Affirmative Action at Georgetown (1/5)

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Today our country honors one of the few Americans who could justifiably pass muster for national sainthood.  We refer, of course, to the great civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life work serves as an example for all of us regarding what is best about humanity and the importance of equal rights for everyone regardless of background.

At TGA we're big fans of Dr. King.  Our motto about having the courage to take a stand on important issues of the day was used frequently in his speeches, and we suspect that is where our predecessors found it.  Most, if not all of us, have been to the National Mall and taken in our country's memorial to this great man who continually risked and ultimately lost his life in defense of the rights of others.  Visiting is one of the recommendations in our Bucket List and we think all who do so will find it inspiring.

On this day of national remembrance, it does us all well to remember his "I Have a Dream" speech, given at the Lincoln Memorial on a late summer’s day in 1963 . . . 

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!

At TGA we share Dr. King's vision of a world in which individuals are judged by the content of their character.  We stand united with him in believing no one should be discriminated against based on the color of their skin.

And so we turn now to affirmative action which makes a mockery of Dr. King's dream of a color-blind nation that doesn't discriminate based on race.

Let us be clear: affirmative action is a policy that involves race-based discrimination.  In that there is no debate.  Those who claim otherwise merely lie to themselves in refusing to acknowledge reality.  They would do better to be honest with everyone and admit affirmative action involves unequal and unfair treatment, but then explain why they feel such discrimination is necessary and appropriate in the modern world.

That Georgetown practices affirmative action and gives preferential treatment to select groups simply because of the color of their skin is something we at TGA believe should offend all of those in the Georgetown family who believe in fairness and equality.

Affirmative action was intended to redress America's past history of slavery and discrimination.  As originally conceived, it was meant to end discrimination, not continue it.

Executive Order 10925, in which the term "affirmative action" was first used, made it official U.S. government policy to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin" when it came to government contractors.  This policy was later superseded by Executive Order 11246 which prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, and national origin by those organizations receiving federal contracts and subcontracts (i.e. universities like Georgetown).  The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 also outlawed discrimination based on factors such as race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  

The fact is Georgetown, when it comes to admitting new students, practices racial discrimination in determining who will and will not be accepted.  Asian and whites must, in general, score higher than black and Latino students when it comes to both grades and SAT scores.  Otherwise they are less likely to be admitted.

Now we don’t know the exact differential because the University keeps these statistics shrouded in secrecy and has in the past attempted to punish students who have revealed them (see below).  

But if one looks at statistics for comparable institutions, being a non-Asian minority gives one a boost equivalent to adding 150 to 310 points on an SAT score.  What is more is that if you're an underrepresented minority your chance of admission to the select college of your choice increases by 27.7 percentage points over everyone else.  As noted in a study of America's most selective 146 colleges and universities by Georgetown's Anthony Carnevale, Director of the University's Center on Education and the Workforce, the data shows race-based affirmative action actually triples the numbers of blacks and Hispanics who would otherwise not be admitted to elite schools based on their grades and test scores alone.  

The fact is that if you're a second generation Latino or Hispanic student, your odds of being admitted to selective colleges are "are almost three times as high as they are for comparable white applicants."  Most shockingly, Princeton researchers Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford have found African American applicants from a lower-class backgrounds are 1,087% more likely to be admitted to elite U.S. colleges and universities than white applicants from similarly lower-class backgrounds (their study found the chance of admittance for lower-class African Americans was 87% whereas it was 8% for lower-class whites).

Anti-Asian admissions bias, however, means Asian applicants are the most systematically discriminated against group when it comes to college and university admissions and must have far higher grades and perform much better on the SATs than every other racial or ethnic group, just to have the same chances of getting into elite schools like Georgetown.

We emailed the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity & Affirmative Action last week asking for answers regarding how Georgetown uses race in its admissions decisions and for anonymized data regarding demographics and GPA plus SAT scores.

We still haven't received a response.

This doesn't surprise us since as Andrew Cornblatt, the Dean of Admissions at the University’s law school noted in The Washington Post, discussing affirmative action is “almost radioactive.”   Universities would rather not have anyone asking questions or discussing the subject.  And most people are unwilling to bring up the issue for a very simple reason: you will be called a racist and retaliated against if you do.

A number of years ago when a student who worked in the admissions office at the law school raised the issue of affirmative action in an article asserting the University uses “a separate and less demanding standard” for a particular minority group, a national controversy erupted.  Efforts were made by the Black Law Student Association to have him punished while an anonymous member of the administration told The New York Times in the week following the publication of his article that they were considering taking action, something they later did and which required him to retain legal counsel in order to avoid being unjustly expelled.  The student even received a death threat and there was a protest held at his graduation ceremony, all for reporting politically incorrect facts based on admissions data he was able to access.  The whole story is chronicled in a first-person account he wrote for Commentary magazine.

Here's some of what he had to say:

In “Admissions Apartheid,” which was published in our law school student paper, I used a random sample of applications to GULC to generalize about the respective credentials of blacks and whites who were ultimately admitted. According to that sample, the average white student accepted by GULC had a score of 43 on the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) out of a possible 48 on the scale then in use; his average black counterpart had a score of 36. The average white student accepted by the school had maintained an undergraduate grade-point average (GPA) of 3.7; for the average black, the figure was 3.2. In addition to exposing these disparities, “Admissions Apartheid” also rejected such familiar explanations for them as hostile environments, lack of role models, and biased curriculums—most pointedly by noting levels of achievement at historically-black colleges. At Grambling, for instance, 84 percent of those students who took the LSAT ended up in the bottom 10 percent of test-takers nationwide.
 . . .
Then there was Dean Areen’s public claim that consideration of race was not a part of the school’s admissions process, and that her main concern was the confidentiality of applications. Yet within days of this claim, it was revealed that one of the school’s most-renowned professors, Father Robert Drinan, had once put statistical comparisons of minority and white GULC students on the blackboard as part of a class in constitutional law. Like me, Drinan had found “significant differences” in the grades and test scores of whites and minorities. Contrary to what one would think from the administration’s statements, then, I had not released information which had been guarded as zealously as that pertaining to the manufacture of atomic bombs.
It turned out, moreover, that my random sample had understated the race-based disparities at the school. In 1989, the median LSAT for incoming white students at GULC was 42; for incoming blacks it was 33, “up from 32 last year.” Nor was this extreme disparity confined to Georgetown: exactly the same figures obtained at the University of Texas Law School. And the most recently reported average LSAT score for whites admitted to all American law schools was 36; for blacks it was 28.
Indeed, it is generally conceded that less than 1 percent of top law school student bodies would be black under race-blind admissions. To cite only one instance, the director of admissions at the University of California Law School at Berkeley noted several years ago that, nationwide, “only five blacks who took the LSAT had scores and GPA’s that equaled [Berkeley’s] average.” Yet blacks are represented at many law schools in greater numbers than they are represented among college graduates. This can be accomplished only through a process of insulating blacks from competition with better-qualified whites and applying much lower standards to black applicants.

All this week we’ll be talking about affirmative action. 

Tomorrow we’ll discuss "mismatch theory," which is one of the main problems with affirmative action, aside from its inherent unfairness as a discriminatory program.  On Wednesday we present empirical evidence from the growing pile of data showing affirmative action actually harms its intended beneficiaries.  Thursday we'll return to the law school case and Georgetown's efforts to hide it's data from scrutiny, before concluding on Friday with look at how affirmative action programs at Georgetown cause the University administration to be dishonest with everyone by talking out of both sides of its metaphorical mouth when claiming it doesn’t discriminate based on race even though it does discriminate based on race. 

It is our belief a serious examination of this issue will better inform the Georgetown community about the pitfalls associated with affirmative action.  We embark on this process in the hopes of promoting discussion over this important issue and that by doing so we may one day help achieve MLK’s dream of a color blind society and a more just world in which institutional racism and systems of discrimination like affirmative action no longer exist.

Let freedom ring!

Note: An earlier version of this piece misstated the date of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. It was in 1963, not 1968.  We regret the error.