What I agree with Richard Kahlenberg about on Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. And what I don’t.
As Dan Crawford posted below, SCOTUSblog linked in its daily Round-up feature this morning to my AB post yesterday about Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which is being argued at the Supreme Court this afternoon. Dan posted the Round-up paragraph in which the reference appears. It says:
Commentary on Schuette comes from Richard Kahlenberg, who in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal argues that “[a] ruling in Schuette that promotes race-neutral strategies to boost minority admissions would reinforce the message the court tried to deliver last term in Fisher v. University of Texas but has largely fallen on deaf ears.” And at Angry Bear, Beverly Mann explains why she “expect[s] that the chief justice will vote to affirm a lower federal appellate court’s ruling in the high-profile affirmative action case that the Court will hear argument on tomorrow.”
I posted the following comment to Dan’s post:
Yikes. In reading that sentence that Amy Howe [of SCOTUSblog] quoted, I guess I better say that the rest of my post makes clear (I hope) that that sentence is facetious.
Facetious, it definitely is. The chief justice will use, or try to use, this case to kill affirmative action in public higher education.
But after reading Dan’s quote of the SCOTUSblog paragraph, I decided to read the Kahlenberg op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Kahlenberg, the op-ed says, is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, is author of “The Remedy: Class, Race and Affirmative Action,” published in 1996.
His op-ed is titled “A Fresh Chance to Rein In Racial Preferences.” And most of the article uses the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor as an example of why racial preferences per se as a state university admissions criterion are bad policy. He argues instead for socioeconomic criteria, and identifies several major state universities that have used various tools to achieve some semblance of socioeconomic, and not-coincidendally racial, diversity. U-M/Ann Arbor is not among them and has not even tried to be.
I couldn’t agree more. On all points. Anyone who spends so much as a couple of hours on or near campus on a weekday during the fall or winter semester would be struck by how almost-thoroughly white and upper-middle and upper-class the undergraduate, non-Asian student body is. Denizens of Ann Arbor itself are not much into current-model upscale foreign-import cars–old Volvo station wagons and Detroit-made small and midsize cars are far more common–but walk through a student parking lot and you’ll probably see several of the he high end import variety.
And I can attest that this was so during the 2006-2007 school year, the last admissions year before the constitutional amendment at issue in Schuette became effective. Indeed, I recall a longtime U-M professor, then nearing retirement, lament how much the nature of the student body had changed since his early years teaching there in 1970s. He said that back then, there was a feeling of real connection between the university and the Big Three automakers whose headquarters were only 40 miles or so away and whose manufacturing and design plants dotted the metro area, and the central part of the state, because so many of the students had parents or other family members who worked there. Now, he said, the student body is almost all upscale. Macbooks outnumbered Windows-based laptops by, I’d guess, three to one. And most of them were recent models.
Kahlenberg mentions the University of Florida/Gainesville as one of the public universities that has made a successful effort at socioeconomic and thus racial diversity in its undergraduate body. That is clear just from walking through the campus during the school year, as I did not long ago on a visit to North Central Florida. He also mentions UCLA, UC-Berkeley, the University of Georgia/Athens and the University of Texas/Austin. But he also could have mentioned Michigan State University, The University of Illinois.Champaign/Urbana, I believe, and the University of Wisconsin, I also believe.
What I suspect happened at U-M, although it’s just my speculation, is that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s two 2003 racial affirmative action programs, one case about U-M freshman admissions policies, the other about U-M law school admissions policies–both opinions which focused heavily on the legitimate state interest in racial diversity among its student body the university–the university began to focus almost entirely on racial diversity, but, as it happens, without a lot of success. Had the school ditched its alumni-legacy preferences, which Kahlberg points out, UCLA and UC-Berkeley did but U-M did not–and instead focused more on socioeconomic diversity, it probably would have been more successful at achieving racial diversity as part of the broader socioeconomic diversity.
But, for the reasons I explained (or tried to) in my post yesterday on Schuette, that case is not, in essence, an affirmative action case. Kahlberg sort of acknowledges that. He says:
At issue is whether voters can amend a state constitution to ban racial preferences by referendum, as Michigan voters did by 58%-42% in 2006. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck the measure down by an 8-7 vote in 2012, arguing that the amendment introduces an extra political hurdle for minorities. Whereas alumni can lobby the University of Michigan to strengthen legacy preferences for their children, the Sixth Circuit said, minority parents would need to amend the constitution to get racial preferences reinstated. “Such a comparative structural burden undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change,” the court said.
This case is about whether a voter referendum can amend a state constitution in a manner that removes a particular type of group, or removes groups with a particular type of cause, from access to the normal democratic methods of lobbying elected or appointed officials–the legislature, a local governing body, the University’s Board of Regents. That is what this case is about, and Kahlberg, unlike (surprisingly) Emily Bazelon in Slate yesterday, does not miss that point. But he both says that he thinks the court will nonetheless use the case to kill affirmative action in public universities and urges the court to do that. His justification:
Although minority voters cannot easily lobby to reinstate racial preferences in Michigan, they remain free to lobby for race-neutral programs that assist many minority students. These would include programs that help low-income students of all races—programs for more generous financial aid; for more community college transfers to the main campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; for an end to legacy preferences that disproportionately benefit white students; and for admitting students in the top of every high school class in the state.
Hey! They remain free to lobby for race-neutral programs that assist many minority students! Well, aren’t they lucky! For now, anyway.
Thank you for the fantastic analysis of this case over the past few days! The discussion of Scalia’s shifting invocations of the 14th Amendment have particularly useful for me as someone without a law degree trying to follow the ins and outs of the case.
I had one thought about the changing composition of UM’s campus. I’m a current PhD student, and a former undergrad, and I’ve also done some research with two other sociologists on the history of admissions and affirmative action here at UM. The big shift that, I think, explains the change in class make-up at UM is not the changing emphasis on race, but the combination of the (semi) privatization of the university (that is, the massive cutback in state support) and the simultaneous push to become a more elite university as judged by standards like the USNWR. For example, as far back as the 1980s, Michigan did very well in the USNWR, but was criticized for its relatively low SAT/ACT scores in comparison to other top 20/25 universities. Together, these goals called for a strategy of recruiting an ever-growing number of high achieving out-of-state students able to pay the Ivy-like out-of-state tuition and simultaneously bump up the average SAT/ACT score of the undergrad body.
These goals are then in explicit conflict with any strong form of class-based diversity. UM’s admissions policies – from the points-system of the mid-90s through the post-Gratz holistic assessment – included some attempt to account for economic diversity. For example, under the points system, students from the upper peninsula and Detroit both received extra points for being from underrepresented parts of the state. But these measures have always been seemingly weak against the larger forces pushing towards recruiting wealthier and higher achieving (in the sense of measurable achievements) students. This is not to excuse Michigan’s actions, but just to try to place them in the broader field of American higher ed in the past 30 years.
Berkeley and UCLA, in comparison, have maintained much stronger ties to the California educational system (through the stronger community college transfer programs, for example), and (until quite recently) much lower tuition supported by higher levels of state funding.
Also, and somewhat relatedly, if you haven’t seen it, Anna Kirkland and Ben Hansen have a fascinating paper analyzing Michigan’s undergraduate admissions diversity essay question, and how students interpret and respond to the questions by race and class.
Thanks so much, Dan. I just posted it as a separate blog post, at http://angrybearblog.strategydemo.com/2013/10/more-on-schuette-v-coalition-to-defend-affirmative-action-this-time-from-a-reader-who-is-a-u-mich-undergraduate-alum-and-currently-ph-d-candidate-there-in-sociology.html.