Phi Beta Cons

Unusually Prescient Criticism Of Racial Preferences

A few days ago on The Heterodox Academy Jonathan Haidt discussed “The amazing 1969 prophecy that racial preferences would cause the exact grievances of protesters today.” Read it, and the remarkable correspondence on which it is based.

The prophecy was an eerily prescient letter from Macklin Fleming, a respected California appellate judge with impeccable liberal and Democratic credentials, to Louis Pollak, dean of the Yale Law School, criticizing the new “black quota” at the law school. As Haidt points out, Fleming’s predictions of the effect over time of Yale’s quota were uncannily accurate. 

And it was a quota, as Fleming insisted:

From your remarks … I understand that 43 black students have been admitted to next fall’s class, of whom 5 qualified under the regular standards and 38 did not. You anticipate that half this group will actually enroll, thus furnishing 22 black students in the first year class of 165, of whom perhaps 3 will have qualified under the regular standards and 19 will not. You also said that the future policy of the Law School will be to admit 10 per cent of each entering class without regard to qualification under regular standards…. It also appears that 38 fully-qualified applicants for admission to Yale Law School have been rejected solely because they are not members of a minority race. Under current policy the admission ratio for black applicants (50 per cent) is 5 times the admission ratio for other applicants (10 per cent).

Fleming also anticipated in large part the effects of this “mismatch” later identified by Richard Sander:

If in a given class the great majority of the black students are at the bottom of the class, this factor is bound to instill, unconsciously at least, some sense of intellectual superiority among the white students and some sense of intellectual inferiority among the black students. Such a pairing in the same school of the brightest white students in the country with black students of mediocre academic qualifications is social experiment with loaded dice and a stacked deck.

Judge Fleming’s entire letter should be read, and then re-read. It’s as though he glimpsed the future … and saw that it doesn’t work. In fact, you must read the whole letter in order to appreciate just how almost shockingly vapid and non-responsive Dean Pollak’s reply was. Haidt, perhaps because he’s a polite fellow whose mother told him to say nothing if he couldn’t say something nice, said nothing about Pollak’s letter.

Haidt performed a valuable service by pointing to these remarkable letters, but I believe he did get one thing wrong. “We cannot evaluate the net effect of the experiment [in race-based affirmative action],” he wrote, “because social scientists are generally reluctant to talk about the downsides of affirmative action.” That is no doubt true, but Richard Sander, whose research on “mismatch” has evaluated these effects and confirmed many of Judge Fleming’s prescient predictions, is one social scientist who has not been reluctant, and the work he and others have done showing some of the most disturbing effects of this “experiment” should have been mentioned.





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