Phi Beta Cons

Two Excellent Books

Two excellent books are coming out soon, each of which ought to be of particular interest to the Supreme Court justices as they take up the issue of racial admission preferences in Fisher v. University of Texas this term (the case will be argued on October 10).

The first, by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, is Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended To Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It. As the title suggests, it focuses on the overwhelming empirical evidence that has accumulated showing that African-American and Latino students have been set up for failure in a variety of ways by matriculating at schools where their academic qualifications are substantially lower than the rest of the student body’s. This problem was the subject of a conference at the Brookings Institution last week, by the way.

The other book is excellent, too, and also ought to get plenty of publicity: Wounds That Will Not Heal: Affirmative Action and Our Continuing Racial Divide, by Russell K. Nieli. It likewise marshals a great deal of social science evidence that the results of racial preferences have been bad, not good.

I want to mention briefly just one of the studies discussed in Nieli’s book, by Duke University economists Peter Arcidiacono and Jacob Vigdor (the former participated in the Brookings conference, by the way). Recall that the only justification that universities can rely on for their use of racial preferences today is the purported “educational benefits” of “diversity.” It’s clear that those benefits are nonexistent for the mismatched African Americans and Latinos, but how about for the white and Asian students (the more plausible candidates anyhow, since there are more of them at the selective schools and presumably there is little need for, say, African Americans to be get wider exposure to white perspectives)? Well, here’s what Arcidiacono and Vigdor found in their 2008 study:

Our empirical results cover a broad range of outcomes, including earnings, educational attainment, and satisfaction with both one’s life and one’s job. Across these varying specifications, we fail to find any significant evidence that white or Asian students who attend more diverse colleges do better in life. . . . In general, we find that the type of diversity increase brought about by affirmative action policies — which brings lower-scoring minority students into potential contact with higher-scoring majority-race students — is if anything detrimental to majority-race students.

Sander and Taylor, by the way, filed an important amicus brief with the Court in Fisher, and Nieli’s work is likewise in an amicus brief.

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