aside The Rights’ Usage Of The “Mismatch Theory” As Justification For Banning Affirmative Action

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The republicans’ pathological denial of the insidious and prevalent disease of racism within the American culture has resulted in confusion and numerous injustices on many levels of our governmental institutions. This includes the issue of affirmative action.

Recently, we have been witnesses to the recent death of the Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia who is beloved by the conservative right. In one of his latest cases, Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case, he drew the ire of the left when during oral argument, he proffered the words “there are those who contend that it does not benefit African­-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less­ advanced school, a slower­-track school where they do well.”

Justice Scalia was referring to the academically based  “mismatch theory,” which is used as one of the rights’ favorite talking points. It is the republican conservatives’ firmly held belief that affirmative action really means that in too many instances, colleges have to lower their admission standards of acceptance in order to fulfill their desired diversity quota. The right further contends that this policy ends up not being fair to non-minority students who meet all the standards of the average SAT scores and high school grades.

Antonin Scalia
Antonin Scalia

Those who believe in the “mismatch theory” argue that non-academic preferences in college admissions actually harm those admitted under these lowered standards. They allege that many minority students are frequently unprepared for the vigors of a top notch college, and that they end up dropping out, when they could have thrived at a college with a less demanding curriculum.

On Background:

It is the University of Texas at Austin’s assertion that its race-conscious admissions program is necessary and has been narrowly tailored to achieve its goal for a diverse student body within current legal constraints.

The case was filed in 2008 by Abigail Fisher, from Texas who applied to the university but was rejected.  Ms. Fisher, who is a non-minority young lady, then filed a lawsuit, arguing that she had been a victim of racial discrimination because minority students with lesser credentials than hers had been admitted. While the University of Texas at Austin, prevailed in the lower courts, they were met with resistance from the conservative bench at the Supreme Court. In 2013, the supreme court sent this case back down to the lower courts for further deliberation. But this case was again sent up for review by the Supreme Court in 2015. The American public is still waiting for the Supreme Court to render a ruling or to postpone its decision.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama view portrait of late Supreme Court Justice Scalia at the Supreme Court in Washington
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

 For example, college admissions board do consider factors other than students’  SAT scores and their GPA grades, when deciding on granting entry to applicants such as: is the applicant a child of an alumni member (the legacy card); is the applicant a super star athlete or a musical protege; is the parent of the applicant wealthy enough to be a future resource for funds, etc. The question for me is how are the qualified minority students pro-actively protected from being discriminated against in the college application process and how are they granted due consideration with the same level of exceptions as are granted non-minority students?

Abigail Fisher
Abigail Fisher

Conor Friedersdorf tackles this subject in his 12/15/15 The Atlantic article, “Does Affirmative Action Create Mismatches Between Students and Universities?” The following are excerpts:
“With better information, colleges might learn that more expansive race-based preferences would not lower graduation rates; or that a subset of orchestra members or legacies or minorities are harmed by policies intended to help them; or that institutions can eliminate differences in graduation rates among students with GPA disparities by investing in specific types of academic support. Accurate, detailed conclusions could plausibly improve many thousands of lives.”

“Yet that isn’t the focus of the public debate. Why?”

“Scalia’s error was to talk carelessly about a predictably fraught subject. Contrary to his lazy characterization, proponents of “mismatch theory” do not believe that admission to selective colleges “does not benefit African ­Americans,” full stop, or that African Americans would benefit from “a slower track school.”

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“He ought to have made all of the following clear:”
•”Many black students are fully qualified to attend the most highly selective institutions of higher education in America, and proponents of “mismatch theory” of course believe that this subset of black students benefits from doing so.”
•”Professor Richard Sander of UCLA, who many regard as the foremost scholarly proponent of “mismatch theory,”and Stuart Taylor Jr. of Brookings, who co-authored the book Mismatch with him, “support the modest use of race in admissions but think very large preferences have harmful effects.”
Abigail Fisher

“Proponents of mismatch theory––and some agnostics––also cite a study by Duke University’s Peter Arcidiacono, who found that affirmative action might cause its beneficiaries to drop out of the most difficult majors at high rates. It is conceivable that such mismatches, if they exist, are particularly likely at law schools and in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and less likely to be observed in other disciplines.”

“Other formidable scholars––Matthew Chingo prominent among them––have offered strong critiques of “mismatch theory.” I have no position to offer on the many questions on which these academics disagree. But perusing the critics, Sander’s most up-to-date defense of his scholarship and various attempts to characterize the overarching debate, I’m baffled that any journalists are treating it as settled, even as tenured social-scientists at top-tier universities declare that it deserves to be taken seriously. No one, it seems, can yet provide a precise answer to the question, “at what point do disparities in GPA, SAT score, or high-school quality start to matter,” even though everyone surely agrees that they matter at some inflection point.”

U.S. Supreme Court

“One reason for the stridency of the reaction to Scalia’s remarks is the long history of racial exclusion and discrimination in university admissions; some critics fear that “mismatch theory” portends a return to segregated campuses, making the question of mismatches based on race more fraught than it is with respect to preferences based on athletics.

“As an observer who is open to the possibility of “mismatch” proponents or skeptics having the better of the argument, the only thing that seems clear to me is that more study of this question is worthwhile.”

University of Texas Austin campus
University of Texas

“In one of the most even-handed articles on the controversy, the National Review’s Reihan Salam, an agnostic on racial  preferences, offers a compelling endorsement of that narrow position:

The goal of transparency wouldn’t be to discourage students from attending selective schools. If Chingos is right, the news would in most cases be more encouraging than discouraging. Yet students with below average levels of academic preparation would have a clearer sense of the obstacles they face, and that they’d be wise to take advantage of enrichment resources on campus to keep up with their better-prepared classmates. It’s not just beneficiaries of racial preferences who’d profit from access information of this kind. So would athletes and benefits of other preferences, like legacy preferences and regional preferences.”

Justice Antonin Scalia, bottom row, second from the left
Justice Antonin Scalia, bottom row, second from the left

“It seems as though it would’ve benefited Afi-Odelia Scruggs, whose powerful Washington Post op-ed about struggling at an elite college––and benefiting from going there anyway––serves as one powerful anecdotal retort to Scalia’s speculation.”

UPDATE: On June 23, 2016, the LA Times reported the following:

“The Supreme Court today upheld the limited use of affirmative action by colleges and universities that seek to enroll more minority students.”

“The justices, by a 4-3 vote, ruled against a white student who was turned down by the University of Texas and claimed she was a victim of discrimination because race was a factor in the admissions process.”


Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin : SCOTUSblog…/fishervuniversity-of-texas..2/20/ 2015, Consent to the filing of amicus curiae briefs, in support of either party or of neither party, received from counsel for University of Texas


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