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Glenn Loury: ‘Affirmative action is dishonest. It’s not about equality, it’s about covering ass’ – Publications – AEI

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AEI Glenn Loury: ‘Affirmative action is dishonest. It’s not about equality, it’s about covering ass’ Brown University economist Glenn Loury (pictured above) is profiled in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Affirmative Action Is Not About Equality. It’s About  Covering Ass” (subscription required), here’s an excerpt: On a Thursday evening in April, Glenn Loury is talking about race, ethics, and affirmative action. And he’s getting emotional. “I’m for racial equality. Not for patronization. Don’t patronize my people,” he told an audience at the College of the Holy Cross, in Massachusetts (see full lecture below). “Don’t inflict on us the consequences of a soft bigotry of low expectations. Don’t presume that we’re not capable of objectively expressing excellence in the same way

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Glenn Loury: ‘Affirmative action is dishonest. It’s not about equality, it’s about covering ass’

Glenn Loury: ‘Affirmative action is dishonest. It’s not about equality, it’s about covering ass’ - Publications – AEI
Brown University economist Glenn Loury (pictured above) is profiled in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Affirmative Action Is Not About Equality. It’s About  Covering Ass” (subscription required), here’s an excerpt:

On a Thursday evening in April, Glenn Loury is talking about race, ethics, and affirmative action. And he’s getting emotional. “I’m for racial equality. Not for patronization. Don’t patronize my people,” he told an audience at the College of the Holy Cross, in Massachusetts (see full lecture below). “Don’t inflict on us the consequences of a soft bigotry of low expectations. Don’t presume that we’re not capable of objectively expressing excellence in the same way as any other people are expressing excellence.

Don’t judge us by a different standard. Don’t lower the bar! Why are you lowering the bar? What’s going on there? Is that about guilt or pity? Tell me a pathway to equality that is rooted in either one of those things. You’re not going to find it. Is it about guilt – oh my how we treated the blacks? Or is it about pity – we know there not quite up to it but that’s OK, we’ll look the other way.”

A month later, when I reach Loury at his office at Brown University, where he is a professor of the social sciences, he’s genial and excitable.

Q: How would you characterize the quality of discourse on affirmative action?

A: Dishonest. We’re sliding into a dispensation where we concede that blacks can’t compete academically, so we configure things to achieve titular representation.

Equality is the only legitimate long-term goal — racial equality, not head-counting. I’m talking about equality of dignity, respect, standing, accomplishment, achievement, honor. People have to earn these things. What do I want to do? I want to reorient the discussion around the development of African-American capacities to compete.

Q: During a talk at Harvard recently, you said: “Affirmative action is not about equality. It’s about covering ass.”

A: I’m impugning the motives of universities. We’re content with representation as distinct from achievement. If we were talking about 60 percent of the institution, I believe there would be a very different posture in the ranks of administrators, because then the whole institution would be at stake.

Q: You mean if 60 percent of students were admitted due to affirmative action?

A: Yeah. If we were talking about integrating and achieving some kind of balance of representation in the physics department or in the student body, you’d be putting the entire institution’s integrity on the table. Fundamental issues would be at stake.

So it’s about covering ass. The university will accede to accommodating the presence of African-Americans by lowering its standards because the vitality of the institution is not at stake, but the reputation of the institution is. This is also an investment in the careers of administrators. If you’re provost and want to be president someday, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of a New York Times article.

Q: What do you see as being at stake in the Harvard case filed on behalf of Asian-American applicants? 

A: The story of Asian-American achievement in this country is extremely powerful, and a reflection of the openness of American institutions. Many of them are second-generation immigrants. You’re going to pooh-pooh that? You’re not going to recognize what that says about the country?

If the Harvard case gets to the Supreme Court, and I assume it will, the legal ramifications will be significant. I should say that Peter Arcidiacono, a friend at Duke, was hired by the plaintiffs to do a brief. Eight or 10 economists were asked to endorse the brief, and I was one of them. What it lays out is striking.

If you’re African-American and you’re in the top 20% of the applicant pool, you have a more than 50% chance of getting admitted to Harvard. If you’re Asian-American and in the top 20 percent, you have a 5% chance of getting admitted. The disparity is huge.

Harvard says the disparity can be accounted for by other measures, like student personality. To which I respond: If I can see African-American applicants with relatively high test scores but poor performance on these personality measures not be admitted, and I can see Asian-American applicants with relatively low test scores but high performance on these personality measures be admitted, I’ll believe Harvard.

Glenn Loury: ‘Affirmative action is dishonest. It’s not about equality, it’s about covering ass’
Mark Perry

Mark Perry
Mark J. Perry is concurrently a scholar at AEI and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus. He is best known as the creator and editor of the popular economics blog Carpe Diem. At AEI, Perry writes about economic and financial issues for American.com and the AEIdeas blog.

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