Bench Memos

‘Why “Mismatch” Is Relevant in Fisher v. Texas’

That’s the title of this commentary by Richard Sander, the leading researcher in the area of racial preferences and academic “mismatch.”  It’s a terrific piece, because it usefully summarizes the three kinds of mismatch effects, and provides updates on the increasing academic support for the existence of this problem. 

The third kind of mismatch effect if of particular relevance in light of the recent campus protests:

The third type of mismatch—“social mismatch”—is in some ways the most intriguing.

Several studies have now found that college students are much more likely to form friendships with students who have similar levels of academic preparation or performance at college. The phenomenon operates even within racial groups, but when a college’s preferences are highly correlated with race (as they are at many elite schools), social mismatch can lead to self-segregation by blacks and/or Hispanics. 

The result is decreasing social interaction across racial lines. That’s particularly relevant to the Supreme Court’s deliberations because its tolerance of racial preferences has been based on the idea that a diverse racial campus promotes interracial contact and learning. But if preferences promote substantial social mismatch, then race-conscious admissions actually decrease interracial contact and learning—not only at the school where the preferences are used, but also at the college that the preferenced minority student would have attended in the absence of preferences.

Professor Sander concludes:

All of this should give the Supreme Court pause in assessing racial preferences. Past Court decisions have invoked a traditional deference to the independence of educational institutions. But colleges and universities have demonstrated that they are politically incapable of acting as good fiduciaries for their most vulnerable students.

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