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Deep secrets of affirmative action

Preparing to speak at the Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention last month, I read the astounding book Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It by Richard H. Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr. The book came out to wide acclaim in October 2012. Amazon does not indicate that a paperback edition is forthcoming. You might want to pick up a copy of the book before it becomes a collector’s item.

Sander is a professor of law at UCLA. In the preface to the book Sander (Sander and Taylor contribute individual prefaces to the book) refers to “the culture of secrecy and double-talk” with which the subject of the book is enshrouded in academia.

Sander describes himself as a former community organizer. He became interested in the subject of affirmative action in law schools when he joined the UCLA Law School faculty.

Sander himself wrote chapters 4 and 5 of the book. Chapter 4 discusses Sander’s research on the effects of “affirmative action” (racial preferences) in law schools. Sander’s pioneering account of this research was originally published in the 2005 Stanford Law Review as “A systemic analysis of affirmative action in American law schools.” The upshot of Professor Sander’s research is that affirmative action has perverse effects on the bar passage rates of its law school beneficiaries. Having read the book, I can say that he makes a powerful case.

Chapter 5 of the book is Sander’s extraordinary account of the lengths to which supporters of law school “affirmative action” went to suppress the publication of his law review article. It is worth the price of admission to the book. Why would the supporters of “affirmative action” seek to suppress the publication of Sander’s law review article? The real-world results of affirmative belie the related ideology of those who foist it on us. The regime of affirmative action is accordingly enforced through secrecy, silence and political correctness.

Professor Sander figures in a story illustrating all of the above that comes out of last week’s news as recounted in this excellent Los Angeles Times editorial:

Whatever you think of affirmative action programs at universities and graduate schools, it’s important to know whether they’re working — that is, whether they are preparing their beneficiaries for professional success. But for several years now, the California bar has resisted attempts by a critic of racial preferences to obtain information about the test scores and grades of graduates who take the state bar examination.

Last week, the California Supreme Court wisely rejected the state bar’s argument and ruled it must turn over the information to Richard Sander, a law professor at UCLA, and other researchers — provided that a way is found to protect the identities of individual test-takers. The decision is more than just a big win for Sander in his study of affirmative action; it is a victory for citizens’ right to know about the workings of all public institutions.

Sander is a proponent of the “mismatch” theory, which holds that minorities (and other beneficiaries of relaxed standards in admissions) who struggle at highly competitive institutions and in professional evaluations such as the bar exam would do better at less-selective institutions.

Maybe he’s right and maybe he’s wrong. But there’s no justification for denying him the data he needs to test his theory. Obviously many minority students admitted under such programs do succeed in their studies and in careers in law, medicine and other professions. But if many others are falling behind, that is worth knowing.

The data Sander are seeking would enable him to compare students from a variety of backgrounds who attended schools with and without affirmative action programs…

The California Supreme Court decision in Sander v. State Bar of California is posted online here.

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