Yale University Admissions show the Difficulty of Proving Discrimination

Yale University

The Department of Justice recently filed suit against Yale University for discriminating against Caucasian and Asian students. It’s going to be just as difficult to prove this discrimination as it is to prove against companies that refuse to hire black or homosexual candidates. This is where government intervention often appears to be a force of good but it really is not. Let me explain.

In a nutshell, the discriminating agency can deny the choice was made because of color of skin, sexual orientation, or any external factor. My father argued a Supreme Court case in the 1960s involving discrimination in housing. He won that case but, and this is important, doing so did not stop white people from preventing blacks moving into their neighborhoods. There are plenty of black people in St. Louis who can affirm the practice is still thriving.

In this case the shoe is on the other foot. Basically, kids from impoverished regions of the country who attend schools without the many academic advantages have no little or no chance to score as well on tests as kids from wealthy school districts, or beat them on the football field. The kids with a huge wealth gap advantage in tutors, trainers, equipment, study material, study time, and other things almost always do better on standardized tests.

Let me make this a little more personal so you can see the point of view of the school. Let’s imagine you are hiring for a position. You have two candidates. One candidate comes from an elite educational environment with all the advantages. The other comes from a poor district with no advantages. Now, you give them both a business-oriented test for which the average score is 50. The elite candidate scores 55 and the poor candidate scores 51. But you look in your database and candidates coming from the elite environment average 64 on the test while those from the poor section average 35. So, you’ve got a candidate who scored 16 points above average for their background and one that scored 9 below from their own. One is clearly an overachiever while the other is an underachiever. Who do you hire?

This is what Yale University and other elite educational schools face everyday when they must choose who to admit. Yale University often chooses the minority student despite having what appears to be a worse academic record. Now, it’s also entirely possible Yale University picks the minority student because the admission counselor hates Asians, but this is difficult to prove. People will always be able to come up with some rational as to why the black family can’t move into the neighborhood besides blatant discrimination. We see it all the time here in St. Louis and I’m sure in your part of the world also.

Now that I’ve explained the problem I’m finally getting to the point of this article. The government cannot fix this problem and often does more harm than good when they try. Let’s imagine the Justice Department is successful in forcing Yale University to admit students based solely on their test scores. Are we not removing the freedom of the school to pick who they want to be members? Is it not their school?

It’s also important to understand it was earlier rulings making discrimination illegal that allow the Justice Department to file this lawsuit against Yale University in the first place. If discrimination was not outlawed by the government, Yale is free to do as it will.

To me that’s the important point. Discrimination didn’t stop because government passed a law. People still speed, people still take drugs, people still discriminate, they just hide it better.

Yale University should be allowed to admit whomever it wants, if they refuse overachieving minority students who will undoubtedly succeed, that’s their loss.

Tom Liberman

Affirmative Action

Affirmative ActionYesterday I talked about how playing chess against a wide variety of players in the internet age improved my game at a much faster rate than when I played against the same opponent again and again. This led me to the conclusion that variety of experience leads to a better life and improved skill. I want to take this argument and apply it to the idea of affirmative action.

As usual, I think it is a good idea to actually define what we are talking about in order to fully understand it and come to accurate conclusions with our critical thinking skills.

Affirmative action is a relatively simple idea. A particular group of people is underrepresented in a situation and laws are created so that this group must be given an equal opportunity to participate. For example; a study reveals that while Martians represent 8% of the total population of Utopia City they account for 1% of students at Utopia University. A law is passed that forces Utopia U. to make certain 8% of its incoming class is of Martian descent.

It seems a quite reasonable solution to the problem and becomes even more reasonable when the problem is related to active discrimination against the party in question.

In the United States the original affirmative action laws, signed by John F. Kennedy on March 6, 1961, were created to counteract racial bias against black U.S. citizens. It originally prohibited discrimination against people based on race, creed, color, or national origin.

The advantage to creating such laws is that the Martians get a fair chance to participate at Utopia U. Another advantage is that we expose all our students to a wider array of cultural ideas and this makes them a more rounded and essentially better people.

The disadvantages are that such laws work against institutions that are not practicing discrimination. If I run Utopia U. and my only criteria for admission is the students with the best grades then I’m forced to enroll Martians with lower scores at the expense of a potential students who have a better chance to succeed. This is, in itself, discrimination.

So, what’s the solution?

To my way of thinking there should simply be laws against discrimination but everyone should be able to hire, enroll, or otherwise deal with people as they see fit. If a case of discrimination can be proven then the violator should face whatever punishment the law suggests, fine or prison. The idea that we must have 8% Martians at Utopia U. as a way of trying to monitor discrimination is fine but it is not actual proof. We might have only 1% Martians because only 1% are qualified to get in.

The advantage of experiencing life more fully is not one the government can solve. We must actively try to experience life more fully and meet different types of people as I discussed yesterday. If we do this we become better and our friends and relatives will copy the behavior. I just don’t think the government can legislate this solution as well-intentioned as the idea might be. 

It’s fine to use statistical analysis to look for anomalies and then investigate potential discrimination but I think it’s a mistake to insist upon particular numerical values. The Supreme Court of the U.S. largely agrees with this point of view.

I’m of the opinion that affirmative action should largely be phased out although discrimination laws should certainly be kept in place. I see the racism problem as largely, although certainly not completely, solved in the United States. If we can instill a Meritocracy based system then all such nonsense can finally be put to rest.

One of the ways to do this is to always critically analyze a situation and make the best decision. The best decision is blind, like justice, of things like race, creed, sex, handicap, or other potential discriminations. Keep in mind that what is best for you and your future involves making good decisions. You want to surround yourself with people who are best equipped to handle the job regardless of any other factor.

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist