Sterba vs. Leef on Preferences

Back in October, I was on a panel discussion at Pomona College with Professor James Sterba of Notre Dame, where we had a spirited discussion over the advisability of “affirmative action.” We even agreed on a few things, including the serious damage that’s done by discriminatory law enforcement.

The earnest and amiable professor wanted to continue his efforts at persuading me that affirmative action is actually beneficial, and we had an exchange on the Pope Center’s site in December. After that, he wanted another go at my opposition, and proposed that we go another round.

We’ve now done that and if you want to read our arguments, they are posted on the NAS site.

Sterba tries to leverage that point of agreement into pressure to agree that because racially discriminatory law enforcement is bad, we need affirmative action to combat it. In response, I argue that racial preferences do nothing to actually combat that problem and whatever microscopic benefits there might be are outweighed by the opportunity costs (i.e., the good that society would otherwise have enjoyed if the students excluded by racial preferences had been admitted) and the substantial direct costs, including student mismatch.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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