Phi Beta Cons

Thomas Espenshade’s Dilemma

His research shows that elite colleges practice severe affirmative action — giving large bonuses to blacks and Hispanics and holding Asians to much higher standards. He wants to report on his research. But he doesn’t want to admit that elite colleges practice severe affirmative action.

I mentioned this problem in my review of his book, and John Rosenberg pointed it out a little while back, but Espenshade just keeps on rolling, giving interviewers hilarious quotes like this one:

People may read this and want to say, “Oh, because I’m Asian American, my SAT scores have been downgraded.” That is not really the way to interpret these data. Many times people will ask me, “Do your results prove that there is discrimination against Asian applicants?” And I say, “No, they don’t.” Even though in our data we have much information about the students and what they present in their application folders, most of what we have are quantifiable data. We don’t have the “softer” variables — the personal statements that the students wrote, their teacher recommendations, a full list of extracurricular activities. Because we don’t have access to all of the information that the admission office has access to, it is possible that the influence of one applicant characteristic or another might appear in a different light if we had the full range of materials.

Now, it is kind of nice to see someone who does multivariate statistics admit he missed some variables. But when an Asian student is about as likely to get into a given school as a white student whose SAT score is 140 points lower, it’s pretty tough to attribute that to personal statements and a “full list” of extracurriculars. Do Asians have so little to say and participate so few activities that they lose 140 points’ worth of value?

Rosenberg has more.

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