Showing posts with label Affirmative Action. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Affirmative Action. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Stuyvesant and The Limits of Affirmative Action

I support public and private sector workplace affirmative action programs. Due to this country's history many people have a strong preference for their own and a disdain for black intelligence and competence. We live in a very segregated society. 

People who live separate residential and personal lives are as a group often unable or unwilling to judge co-workers, business partners, or new hires solely by potential and results. Humans usually don't work that way. 

Whether it is law firm partners who find more errors in associates' work if they think the associate is Black, hiring agents who sight unseen reject candidates with "Black" names, people that just tell someone straight out that they don't hire their kind, immigrants who won't hire Black people, managers more willing to hire white felons than Blacks without criminal records, workplace bigotry and stereotyping remains a huge problem. It's partly why the black unemployment rate has stubbornly remained twice that of whites for about as long as the metric has been recorded. If you're Black and haven't experienced any workplace funny business, congratulations but I think your number just hasn't come up yet.  It will soon

We do need standards. Properly done, affirmative action's should make people define and enforce objective standards. If a company hires an incompetent Black person, I won't cry when that person is fired, demoted or transferred. But evaluating job performance can be opaque and biased. A person who excels in one role or with one set of people can fail in a different role or with different co-workers. Measuring educational performance is different. This brings us to Stuyvesant High School. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gender Quotas for US Elected Offices?

There will be 20 women in the US Senate in 2013. This is a record. But if you're anxious to smash the patriarchy and make everything "equal" this isn't anywhere near good enough. Thus some people wonder if the time hasn't come to dust off Title IX. Instead of applying it to college or high school sports or ridiculously threatening to expand its jurisdiction to the scientific classroom, some think the US should have political gender quotas for elected seats. Some people would want women to be guaranteed at least 30% representation in elected bodies while others demand 50% representation in the US Senate.  Each state would have to have one man and one woman as its Senator. 

It is a source of constant amusement to me that Harrison Bergeron, a dystopic satire by a left-leaning writer, has instead become a virtual guidebook for some earnest current left-wingers (and a bete noire for right-wingers) who really are obsessed with trying to enforce equality of results no matter what. 

You don't have to be a fervent racist or chauvinist to understand that people aren't the same and have different interests. Looking at the state of the world today I wouldn't argue that men are better at leadership but they definitely seem to be more interested in leadership. Should we pretend that the gender that is literally awash in testosterone and aggression and gets certain (ahem) benefits from the other gender for seeking, holding and expressing status and power would not then on average show greater interest in obtaining formal leadership positions? Every single American man who's been elected to office in the past ninety two years has had to appeal to women voters. What we see is what the electorate, men and women, want. Maybe the electorate is wrong, bigoted, behind the times, etc. Maybe. But ultimately power resides in the people.

It may well be a feminist truism that men and women are roughly identical and interchangeable and thus any societal differences are solely an example of invidious discrimination. But just believing something doesn't make it so. We still have a legal and constitutional system that would, I hope, make it difficult for gender quotas to be used. I don't think that such quotas could be reconciled with equal protection concerns or the right to freedom of association. How can we tell voters that their choice will be limited by gender? 

And enforcement would be unpleasant if not impossible. Let's say that a insurgent political movement led by a honest, hardworking charismatic man arises and defeats the moribund ineffective Democratic (woman) Senator. But as the state's Republican Senator, who's not up for re-election this year is a man, that would mean that the state would then be sending two men to the Senate. No good. All those votes for the new guy were thus meaningless. Are we going to tell the rising star that sorry, he can't serve in the US Senate because he has an outie instead of an innie? Does that sound remotely American?

Bad policy arises from bad ideas. There are two bad ideas here. The first is that you can only or best be politically represented by someone who shares your immutable physical traits. If everyone felt that way then we'd not have the President we have nor would a decent politician like Steve Cohen ever have served. What matters is not so much what you look like but what you do. 
The second bad idea is that men and women are interchangeable and ought to be doing the exact same things in the same proportion. That's never been and never will be the case in human society. Men and women are of equal value but they are rather obviously not identical. And women can be just as mean, greedy, short-sighted, ignorant and bigoted as men. There is certainly no guarantee that having more women making or executing law will produce better results. Would you enjoy a President Palin? Michele Bachmann as head of HHS? Is it better for South Carolina pro-choice women that right wing pro-life Nikki Haley is governor instead of a right wing pro-life man? There is no law preventing interested women from running for office.
There is no law preventing political parties and interest groups from encouraging women candidates, donating to women candidates or even leaning on male potential candidates to sit an election out because the party wants more women to run. 
There is no law preventing current women (or men) elected officials from identifying and mentoring potential women candidates. 

Right now, if you've got the guts, intelligence and the heart to do it you can run for political office. There should not be a federal law preventing you from doing so because of your gender. Period. Gender quotas are the political equivalent of giving everyone in a sports event a trophy. It's a silly idea and debases the challenge. This idea also shows a nasty hostility to the voter's choice.

I believe in equality of opportunity. I don't believe in legally requiring equality of results. I think our system can occasionally get away with a small thumb on the scale where there is historical or ongoing discrimination. But quotas go way beyond that. There is a tension between freedom and equality just as there is between freedom and safety. The US body politic has mostly tended towards freedom. Our constitution is set up that way. However there are some powerful currents that tend toward equality and safety at the expense of freedom. 

The voters must be able to choose the best woman or man for a particular job without being prevented from doing so by a particular interest group that decides it doesn't like current gender (or any other kind of) political demographics. Black people are roughly 13% of the population and have no Senate seats. Jewish people are about 3% of the population and have eleven Senate seats. Hispanic people are about 15% of the population and have three Senate seats. Left-handed redheaded bisexual agnostics are 2% of the population and on and on and on. If you go down the path of political quotas, pack a lunch because it's gonna be a long haul.


1) Do you think there will ever be proportional gender representation in Congress and the Senate?

2) Do quotas have any place in American politics? Do you think they're legal?

3) Have you ever read Harrison Bergeron?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Affirmative Action, Education, Stuyvesant High School

The Supreme Court will shortly start its new term. It is going to take up yet another affirmative action case. Hopefully The Janitor will have a post on this with his normal attention to historical and legal detail. I want to talk about educational affirmative action from a slightly different and rather painful aspect. First things first. I am a strong supporter of workplace affirmative action. I have seen too damn many people get hired, groomed, and promoted for reasons that have little to do with qualifications. I actually did pretty well on standardized tests and naively had a belief that advanced degrees and skill sets mattered. I was shocked to learn that other things matter much more. Does your boss like you? That is really the greatest single factor on whether or not you're going to succeed in your job, though perhaps not your career. I have performed superhuman feats for bosses who for whatever reason didn't like me and didn't find my diligence worthy of reward or even notice. Other times I have been less than heroic but still received strong support and encouragement from bosses that liked me. Go figure. Since blacks and whites generally live apart and inhabit separate social worlds is it really possible for whites to judge blacks fairly? Can I get a fair evaluation at work from someone who, outside of the work environment, does her best to avoid people who look like me?

My career has occasionally suffered because I'm not plugged into certain (white) social networks. You need to know which assignments to take or decline. You need strong allies not only among your peer group but also among higher level managers. Otherwise, you can spend years grinding away and then look up and wonder why people with similar or less education and experience have zoomed past you. I sometimes think it would be wise for workplace promotions, hiring and assignments to be based on standardized aptitude testing. Either you know the material or you don't. There would be no more worries about losing promotions to a peer whose husband is a business partner of a higher ranking boss or to another peer who plays golf with your direct boss. Yes both of these things happened to me. It seems I am still peeved. Snicker. Of course companies would HATE this idea because it would prevent managers and company officers from hiring and promoting as they see fit. Managers might correctly argue that a workplace test alone doesn't provide enough useful information about the person's professional competence. If the below people all pass the test, should they be promoted?
  • Someone who ignores basic American hygiene standards and makes people scheme on how to avoid sitting next to him in meetings?  
  • Someone who dresses like she's working a street corner and has her peers making weekly bets on how much leg or chest she will show?
  • Someone who falls asleep in meetings or at their desk? 
  • Someone who refuses to travel even though the promotion requires travel?
  • Someone whose accent is so bad that few people can understand him and everyone makes fun of him behind his back?
  • Someone who knows her theory but freezes in crisis or when reality and theory clash?
  • Someone whose first response to any idea is always negative and who enjoys spreading bad news? 
  • Someone who is expert in his field but is also a loud profane bully that delights in humiliating people who make mistakes and picking fights just for fun?
  • Someone who gets in a squabble with a subordinate and then makes fun of that person in front of their children?
And yes these are all real life examples with which I am directly familiar. So in the workforce, where there are other considerations besides pure knowledge, a single test isn't the best way to determine aptitude. I might have to concede that.
But in an academic arena, shouldn't pure knowledge be the ONLY consideration? And if so, what is the best way to measure that knowledge? Or should there be other things besides knowledge taken into account to measure academic success?

NYC's Stuyvesant High School has been in the news recently for a couple of reasons, neither one much good. A number of kids were caught cheating. Stuyvesant is a hyper-competitive school in which only the best of the best are admitted. Admission is based solely on a standardized test which is used by the eight top schools in NYC. Stuyvesant has the highest cut off. Stuyvesant has a student body which is, shall we say, different from the usual demographics of NYC schools. The school is roughly about 72% Asian and 25% Caucasian. This has resulted in some people trying to tip toe around some unfortunate implications while others snicker and glory in same. Recently a group of apparently mostly Black and Hispanic civil rights and educational groups decided to file a complaint with the Department of Education. Their claim is that use of the test violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it causes racial disparity. I think their heart is in the right place but I'm not sure I can support their framework here. I remember occasionally having teachers in college or before who radiated contempt for black people. Few things were more pleasurable to me than to score among the highest in the class or correct them when they were wrong. There is something wonderful about objective knowledge. No matter how much someone might believe in black inferiority, they can't stop you from succeeding educationally. As I wrote above I wish I still had that clear approach in corporate life. I think it is approaching shamefulness to make a public argument that amounts to "this must be discrimination because I'm not good at it". Obviously the Caucasian and Asian parents don't wish to change the admissions criteria because their children are succeeding under the rules. Manjit Singh's statement is likely reflective of his parents' thoughts as well.
The test-only rule has existed for decades, as have complaints about its effect on minority enrollment. In May 1971, after officials began thinking about adding other criteria for admission, protests from many parents, mostly white, persuaded the State Legislature to enshrine the rule in state law.  Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference on Thursday that the schools were “designed for the best and the brightest” and that he saw no need to change the admissions policy or state law. “I think that Stuyvesant and these other schools are as fair as fair can be,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “There’s nothing subjective about this. You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school — no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is. That’s been the tradition in these schools since they were founded, and it’s going to continue to be.”
When asked the uncomfortable question of why the racial imbalance existed, some students mentioned the intensive tutoring services that are out of reach of poorer families. But others did not hesitate to say that they believed the family culture of Asian and white students put a higher value on educational achievement than others.
“African-American and Hispanic parents don’t always seek out extra help for their kids and their kids don’t score as high,” said Manjit Singh, a senior. “But it’s the same test for everyone, so how can it be discriminatory? If you can’t handle the test, you can’t handle the school, and you’re taking up someone else’s spot.”
Noah Morrison, a senior who is black, was not ready to change the policy, either, but he agreed that “there needs to be more racial diversity at this school.”
“There are no black people and it’s horrible,” he said. “The test is fine, but there need to be more opportunities for people to do well on it. There need to be more test-prep programs in underachieving middle schools with high black and Latino populations. It’s a socioeconomic problem.
Ms. Miles, for her part, said the city needed do a better job disseminating information about the test and the free preparatory programs available. The city’s Education Department has been offering such a program, with weekend and summer coaching sessions to promising but disadvantaged sixth graders — and, this year only, seventh graders — for more than 20 years. Its original mission was to increase the number of blacks and Latinos, but after a legal challenge in 2007, income became its main eligibility criteria. Since then, however, the program has shrunk —2,800 students attended in 2008, down from 3,800 two years before — and even among those who participated, black and Latino students were far less likely to take the entrance exam than Asians and whites.

So it's rough. There is a question then about why Black and Hispanic students aren't doing as well on the test or even taking the test as often as Whites and Asians. I think there are a number of reasons for that which need greater discussion than we can do in just one post. Poverty, single parent homes, hunger, exposure to lead based paint, low birth weight and other factors all have impact on educational achievement. But the big factor here and one I have struggled with myself sometimes upon entering the cold cruel corporate world is living up (or down) to stereotypes. Henry Ford once said "Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right".  Dr. Claude Steele, Shelby Steele's twin brother, has done some research which confirms Ford's off the cuff observation. And not only are black people watching too much television but media often subtly or not so subtly tells black people that they aren't worth s***.

And if you don't think that the attempt to succeed will make any difference in your life because of false stereotypes and very real racism in the job market and the justice system, then you might want to protect your ego by not even trying. After all, being admitted to a competitive high school in NYC won't stop the NYPD from harassing and insulting you if you happen to be Black or Hispanic. Hearing "I don't care if you are an A+ student, put your black a$$ against the wall!!" would tend to mess with your equilibrium.

It also comes down to just doing the work. This isn't easy. But if you believe that people are basically the same, then you have to accept that work can get you where you want to go. We all have different gifts. There are few people who can play professional sports or have the patience for delicate lab work in physics or biology or can sit down and create new music or so on. But when you go to a concert and see someone play a guitar for three hours without a mistake or go to a basketball game and watch someone seemingly defy gravity it is worth remembering that you are watching the end result of years and years and years of hard work, competition, dedication, and insane drive. Academics aren't any different.
So my solution to the Stuyvesant issue is not to file a federal complaint of racial discrimination. I don't think that is warranted here. My solution is to change the culture, put down the video games, turn off the television and hit the books. And as I support affirmative action I think that there must be more public and private partnerships to identify and nurture talented Black and Hispanic children, convince them that they can succeed and give them all the training and then some that they need for the test. Success is their heritage not failure. If WEB DuBois could get a Ph.D. from Harvard in the 1890s, near the nadir of American racism, today we have no reason to let a little high school admissions test stop us. Because the Manjit Singhs of the world aren't going to have sympathy for you.
I usually do my grocery shopping in an area close to the U-M engineering and physics schools. The demographics have changed rather significantly since I went to U-M. There are a lot of East Asian nationals and Asian Americans who have settled nearby and work or attend school. They've evidently put in the work to get those jobs or attend the classes. So go and do likewise ladies and gents. Go and do likewise. Game on.

Is there a valid Federal racial discrimination complaint here?
Why aren't there more Blacks and Hispanics attending the best schools?
Should disparate impact be removed as a possible racial discrimination cause?
What sort of school reforms do you want to see implemented?
Do you think intelligence is racially based?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Affirmative Action in Michigan

In 2006 Michigan voters, via a voter's referendum, constitutionally banned public sector affirmative action for race and gender in education, employment and contracting. This meant that race or gender could officially no longer be taken in account when deciding who was accepted to a given school, which company won the bid for a state or local contract, or who got hired to a public sector job. This referendum was named Proposition 2 and passed easily by a 58-42 margin. The impact of this was mixed to say the least, as there is a Federal Executive Order 11246 ,which under certain circumstances requires federal contractors (ie. public universities) to have affirmative action programs or goals. 

But honestly few people in Michigan cared too much about the impact on employment or contracting so much as they did about the impact on education. Proposition 2 was passed as a reaction to two cases involving the University of Michigan and two different plaintiffs,  Jennifer Gratz (pictured above with Ward Connerly) and Barbara Grutter, who upon being denied admission to the undergrad program and the law school program respectively, threw the mother of all temper tantrums and literally decided to make a federal case out of it. Ultimately Gratz won her case and Grutter lost, for reasons which I am sure The Janitor can explain in great detail. Basically the Supreme Court decided that the undergrad affirmative action admissions policy was too strict and too close to a quota while the law school admissions policy was more narrowly structured, although Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that she did not expect that the law school's policy would be necessary 25 years from her decision approving it.

A 50% win wasn't good enough for Grutter and especially Gratz so in short order they hooked up with Ward Connerly, a man who proves that yes you can still make a living as a token minority, and convinced the majority of Michigan voters to alter our constitution to make it crystal clear that public sector affirmative action wasn't allowed any more, no way no how. Period.

Now here's where it gets kind of tricky. The other side (i.e. the good guys) decided to fight this ban in court. Although it was a long shot and I wasn't totally convinced of the validity of the legal arguments, to many's surprise, recently they actually won in federal court-The US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appeals court said Proposal 2, which was [passed] by a 58-42 percentage margin, is unconstitutional because it restructured Michigan’s political process in a way that placed special burdens on minorities that deprived them of equal protection under the law.“The majority may not manipulate the channels of change in a manner that places unique burdens on issues of importance to racial minorities,” Judge R. Guy Cole said in an opinion joined by Judge Martha Daughtrey. Judge Julia Gibbons dissented, saying she didn’t think Proposal 2 impermissibly restructured the political process.Cole and Daughtrey were appointed by President Bill Clinton. Gibbons was appointed by George W. Bush.Attorney Washington said Michigan colleges and universities provide preferential treatment to a variety of groups, including veterans, the poor and students from rural areas. He said Proposal 2 discriminated against blacks, Latinos and native Americans.Today’s decision is the latest development in a long and bitter battle over race admission policies in Michigan colleges and universities.
Needless to say Miss Jennifer wasn't too happy about this turn of events:
Gratz, however, said the majority opinion is “ludicrous and illogical.”
“This court is saying that we place a burden on minorities by treating them equally with non-minorities…that we have to treat people unequally in order to treat them equally,” Gratz said, “That is insane.”
And Michigan, which is now under Republican management, has promised to appeal.
But Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said this afternoon the decision will be appealed to the full 6th U.S. Circuit, and that, in the mean time, Proposal 2 will remain in effect.
"MCRI embodies the fundamental premise of what America is all about: equal opportunity under the law," Schuette said in a statement. "Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit, and I will continue the fight for equality, fairness and rule of law."
I think that Grutter's and Gratz's arguments were ultimately unconvincing because there were several white people that had received admission to the law school or undergraduate program that had less competitive scores or grades than they did. In addition as supporters of affirmative action court pointed out there were several other categories of students who received diversity points in the admission process (geographical/poverty/veterans) besides just racial minorities. However I also must confess a slight bias against affirmative action in so-called objective criteria (i.e. grades/tests) while having a HUGE bias for it where the criteria aren't objective (real life/the workplace). In the workplace I've just seen and experienced too many instances where it's not what you know but who you know, who you are, how people respond and relate to you. I've seen whites with high school degrees making the same or more money than blacks with college degrees. I've seen whites picked out and groomed for promotion by white managers while blacks languish in the same area for years.  In virtually every organization I've been in the further up the chain you go the fewer and fewer black people you see. There I think some form of affirmative action is not only a good thing but required.
However one can make a convincing argument that because of historical and ongoing segregation, discrimination and consumption and endorsements of racist beliefs that blacks are still suffering from a disbelief in their own abilities and that this shows up in tests and grades. If this is really the case then it is incumbent upon society to provide some form of corrective to this reality.
Although I find this argument to have merit I don't think that Gratz or more importantly the Supreme Court will. Honestly I think this is just a road bump to the Supreme Court allowing Proposition 2 to stand. It's a huge step from saying that you can allow affirmative action to you must allow affirmative action.
What's your take?
Do the voters of Michigan have the right to ban state public sector affirmative action?
Do you think affirmative action is a winner politically?
Do you find the Court of Appeals' reasoning valid?