indeed Asians in general, attests.

And what criterion constitutes race itself nowadays, when almost every family has someone who is half-Hispanic, a quarter-Asian, one-half black, or part Pakistani? What percentage of one’s lineage ensures purity of race, or qualifies for minority status? Are California Hispanics minorities, or so-called whites that are now a smaller percentage of the state population?

And what constitutes racial authenticity? Lack of income? An absence of success in the American rat race? Is the fourth generation upper-class Cuban an “Hispanic” who should qualify for affirmative action because his name is Hillario Gonzalez? Does the one-quarter aristocratic Jamaican qualify for American redress on account of his partial blackness?

And how does affirmative action-or even the fuzzy notion of “diversity”- adjudicate all this without mirror-imaging the statisticians of the Old Confederacy who could precisely calibrate the 1/16 drop of black blood? The university where I taught was full of South Americans and Europeans with Spanish surnames that allowed their various departments to be considered “ethnically diverse,” while others, having Russian émigrés, or the foreign born from New Delhi, Israel, and Egypt, struggled to satisfy the dictates of diversity czars.

In other words, affirmative action, and the racial identity politics that fuel it, are swamped by their inherent racialist contradictions-and made irrelevant by the dynamism of popular culture of the last three decades in which intermarriage, assimilation, and integration have challenged the notion of racial fides itself.

So begins an article from Victor Davis Hanson on the state of race in the USA, including affirmative action, “diversity,” racial preferences, racial identity, the nature of privilege in modern USA, the whole nine yards in the current race discussion and its political and social implications.  It’s all worth reading and difficult to summarize, a sign of pithy, concise writing.  Suffice to say that it highlights all the inner contradictions of the race conscious, and the futility of policies that were designed to redress grievances and correct imbalances, but cannot even identify who should qualify in any rational way.

Here is what’s clear to me: the election of a president of African ancestry has done nothing to satisfy the Left.  It has not convinced the Left that America is no longer significantly racist in its average viewpoint.  Instead, it appears simply to have placed the Left in the driver’s seat for every race-based preference and accommodation that it can construct.

We’re a long, long way from the “content of his character” vision of Martin Luther King, Jr., and getting farther away every day.

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May 13 2009

Is the real problem “White Male Privilege,” lack of “Diversity,” and discrimination against “people of color”?

It has become common to berate institutions of all kinds that are deemed to be insufficiently “diverse,” as if there is automatically some institutional barrier preventing “people of color” from associating with them, and is if some kind of unfair “white male privilege” is the problem.   While there were significant institutional barriers in previous decades, those barriers are now largely gone, and civil-rights activists are busily fighting a war they’ve already won, almost in a manner reminiscent of Civil War re-enactments.   Nevertheless, the removal of those barriers isn’t enough for diversity activists, who now insist that institutions pursue essentially quota-based strategies to “diversify.”  The latest set of institutions engaged in self-flagellation for perceived failures of diversity are Christian colleges and universities, many of whom are scrambling just as fast as they can to “get diverse.” It is as if these institutions believe that if only they are more diverse, then the problems of minorities in American society will go away, or at least be ameliorated.  Or perhaps, if they are more diverse, they can at least feel less guilty about it.

The two biggest problems of injustice in black — and, increasingly, Hispanic — America are abortion and the epidemic of fatherless children.
Blacks abort their babies at a rate five times that of whites.  Nearly 70% of black children are born into fatherless households.  The first of these issues is directly traceable to the national legalization of abortion in 1973, an act of a left-leaning, activist court.   The second of these issues is directly traceable to the creation of LBJ’s Great Society programs in 1965, the act of a left-leaning congress and president.  These two problems cannot be primarily attributed to racism, for the historical reason that abortions were far less common before it was legalized, and the “illegitimacy rate” of blacks in 1960 was about 25%, not 70%.  What changed was government policy, in legalizing the murder of the unborn for essentially any reason at any time in the pregnancy, and in providing incentives to make babies out of wedlock by paying more for each one.  It is arguable that left-leaning governmental policies did more harm to black America than Jim Crow.  And it’s worth noting that blacks were climbing out of poverty rather steadily in the period from 1940-1960 (Thomas Sowell writes very clearly on this), while Jim Crow was still the norm.  Progress slowed dramatically with the beginning of the Great Society, proving that you can indeed offer someone too much help.

“Social justice” activists are fond of pointing to the disproportionately high representation of black men in prison as evidence of white injustice in law enforcement, the judicial system, the economy, etc.  But when the statistics are controlled for the presence of a father in the home, blacks raised with a married father in the home are no more likely than whites to be in jail.   So the “justice” problem is a society that discourages black families from forming, let alone failing.  The Left will say that “there are all kinds of families” and imply it is prejudice to promote the traditional understanding, but the sociologists and criminologists know better, if they have the courage to look at their own data.

The third biggest social justice problem for blacks is the state of the schools, but that cannot be fixed without addressing the issue of black families at the same time.   All too often, the family values are missing that will produce children with whom schools can work effectively.  Schools, no matter how well intentioned and well funded, can’t replace successful parents.  Churches can certainly help, but not when they are basically apologists for the status quo, and are used as platforms for leftist politics as much or more than for faithful transformation of inner-city culture along Godly lines.  None of this means the schools can’t be better, and various experimental schools have shown that typical inner-city black children can benefit greatly from improved schools, provided those schools don’t have to keep the most troublesome students enrolled, and are allowed to pursue educational techniques and policies of their own choosing.  But no one believes that schools alone can make up for deficits in parenting, even in experimental schools that shuck the usual pieties of the education lobby, even when the schools simply do what works, without trying to be social laboratories and places to park troubled children.

The real “white male privilege” with which we should concern ourselves most is that of white doctors killing black babies in the womb, or just barely out of it, for profit, in abortion clinics placed conveniently near inner city neighborhoods to encourage repeat business.  We would submit that the apparent nature of “black male privilege” does more damage to blacks than anything white males are doing, or saying.  Finally, there is the “white male privilege” of mostly white politicians who depend on the black vote, and buy it with government benefits and promises of more, the new form of sharecropper oppression, because by taking the deal, blacks have crippled themselves as a group in being able to improve their own circumstances by their own efforts, though there are obviously many individual exceptions.

These problems will not be solved by whites.  They will not be solved by a black president, leading a government made up mostly of whites, unless that black president is determined to undo the government incentives that encourage bad behavior.  That seems unlikely in this case, doesn’t it?  These problems will only be solved by black leaders “on the ground,” who must spend more time challenging their own communities, straightforwardly demanding better behavior, teaching skills and values for successful living, than they spend twisting the arms of “white” institutions to be more “diverse.”   They need to be teaching their people to reject government handouts that weaken their motivation to lift themselves up, tempting them to lower standards for personal and public behavior.  We need ten thousand people like Jesse Peterson, Clenard Childress and Johnny Hunter for every Jackson/Sharpton shakedown artist and/or community organizer whose idea of service is to take a young woman who shouldn’t be pregnant to city hall to apply for benefits (to “find her voice”), or, even worse, to provide rides to the local abortion mill, and in either case protecting from any responsibility the man or boy who made her pregnant, and in many cases the parent or guardian (usually only one) who failed to provide her with adequate supervision.

Inner-city black America is suffering not from being non-diverse, not primarily because some colleges and universities are not diverse, but because it is killing itself. We have just inaugurated a president who will encourage much, much more of the same, judging by his record, his public statements, his political commitments to his supporters, and his chosen advisers.

In the meantime, those Christian colleges and universities that are in a headlong rush to “diversify” are learning that it is very difficult to avoid all the Leftist influences that accompany diversity activism.  Some of these schools, which were once unabashedly pro-life, pro-traditional-family and pro-American, are now finding that with diversity comes the choice between promoting life or lionizing Obama-as-symbol, between being pro-traditional-family or endorsing all kinds of other arrangements as being “just as good,” and between acknowledging the strong Judeo-Christian ethic in the American founding and social ethos, or seeing America as “just another nation” with no uniquely important religious elements shaping its heritage, values and behavior.

It’s a choice these institutions are making, this decade.  The faculty they’re hiring now will be the ones who decide the directions of those institutions in the next decade, not today’s adminstrators and board members, who may make policy statements attempting to “hold the line,” etc.  Adminstrators and trustees come and go, but faculty have tenure.  Unfortunately, it seems no more possible in the current environment for prospective faculty to be asked, “Are you anti-abortion?” than it is to ask a prospective supreme court judge about future rulings.  That’s because, somehow, abortion has been relegated to being a “political question” instead of the frankly moral one that it is.  Somehow, it has become acceptable in some quarters for Christians to vote for pro-abortion politicians, and for that choice, and campaiging for such, to be seen as a valid “political choice.”  Yet I’m quite sure that most Christians would consider it a sin to vote for a pro-slavery candidate.

We are in a grim place, and those of us who see it that way need to be deep in prayer over it, and then we need to work within our institutions to improve the situation.

UPDATE: Walter E. Williams on Race Talk

Race talk often portrays black Americans as downtrodden and deserving of white people’s help and sympathy. That vision is an insult of major proportions. As a group, black Americans have made some of the greatest gains, over the highest hurdles, in the shortest span of time than any other racial group in mankind’s history. This unprecedented progress can be seen through several measures. If one were to total black earnings, and consider black Americans a separate nation, he would find that in 2005 black Americans earned $644 billion, making them the world’s 16th richest nation — that is just behind Australia but ahead of Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. Black Americans are, and have been, chief executives of some of the world’s largest and richest cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. It was a black American, Gen. Colin Powell, appointed Joint Chief of Staff in October 1989, who headed the world’s mightiest military and later became U.S. Secretary of State, and was succeeded by Condoleezza Rice, another black American. Black Americans are among the world’s most famous personalities and a few are among the richest. Most blacks are not poor but middle class.

On the eve of the Civil War, neither a slave nor a slave owner would have believed these gains possible in less than a mere century and a half, if ever. That progress speaks well not only of the sacrifices and intestinal fortitude of a people; it also speaks well of a nation in which these gains were possible. These gains would not have been possible anywhere else.


May 07 2009

Deceased Diversity Defenses

In his review of the current state of minority preferences, diversity/affirmative action agendas, merit testing — including very serious, concerted attempts to remove any kind of prejudice from the testing — and the left/right wars in hiring practices at public agencies, John Derbyshire picks as his starting point the utter inability of the New Haven Fire Department to find a way to promote firefighters without being sued.

There is nothing new here, of course. Given the history of this subject, the really surprising thing is that as late as 2003 a fire department was still giving formal examinations for promotions. The New York City Police Department was fighting lawsuits over “discriminatory” test results 30 years ago. Police, fire, and other municipal departments all over the country have been similarly affected across an entire generation.

Attempted solutions have included every kind of rigging and “race norming” of results, the dumbing-down of the tests to a point where well-nigh everyone passes (candidates then being promoted by lottery or straightforward race quotas), the hiring of expensive consultants to devise bias-free tests, and just giving up on tests altogether, as New Haven has now done.

None of it helped, though dumbing down the tests has proved fairly effective for litigation avoidance. (In 1991 the New York City Sanitation Department gave a test on which 23,078 applicants out of 24,000 got perfect scores — try spotting a race gap there!) The careful concocting of scrupulously bias-free tests is now a profitable specialty within the management-consulting field. New Haven hired the Houston firm of Jeanneret & Associates, Inc., who called in a contractor named I/O Solutions to devise firefighter tests, and the city spent over $100,000 in fees to these firms.

It did no good, of course. It never does. The New York Police Department spent ten years trying to write tests for promotion to sergeant that would pass court approval. They brought in minority representatives to help design the 1988 tests, and included video portions. It didn’t help: A quarter of the 12,000 police officers who took the test were minorities, but of the 377 test-based promotions, only 20 went to minorities.

The unhappy fact is that different ethnic groups exhibit different profiles of results on tests. Attempts to devise a test on which this does not happen have all failed, across decades of effort, criticism, and analysis.

Nobody knows why this is so; but the fact that it invariably, repeatedly, and intractably is so, makes testing hazardous — and ultimately pointless — under current employment law. Yet still employees must be selected somehow from applicant pools, and there must be some clear, fair criteria for their subsequent promotion. The state of the law now is that almost anything an organization does in this area will open it to litigation.

Ricci v. DeStefano takes place in a time of general public exhaustion over racial inequalities. We’d really rather just not think about it. Fifty years ago it all seemed cut and dried. Just strike down old unjust laws, give the minority a helping hand, give the non-minority some education about civil rights and past disgraces, and in a few years things will come right.

We coasted along under those assumptions for a generation. When it became obvious that things were not coming right in the matter of test results, scholars and jurists got to work on the problem.

Liberals, with their usual coarse stupidity, naturally assumed it was just a matter of spending more money on schools. This theory was tested to destruction in several places, most sensationally in Kansas City from 1985 to 1997. Under a judge’s order, the school district spent $2 billion over twelve years, pretty much rebuilding the school system — and the actual schools themselves — from the ground up. The new, lavish facilities included “an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal.” The experiment was a complete failure. Drop-out rates rose and test scores fell across the entire twelve years. Here are current test scores for the school that got the Olympic-sized swimming pool. (I could not find any published results for achievement in aquatic sports.)

Conservatives, thoroughly race-whipped by the liberal media elites, preferred to go along with whatever liberals said, except that they made, and still make, mild throat-clearing noises about school vouchers. It has turned out in practice, however, that the only people keen on school vouchers are the striving poor, a small (and dwindling) demographic with no political weight, and whom nobody in the media or academic elites gives a fig about. The non-striving underclass has zero interest in education; middle-class suburbanites like their schools the way they are, thanks all the same; and teachers’ unions see vouchers as threats to the public-education gravy train their members ride to well-padded retirement.

As test gaps persisted and lawsuits multiplied, the scholars retreated into metaphysics. The word “culture” was wafted around a lot. It seemed to denote a sort of phlogiston or luminiferous aether, pervading and determining everything, but via mechanisms nobody could explain. We heard about self-esteem issues, “the burden of ‘acting white,’ ” “stereotype threat,” and a whole raft of other sunbeams-from-cucumbers hypotheses. Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, two distinguished scholars in the field, produced a much-praised book about test-score gaps with a conclusion in which nothing was concluded. “Choice [of where to live] should not be a class-based privilege.” Where, in a free society, has it ever not been? How will you stop people moving, if they can afford to? “Families must help their children to the best of their ability.” Oh. “Vouchers are a matter of basic equity.” See above. “Big-city superintendents and principals operate in a bureacratic and political straitjacket.” True, no doubt; but test-score gaps are in plain sight even out in the ’burbs. John Ogbu wrote a book about it. Six years ago.

And the test-score gaps just sat there, and sat there, and sat there, grinning back at us impudently.

At last, we just stopped thinking about the whole disagreeable business. Unfortunately, by that time a great body of law had been built on the theories and pseudo-theories of the preceding decades, and couldn’t be wished away. Hence Ricci v. DeStefano.

You can deduce our state of exhaustion from booksellers’ lists. I just spent half an hour trawling through the bibliographies and references in my own modest collection of social-science literature to come up with the following list of 50 published books, most by accredited scholars, relevant to Ricci v. DeStefano and the issues underlying the case. I offer it to the Supremes as a reading list, if they’d like to get up to speed on the necessary sociology.

Derbyshire’s article goes into a very complete recounting of the state of “diversity scholarship” (for lack of a better term).

What he demonstrates, pretty convincingly, is that anyone who has bothered to study all the attempts at “race norming” in testing, at finding ways to make tests “nondiscriminatory,” etc., can’t fail to come away from it believing that it’s essentially impossible to construct a test on which all sectors of society will do equally well, and that includes deliberately TRYING to slant the test in a direction that will be easier for minorities.

What does it mean that we keep on keeping on, pretending that there is any way to make equal outcomes for every sector of society?  Well, it means we’re blind and stupid, maybe.  It means that all cultures are not created equal, will not become equal, and will not produce people of equal ability.  It means that differences between individuals matter HUGELY more than differences between ethnic groups, of whatever description.  It means that our systems of education, certification, hiring and promotion should be “color blind,” and allow excellence to come to the top, from whatever source.  It means that we need to study what is different in the cultures and family lives of the people who succeed more often, of whatever ethnicity, and use that information to teach others how to arrange their lives for the success of their children.

There is a curious phenomena in sociology/global studies departments in universities.  They often have a program of requiring students to spend a semester living in “the inner city” or some minority community so they can get past their “whiteness” and learn how life really is in those communities.  There’s probably nothing wrong with this (absent the inevitable “white bashing”), but imagine the opposite.

What if we had a program for bringing entire minority families into the homes of “typical middle class” families of whatever race, with the stipulation that they will live, for a few months, like the host family lives?  If they came to my house, they’d have to make sure their kids did their homework before anything else.  They’d learn that the parents demand, and the kids give, respect, and that the respect flows both ways.  They’d see TWO parents, working hard to teach their children values that will help them succeed.  (This may seem unfair;  what can a single mother do about it NOW?  Answer:  teach your kids not to repeat your mistakes,  show them what raising kids in a two parent home can be like, and build the ambition in them to seek that stability for their own adult lives.)  They would learn that the parents ALWAYS know where their kids are, who they’re with, what they’re doing, and when they’re coming home.  They’d see kids who actually care what their parents opinions are about matters large and small, at least partly because the parents have respected the kids’ abilities to think and reason.  They would rarely hear a raised voice, or out-of-control expression of negative emotion, from parents or children.

They would see people living within their means, not asking the government for anything much, looking over the shoulders of the teachers and schools, going to church and participating in the church’s life, and taking it seriously at home.  They would see parents seriously discussing current events with their children, explaining issues, giving them books to read on various topics, discussing the values underlying what they see on TV and in movies, etc.  They would see parents seriously discussing the future with their children, suggesting possibilities for the kids, based on realistic appraisals of their ability and personality (not fake “esteem building” that isn’t based on anything real in the child), and they would see parents who make sure their kids have plenty of opportunities to discover things at which they can succeed.

In other words, kids and parents of the hosted family would be learning how to be middle class Americans.

Even if this could be done, if the resources and organization existed to put families together, and the minority families were willing to do it, and even if it could be shown to succeed as a method of teaching successful living strategies and child rearing, objections would be raised, woudn’t they?  Let’s see:

Michelle Obama’s advice.

And, of course, we all recall Jeremiah Wright’s ringing condemnation of “middle class values.”

But what I am advocating is exactly an embrace of “middleclassness” as way of life for people who want to BE in the middle class, with middle class options in education, career, etc.  I’m suggesting that we make “learning to be a member of the middle class,” with all that implies, a goal for our entire approach to helping people get out of poverty.

What we shouldn’t do is create a system of testing, evaluation and rewards that pretends that people have achieved things that they have not.  Yet that this is exactly what we’ve already done, and so our problem is even bigger.

I’m not a dreamer.  I know it’s unlikely that we can get large numbers of those now in poverty to take the trouble to learn how to be “middle class” in the broad sense, which is a whole set of values and orientations that are simply different from typical behavior/attitudes among the chronically poor and “disadvantaged.”  But for way too many of them, their disadvantage is being raised by a single mother (or grandmother!) who did not herself make good life decisions, and is unlikely to be able to help her children do differently.  Learning to “be middle class” would be the best thing that could happen to them all.

We won’t be able to do this effectively, as a society, until we get over the multi-cultural pieties that have made it impossible for enough people to say that one way of life is better than another.


Dec 05 2008

The Left at Christian Universities, part 7: Speech codes

Part 6 in this series can be found here.

Speech codes limit campus freedom

Millions of high school seniors have started the process of deciding which college or university to attend in the next academic year. Prospective students will take into consideration cost, academics, social life, and location. And while many students will also look at schools that reflect their interests and values, virtually none will be thinking about the school’s speech codes or free speech zones. They should. Students at colleges and universities who articulate conservative and traditional views are at particular risk of bullying and indoctrination by campus administrators and faculty who are zealous ideologues.

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Nov 20 2008

Diversity quotas and lower standards for blacks in Law School Admissions actually reduce the number of black attorneys

Category: affirmative action,diversity,educationharmonicminer @ 9:13 am

This is not news, though it is papered over by the major media and academic administrators who care less about the long term outlook for minorities than they care about the short term appearance of politically correct admissions policies.

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Nov 18 2008

Post-Obama, whither “diversity”?

Category: affirmative action,diversityharmonicminer @ 9:27 am

Ken Blackwell points out the obvious, that the election of president-elect Obama signals a Post–Racial Preference America.

Two things are evident from the 2008 election. The first is that the American people voted for change, embodied in President-Elect Barack Obama. The second is that this is still a center-right country, shown by the success of traditional values ballot initiatives. This center-right orientation will compel our new president-elect to make difficult choices next year, especially regarding racial preferences.

Read the article linked above.

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Sep 28 2008

Some inconvenient truths about racial preferences and affirmative action/diversity policies

Here are the first few paragraphs of a scholarly paper presented at “Race and Gender Preferences at the Crossroads,” a conference organized by the California Association of Scholars and cosponsored by the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) and the Center for Equal Opportunity, held January 19, 2008, at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California. The title of the paper is The Effects of Proposition 209 on California: Higher Education, Public Employment, and Contracting 09/25/2008 Charles L. Geshekter

In 1996, Californians overwhelmingly approved Proposition 209 that prohibited all state agencies from using anyone’s race, ethnicity, or gender to discriminate against them or give them preference in university admissions, public employment, or competition for a state contract.

Those who opposed Proposition 209 predicted that ending racial or gender favoritism would result in sharp declines in black and Hispanic college enrollments, setbacks for women in public employment, reduced funds for cancer detection centers and domestic violence shelters, or other alarmingly negative effects.

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