Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited

I wrote “Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy” almost three years ago. What has happened since to the second view, that of UCLA law professor Richard Sander? Sander’s evidence-based article, “A Systematic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools,” (other related links here) concludes that race-based affirmative action hurts, rather than helps, black law students.

Gail Heriot of The Right Coast, who is a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, pens an update:

No one claims Sander’s findings are the last word on the subject. Although so far his work has held up to scrutiny as least as well as the work of his critics, all fair-minded scholars agree that more research is necessary before the” mismatch thesis” can be definitively accepted or rejected.

Unfortunately, fair-minded scholars are hard to come by when the issue is affirmative action. Some of the same people who argue Sander’s data are inconclusive are now actively trying to prevent him from conducting follow-up research that might yield definitive answers. If racial preferences really are causing more harm than good, these thinly-disguised political operatives don’t want anyone to know.

Take William Kidder, a University of California staff member and co-author of a frequently-cited attack of Sander’s study. When Sander and his ideologically-diverse co-investigators sought bar passage data from the State Bar of California, Kidder passionately argued that access should be denied, because disclosure “risks stigmatizing African American attorneys.” At the same time, the Society of American Law Teachers, which leans so heavily to the left it risks falling over sideways, subtly threatened future litigation against the State Bar. Coincidentally, one of Kidder’s co-authors, University of Michigan law professor David Chambers, is a former SALT president.

Sadly, the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners caved under the pressure. The committee members didn’t formally explain their decision to deny Sander’s request for the non-personally-identifiable data, but the root cause is clear: Over the last forty years, many distinguished citizens–university presidents, judges, philanthropists, and other leaders–have built their reputations on their support for race-based admissions. Ordinary citizens have found secure jobs as part of the resulting diversity bureaucracy. If it’s not working, they too don’t want anyone to know.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hopes that it can persuade the State Bar to reconsider. Its newly-released report on affirmative action in law schools specifically calls for state bar authorities to cooperate with qualified scholars studying the mismatch issue. Its recommendation is thus modest. It doesn’t claim that Sander is right or his critics wrong. It simply seeks to encourage and facilitate important research.

Its deeper purpose is to remind those who support and administer affirmative action polices of something that ought to be obvious: The good intentions of one’s predecessors do not give anyone a permanent moral free ride. Good faith requires a willingness to re-examine the consequences of one’s actions from time to time. Deliberate ignorance is not an option….

Sander doesn’t need to be proven 100% correct for his research to be devastating news for affirmative action supporters. Suppose the consequences of race-based admissions turn out to be simply a wash–neither increasing nor decreasing the number of minority attorneys. In that case, few people would think it worth the costs, not least among them the human cost that results from the failure of the supposed affirmative action beneficiaries to graduate and pass the bar. Under current practices, only 45% of blacks who enter law school pass the bar on their first attempt as opposed to over 78% of whites. Even after multiple tries, only 57% of blacks succeed. The rest are often saddled with student debt, routinely running as high as $160,000, not counting undergraduate debt. The real question therefore is how great an increase in the number of black attorneys is needed to justify this. If it is decreasing the number, it can hardly be defended.

Well, it can (and will) be defended if you are a Leftist who is bent on shaping the world to suit his preferences, be they about affirmative action, “global warming,” crime and punishment, defense of the nation, or the host of other topics on which Leftists are obdurately ignorant and wrong. Leftists like to call themselves “reality based,” but reality-based Leftism is an oxymoron of the first rank.

UPDATE: There’s more here, here (but the name is Sander, not Sanders), here, and here.