January 08, 2007

And Texas Lacks Initiative

by PG

A New York Times magazine article on Asians and affirmative action remarks, "Voters are also sending a message, having thrown out racial preferences in Michigan in November, following a lead taken by California, Texas, Florida and Washington. Last month, Ward Connerly, the architect of Proposition 209, announced his next potential targets for a ballot initiative, including Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska."

I know that California (Prop. 209, 1996) and Washington (I-200, 1998) voters passed initiatives to bar state entities from considering race in admissions and employment, and Michigan recently did so as well (Prop. 2, 2006). However, Connerly gave up on getting such a measure on the ballot in Florida when it was constrained by the state Supreme Court as legislation and opposed by Governor Jeb Bush (who came up with his own "One Florida" plan, which passed the state legislature and bans affirmative action in state universities and contracting but does not apply to cities or counties) as a constitutional amendment.

Texas doesn't even permit voters to get initiatives on the ballot through petitions. While we can amend the state constitution -- and have used this power unwisely -- it must get on the ballot by a two-thirds majority in each house. Nor has the legislature passed a ban on affirmative action; though the "10% Plan" guarantee of admission remains statutorily required, affirmative action also can be used since the Supreme Court's Grutter decision overturned Hopwood, which in any case applied to the entire Fifth Circuit, not just Texas.

UPDATE: Sententious blogger Jeremy Reff attacks the content of the Times article because he believes it to be advocating for quotas on Asian students. The only part of his post with which I can agree is that conflating the 1980s end of quotas on Asian students, with the 1990s end of affirmative action, is bad history and inflammatory analysis. It's also stupid constitutionally, given that the 1980s quotas were illegal under the Bakke precedent whereas affirmative action was constitutional in the 1990s and remains so today after Gratz and Grutter so long as it is done "holistically."

Perhaps because I lack the internal conflict between an Asian and non-Asian self -- at most, I can claim a conflict created by the general label "Asian" that in the U.K. usually means people who look like me, and in the U.S. rarely does; c.f. the interest meeting for the nascent Asian sorority at my alma mater at which I was the only South Asian -- I don't detect the hideous offensiveness Reff does. I do have to give him credit for surprising me by saying the Times has a pro-Jewish mission (in the following, DP = Jewish, MP = Japanese):

The Times, which decries historical DP quotas, and makes endless, endless hay of every perceived slight to DPs, every reaction to the DP homeland which is not favorable (I'm a fervent Zionist, by the way, so let's not start that thread here), every educational injustice foisted upon DPs, every pseudo-scientific attempt to assign qualities to DPs that are any more real than those cultural attributes of a people fucked by time and place, for a paper with such a mission to act so loathsomely, for a paper with such obligations to suddenly call into question the minority status of MP (who were locked up in this country!), for such a paper to possibly excuse quotas on MP in the interest of a "progressive facade" (great words from the complainant), for this paper to do such a thing is a shaming blindness.
Given the number of conservatives who see the Times as anti-Israel because it covers the suffering of Palestinians and Lebanese, a blogger on the right who perceives the Times to "make[] endless, endless hay of every perceived slight to DPs, every reaction to the DP homeland which is not favorable" is refreshing, if not wholly accurate. Again, perhaps because the liberalism I've picked up is not closely identified with being culturally Jewish, Jews being nearly nonexistent in East Texas and fairly low-profile at southern public universities, I don't see the Times as particularly Jewish except inasmuch as its audience of educated, liberal, upper middle class, New York City dwellers includes a significant proportion of Jews, as does its similarly-situated staff. Then again, I found Company slightly dated with its Catholic girl who is excited to be dating a Jew; at this point in in American history, many Jews have become dissociated from their religion but cling to culture to distinguish themselves from the general white mainstream, so we get Jewcy and Jewlicious.

My disagreement with Reff also probably has some base in different ideas about what can go into admissions decision making. In denouncing the Times article as questioning the "minority" status of and excusing quotas on Asian-Americans, he strongly implies that the UC system's current admissions policy, which has led to Asians' being the largest racial group, is a good one. In contrast, I favor consideration of factors such as students' geographic (maybe not have everyone from the suburbs?), socioeconomic, linguistic and other forms of diversity in addition to the standard formula of GPA + SAT + obligatory list of extracurriculars. It's a formula that's worked to my benefit -- particularly the standardized testing aspect -- but that doesn't make it the best way to form a class. I see the mission of universities, particularly public universities, not to ratify students' sense of their own merit but to provide our nation with people who will serve it, whether as business entrepeneurs, public employees, military officers, etc. If Berkeley's admission staff gets a candidate with lower numbers but a better probability of being useful than, say, me, that candidate shouldn't be excluded on the basis that I "deserve" that spot instead. This is not a style that comports with racial quotas, of course; it's the kind of thinking that gets labelled "holistic" and may well be inappropriate for dealing with tens of thousands of applications.

Reff seems guilty of the same "conflation of ending affirmative action in the late 1990s and the removal of the illegal anti-Asian quotas in the 1980s" that he rightly calls "low" when committed by Timothy Egan, but of which he appears unaware in declaring the Times pro-quota for evincing concern about the reduced number of African American and Latino students at Berkeley.

(He also conflates educational values with educational modes: "work hard, defer gratification, share sacrifice and focus on the big goal" are values; "see professors as authority figures to be listened to, not challenged in the back-and-forth Socratic tradition... did better solving problems alone and without conversations with other students" is a way to learn and perform.)

January 8, 2007 03:41 PM | TrackBack

Read DP for Dad's Parents and MP for Mom's Parents, which was the point. And yeah, the Times is both a liberal and a Jewish paper, almost necessary given that the Forward doesn't have its old readership. I didn't think that was controversial or objectionable. That the Times shares liberal Jewish bete noires about Palestine (see Tony Judt, see Tony Judt) does not make it (or NYRB or the Nation, etc, etc) any less of an advocate or voice for our people (generally, I appreciate it). The reason I bring this up is that I think it's very important to understand the context of the criticism of the possible ill effects of Asian over enrollment in a paper that would never dare criticize those effects for Jewish over enrollment (in fact would label such criticism as anti-Semitism). Being both, I thought I had a good vantage point.

The Hazel Markus quote, as you note, is about modes rather than values; but it again follows the fact pattern in Egan's story of assertion, muddied quote by Asian figure, affirmation of stereotype. I quoted two examples in full; I'm sure there are more.

As for the quota conflation, I think that the Times is acting pro-quota in terms of Asian enrollment. I wish there was more African American and Latino enrollment at Berkeley; it is a real problem; I'm generally agnostic on affirmative action, but don't find it unconstitutional, and think its benefits are real. I think the Times is seriously proposing limits on Asian enrollment though, in a way it would never consider for other favored minority sub-group enrollment.

(There are larger issues here also, which are non-germane to this Times' piece, like the number of West Indians and first generation Africans who proxy for African-Americans in selective college admissions, or the low penetrance of California's top 10% plan to increase minority enrollment at the public universities).

Posted by: Reff at January 9, 2007 02:22 PM


Thanks for your reply. I realize the point you were trying to make with the DP and MP; it's just not as important in my attempt at legal/ policy analysis as it is in your more cultural/ personal reaction. I don't understand how one can be pro-Palestine yet be affronted by "every reaction to the DP homeland which is not favorable." Isn't the Jewish homeland actually understood to go past the current Israeli borders, which is the religious reason behind the difficulty in uprooting Jewish settlements in the Palestinian Territories?

I'm afraid I don't see the pattern you claim in the Liu and Markus quotes. Egan does not appear to be making any particular assertion, except perhaps to challenge, on the basis of primary and secondary school inequalities, the idea that pure meritocracy has triumphed. We have Liu speaking against the "model minority" myth, and studies that show a certain pattern of behavior among Asian students. Of course these studies are speaking in generalities; that's the nature of them. Are you troubled by such studies' being done, or are you quarrelling with their methodology, or conclusions, or just with those conclusions being reported in the NYT?

We will have to disagree on what the article was promoting. I think it was speaking for affirmative action; you see it as advocating quotas to limit Asian enrollment. I'm particularly puzzled as to how you can see Egan as wanting to treat Asians the way Jews used to be treated, given that he quotes Daniel Golden, who makes the comparison to point out that caps *shouldn't* be resurrected.

Factual correction: UC has a 4% plan; Texas's is the 10%. As for the 4%'s low penetrance, it has led to UC's accepting almost as many of black applicants as it did under affirmative action. The problem is with the signalling and cumulative effects of dropping affirmative action; black students who are admitted to other schools, ones with more of a reputation for friendliness to underrepresented minorities and with a large black student population, may turn down the UC acceptance and go somewhere they will be less of a minority -- or not even apply to UC at all because they assume failure or an inability to get into the school they'd prefer (say, San Diego instead of Riverside). One of my roommates after college got an excellent package to go to the University of Nebraska law school, but she was discomfited by the idea of going to a place where she likely would be The Black Girl and chose another school that offered less money but more racial diversity.

Posted by: PG at January 9, 2007 05:09 PM

PG, thanks for your correction on 4%/10%; and as for signalling, it makes a lot of sense (although it ties somewhat into my concerns about AA's utility).

I do understand that DP/MP is not useful as a policy breakdown for you, but it pre-emptively shielded much of what I was saying from possibly being interpreted as racism.

I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree about Egan. I think he quoted Golden and then ran away from the statement; I never felt like the author of the piece or its bias believed that Asians were the new Jews. Again, the Times would never run a piece about Jewish over-representation in the Ivy Leagues (30% at Harvard! 50% at Penn!), just as it would never publish a table of Jewish demographics, just as it would never treat the exclusion of Jews from elite universities in the pre-WWII era as anything but an unmitigated tragedy. Egan seems to buy into the false proposition that those against Asian quotas believe a) that current admission systems are fair or a meritocracy (sure they aren't), or that b) Asian admissions really should come out of other minority admissions. The b) part of how private colleges tweak their racial balance is the part that I find really bothersome, although to be fair, that's Princeton and Columbia more than it is Egan.

As for the snark in the piece, it really rang of someone uncomfortable with Asian culture (as I think I quoted ad nauseam). He's got the president of an Asian student group trying to tell him how he volunteers and he's still throwing in quotes about his "insider" status, in a way, that, again, Egan just wouldn't if he were talking to a white kid with mostly white friends. The last quote is used as an example of exceptionalism from a tired ethnic rule(the lone Asian not pursuing a professional course, encouraging his fellow Asians to interact).

As for "homeland," I meant Israel proper, not greater Israel. The Times admits that Palestinians are a people, which is more generous than Golda Meir, but not really a controversial position in contemporary Jewish or Israeli politics. Greater Israel is actually a fairly offensive concept within Israel, with only some very far-right parties supporting it (think Kahanists). Even before Sharon's unilateral withdrawal plan, Likud did not justify holding the territories because of a biblical right to Judea and Samaria, but rather for (dubious) security reasons.

To a non-right wing observer, I think the Times passes as a very pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli paper. Its editorial line is often very similar to Ha'aretz, which is to say that it views any questioning of Israel's legitimacy as anti-Semitic (again, a somewhat dubious proposition), but has no problem touting the latest two-state solution, or hoping that things work out with Abu Mazen. That's just me, and my reflect typical ingroup over-parsing of small distinctions. I don't mean it as a critique. I like that the Times speaks (roughly) with a liberal Jewish voice. I just wish it wouldn't be so unbearably wrong about race.

Posted by: Reff at January 9, 2007 07:47 PM

I suppose the Times belongs to the self-critical liberal Jewish tradition.

Posted by: PG at January 16, 2007 08:03 PM
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