Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Affirmative Action for Unqualified Whites

cross-posted from Dagblog

The Supreme Court may forbid any use of race in college admissions in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, being heard today, because the conservative wing really wants to overturn previous rulings and because Justice Kagan has recused herself. If that happens, the winning plaintiff will be a classic poster child for anti-affirmative-action litigation: a white kid who got 1180 on her SATs.

Abigail Fisher is suing because she did not get into the University of Texas. Here's how admission to the University of Texas works: if you're in the top ten percent of your class in any Texas high school, you get into the University of Texas. Abigail Fisher was not in the top ten percent of her high school class, and did not get in. Black people are obviously to blame for this.

Fisher did have another chance to get into UT Austin, because the Top Ten program only fills about 85% of the spots in the entering class. The other 15% get picked through a fairly standard but rigorous admissions process which tries to make sure that Texas doesn't lose exceptional or valuable students through the simplistic Top Ten system. This admissions process gives roughly 75% of the weight to "Academic Achievement," meaning a combination of class rank, standardized test scores, and difficulty of high school curriculum. UT uses these stats to estimate an applicant's likely freshman GPA at Austin. Abigail Fisher scored 1180 out of 1600 on her SATs, which would put her somewhere in the bottom half of admitted students. And while Texas at Austin doesn't consider high school GPA, Fisher's GPA of 3.59 would also probably put her somewhere in the bottom half of UT's entering class. Her combined scores and class rank would project her, as near as I can tell using UT's stats, to be a B- student with something like a 2.9 GPA in her first year, which isn't a disgrace but doesn't make her someone to chase after. This, obviously, is some black person's fault.

Fisher's test scores weren't bad enough to keep her out of Texas if her class rank were stronger, and her class rank wasn't low enough to keep her out if her scores were stronger. But neither was strong enough to pull the other up. And the competition for that last 15% of the class is pretty tight. Which leaves us with only one possible conclusion: black people.

But wait! Isn't there some chance for a bright kid who doesn't, you know, test well? Is it all numbers? No. There was one more chance for Abigail Fisher. UT's process also gives 25% of the weight (in that competition for the last 15% of spots), to "Personal Achievement," meaning all those hard-to-quantify things that might make it worth digging a little deeper into the pool to take that particular student. What does UT look at? The student's application essay. Letters of recommendation. Extracurricular achievements in things like sports or student council or (let's face it) sports. Special talents. Job experience. Volunteering for charity. Stories of personal hardship overcome, such as being an orphan or coming from extreme poverty. And, somewhere down there with tales of personal hardship or family circumstance, but behind volunteer experience and special talent as an oboe player, the University of Texas considers "racial or ethnic background."

Aha! Black people! I knew it!

So to recap: Abigail Fisher couldn't get into the University of Texas on the basis of her high school record. She couldn't get into the University of Texas based on her test scores. And her whole ball of possible bonus qualifications, like musical talent or strong recommendations from her teachers, was not enough to raise her application above her so-so numbers. But because one tiny part of the number of factors that might have given her a better chance than her grades and test scores, but did not, was race, young Abigail Fisher has decided that the reason she did not get into the University of Texas was affirmative action. And today the Supreme Court is hearing her case.

Some people who like talk about "white privilege," as opposed to racism per se, throw that term around too loosely and make it confusing. But we have a classic example right here:

White privilege means that you get to decide why you didn't get into college you wanted. And it means that other people actually take your decision seriously.

When people like Fisher or her lawyers bleat about "reverse racism," they are not defending meritocracy. They are defending mediocrities and failures who cannot accept that they missed the cut. Rather than face their own shortcomings and try harder, these people look around for some scapegoat to blame for their own lack of qualifications. And in our country, scapegoating black people requires no special effort or qualification at all.

Abigail Fisher is suing before the Supreme Court to establish her God-given right as a white person to be the final judge of her own qualifications. She is suing for her right to be exempt from competition, for her entitlement to a big gold star and a pat on the back no matter what she's actually accomplished or how her efforts compare to other people's. She is suing to have her kindergarten sense of self-esteem vindicated by the Supreme Court of the United States, because anything Abigail Fisher does must be accepted as good enough. And anyone who says Abigail Fisher was not good enough at something can only be motivated by racism.

Abigail Fisher is not an unusual plaintiff in cases like this. She is a typical plaintiff: a marginal white applicant who demands the rules be changed after she failed to make the cut. The idea that Abigail Fisher should have worked harder on her application essay, for example, or studied harder for the SATs, is clearly an expression of racial animosity. And the implication that she might go to another University of Texas school, rather than the main flagship, is obviously insulting. But notice how things that would be presumed as disqualifications for a black student aren't disqualifications for Fisher. A black kid who misses a numerical cut-off is a kid who missed the cut-off. An affluent white kid who missed that cut-off needs special consideration. After all, she just missed the top ten percent of her class. And her SATs are almost 1200 out of 1600. This is not meritocracy. This is a defense of ethnic privilege, and white kids' entitlement to be graded on the almost standard. Abigail Fisher has a Personal Achievement. She's white. What's the hold-up?

As someone who's succeeded at some moments and failed at others, I've generally had three explanations for rejections I've received: (a) I didn't try hard enough, (b) someone else was better, and (c) I really should have tried much, much harder, considering that someone else was better. Occasionally I've blamed the luck of the draw. But I've tried not to look for scapegoats, because shifting blame and refusing responsibility would change me from a person who had failed in a specific instance into someone who was a failure. Not getting what you happen to want does not make you a loser. Blaming other people because you did not get the job done does make you a loser.

And if I were to claim that the reason I had not succeeded at a particular thing was because I was white, I would be announcing my intellectual as well as my moral bankruptcy, because that is absurd.

Abigail Fisher is not a bad student, and there is no shame in her 1180 on the SATs or her 3.59 GPA. But those qualifications do not entitle her to a place at whatever college she wants. She is not owed a place at UT Austin, or any other competitive campus. Other people with better qualifications than Fisher were surely turned away as well. But those people have the realism and moral character to accept a setback and move on.

Abigail Fisher stands before the Supreme Court today in the cause of mediocrities, losers, and crybabies. She demands her special right to be deemed the Most Special Snowflake. What the Court stands to lose if Abigail Fisher wins is its integrity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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