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Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit Itby Richard Sander
Synopses & Reviews
The debate over affirmative action has raged for over four decades, with little give on either side. Most agree that it began as noble effort to jump-start racial integration; many believe it devolved into a patently unfair system of quotas and concealment. Now, with the Supreme Court set to rule on a case that could sharply curtail the use of racial preferences in American universities, law professor Richard Sander and legal journalist Stuart Taylor offer a definitive account of what affirmative action has become, showing that while the objective is laudable, the effects have been anything but.
Sander and Taylor have long admired affirmative actions original goals, but after many years of studying racial preferences, they have reached a controversial but undeniable conclusion: that preferences hurt underrepresented minorities far more than they help them. At the heart of affirmative actions failure is a simple phenomenon called mismatch. Using dramatic new data and numerous interviews with affected former students and university officials of color, the authors show how racial preferences often put students in competition with far better-prepared classmates, dooming many to fall so far behind that they can never catch up. Mismatch largely explains why, even though black applicants are more likely to enter college than whites with similar backgrounds, they are far less likely to finish; why there are so few black and Hispanic professionals with science and engineering degrees and doctorates; why black law graduates fail bar exams at four times the rate of whites; and why universities accept relatively affluent minorities over working class and poor people of all races.
Sander and Taylor believe it is possible to achieve the goal of racial equality in higher education, but they argue that alternative policies—such as full public disclosure of all preferential admission policies, a focused commitment to improving socioeconomic diversity on campuses, outreach to minority communities, and a renewed focus on K-12 schooling —will go farther in achieving that goal than preferences, while also allowing applicants to make informed decisions. Bold, controversial, and deeply researched, Mismatch calls for a renewed examination of this most divisive of social programs—and for reforms that will help realize the ultimate goal of racial equality.
Diversity these days is a hallowed American value, widely shared and honored. Thatand#8217;s a remarkable change from the Civil Rights eraand#151;but does this public commitment to diversity constitute a civil rights victory? What does diversity mean in contemporary America, and what are the effects of efforts to support it?
Ellen Berrey digs deep into those questions in The Enigma of Diversity. Drawing on six years of fieldwork and historical sources dating back to the 1950s, and making extensive use of three case studies from widely varying arenasand#151;housing redevelopment in Chicagoand#8217;s Rogers Park neighborhood, affirmative action in the University of Michiganand#8217;s admissions program, and the workings of the human resources department at a Fortune 500 companyand#151;Berrey explores the complicated, contradictory, and even troubling meanings and uses of diversity as it is invoked by different groups for different, often symbolic ends. In each case, diversity affirms inclusiveness, especially in the most coveted jobs and colleges, yet it resists fundamental change in the practices and cultures that are the foundation of social inequality. Berrey shows how this has led racial progress itself to be reimagined, transformed from a legal fight for fundamental rights to a celebration of the competitive advantages afforded by cultural differences.
Powerfully argued and surprising in its conclusions, The Enigma of Diversity reveals the true cost of the public embrace of diversity: the taming of demands for racial justice.
About the Author
Richard H. Sander is a law professor and economist at UCLA who worked as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side, a civil rights activist in Los Angeles, and is a well-known scholar on race and higher education. He lives in Los Angeles.
Stuart Taylor, Jr., a former New York Times Supreme Court reporter and co-author of the critically acclaimed Until Proven Innocent, is a National Journal contributor and Brookings fellow. He has long been one of the nations leading legal journalists. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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