Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Affirmative Action and Racial Profiling: One And The Same?

Ilya Somin, a prominent libertarian law professor, argues that racial profiling and affirmative action are similar in method and fails to understand why conservatives and liberals support one but oppose the other. His argument in short is that the basis for racial profiling is that information costs are high, so the government uses race as a imperfect proxy to find possible terrorists.

The underlying logic of affirmative action is similar, in that the admissions officer cannot undergo the costly research process to figure out if the applicant was a victim of discrimination and therefore uses race as a proxy. In other words, in both cases, proxies are used as substitutes because information costs are impossibly high.

At least in the case of affirmative action I think the analogy is flawed because conservatives generally oppose affirmative action not because race is used as a proxy but because (among other reasons) of the ineffectiveness of the program, because the diversity rationale is flawed (and is racist), and because of the divisive effects generated by society's focus on race. Whether the proxy is a generally effective substitute for individualized review is immaterial to these arguments.


Blogger Charlie Hall said...

In fact, affirmative action is not used in the admissions process to most competitive graduate programs in the US; there are sufficiently small numbers of applicants that the admissions committee is able to do that research you describe. And almost qualified applicants for most fields get into some program even if it isn't their first choice.

Regarding medical school admissions, there are far more qualified applicants than there are spaces in US medical school classes. Admissions committtees do not have the resources to do the research you described. But there are many factors beyond academic performance that go into an admissions decision; one is that they need to fill their class and if a second tier school only accepts the 100 best applicants to their 100 spaces, most will go to a first tier school and they will have a class of ten! Another is that they want to get people who will be good doctors and the students with the best academic records don't all make good doctors.

And I would strongly argue that diversity does matter. For example, we need physicians who will practice in poor neighborhoods just as we need physician scientists who will produce the next generation of miracle drugs. Exposure to fellow students having a wide variety of backgrounds is important in giving future physicians the ability to treat any patient, anywhere, any time.

There is a current discussion on Rabbi Gil Student's blog in which several persons have commented that Yeshiva College should try to recruit more frum faculty. This would be another type of affirmative action; do you have any thoughts about it?

9/13/2006 11:23 AM  
Blogger Nephtuli said...


Good points. My post didn't argue against affirmative action in general, but was intended to respond to an argument that conservatives who support racial profiling should support the use of proxies in the case of race.

You might be right about grad school admission programs, but in undergrad, many if not most schools that use affirmative action to generate a critical mass of a certain underprivileged group base decisions on proxies such as race.

I've already posted on diversity and argued that diversity and racism are more or less the same thing, since both suppose that a member of a certain group has that group's characteristics merely because he has a defining element (skin color for example).

I don't have any strong positions on recruiting frum professors, but that would not be the same thing as recruiting black professors. If someone is frum, he, by definition, adheres to certain beliefs and if the school wants to incalculate its students with those beliefs, hiring a frum professor is a reasonable mechanism. However, we cannot fairly assume that because someone is black he has the ideology we wish to impart on students.

9/13/2006 12:46 PM  
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