Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Diversity in Law Schools

On his law school blog, Brian Leiter posts a note from a staffer at a top-10 law school about the lack of socio-economic diversity in the elite law schools. You can read it here. One interesting thing the staffer says is:

Despite all of the focus on diversity, it seems that there is a great deal of homogeneity among the students when it comes to the socio-economic makeup of their families--most come from affluent backgrounds--at least at the school I work at.

Now, the staff member is not implying that somehow, the admissions systems are stacked unfairly against those with under-privileged backgrounds. Rather, diversity is the staffer's concern because he/she comes from a socio-economically disadvantaged background.

But I've often seen this sort of argumentation as evidence of a deliberate bias, for example with the SAT's (but you can apply this argument to LSAT's as well, since they tend to measure intelligence more directly). Often the argument goes like this: "SAT scores are highly correlated with socio-economic background. This is prima facie evidence that the SAT's are unfairly biased towards those who are socio-economically advantaged."

This is the kind of reasoning that I would like to challenge here. It essentially says that the fact that wealthy kids tend to do better and poor kids tend to do worse, is evidence that the SAT's themselves (rather than just being proxies for some other underlying problem like bad schooling in rural and inner-city areas, where there tend to be more poor people) are biased against those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. But this argument implicitly assumes one of two things. Either, children's intelligence and work ethic is not at all correlated with parents' intelligence and work ethic or in our society, wealth is not at all correlated with intelligence and work ethic. These are highly suspect claims.

First, most of the evidence seems to point to correlation between parents' IQ and that of children, either because of genetics or due to environmental factors (e.g. intelligent parents tend to speak well at home, use proper grammar, read to their children, etc). I do not know about studies on work ethic, but just as a casual thought, I would imagine children at least learn by example from their parents.

Second, the assumption that wealth is distributed more or less randomly (as far as intelligence and hard work is concerned) seems almost economically-determinist in a way. It would have to mean that intelligent and hard-working people would not be able to obtain wealth very easily because it is in some sort of immutable possession of the Old Guard. This Old Guard may or may not be intelligent and hard-working, but in any case, obtained the wealth through family connections, inheritance, etc. First, the entire concept of "New Money" in our society seems to indicate that this is not true. Jews in this country are a primary example of people who, through hard work and possibly natural intelligence, have been able to rise up above their humble beginnings. On the other extreme, if a person is not at all intelligent, certain lucrative careers (e.g. banking, law, medicine, architecture) are closed off to him, so that leaves him with few lucrative options and most likely reduces him to a lower class or middle-lower class life.

So my point is that it does not seem all that surprising that SAT scores would be correlated with socio-economic status, since it seems highly plausible (and probable) that 1) wealth is correlated with intelligence and good work ethic in our society and 2) intelligence and good work ethic tend to run in the family and this is why children of the socio-economically privileged tend to do better. Even if we take work-ethic out of the equation since it's much more difficult to quantify and thus study in "scientific" settings, it seems as though the correlation with intelligence alone would be quite high.

I am not claiming that all those who are wealthy "deserve" their wealth because they are smart and hard-working or that all those who are poor must deserve to be poor because they are either dumb or lazy. I am merely claiming that one would expect, on face, a pretty substantial correlation. I have not read any studies attempting to correlate intelligence with wealth, but if anyone has any relevant material, I'd be interested.

P.S. This entirely leaves aside the substantial body of evidence that points to a reasonably good correlation between SAT's and IQ's.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's the culture, stupid!

Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson writes quite convincingly in the New York Times about social scientists' inability to explain pathological and self-destructive behavior among black males. He believes that people need to rely less on socio-economical explanations and more on those that are based on the actual culture of black men.
What's most interesting about the recent spate of studies is that analysts seem at last to be recognizing what has long been obvious to anyone who takes culture seriously: socioeconomic factors are of limited explanatory power. Thus it's doubly depressing that the conclusions they draw and the prescriptions they recommend remain mired in traditional socioeconomic thinking.

What has happened, I think, is that the economic boom years of the 90's and one of the most successful policy initiatives in memory — welfare reform — have made it impossible to ignore the effects of culture. The Clinton administration achieved exactly what policy analysts had long said would pull black men out of their torpor: the economy grew at a rapid pace, providing millions of new jobs at all levels. Yet the jobless black youths simply did not turn up to take them. Instead, the opportunity was seized in large part by immigrants — including many blacks — mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean.

His op-ed is not without its faults, however. For example, he writes, in attempting to defend studies of culture:
Likewise, a cultural explanation of black male self-destructiveness addresses not simply the immediate connection between their attitudes and behavior and the undesired outcomes, but explores the origins and changing nature of these attitudes, perhaps over generations, in their brutalized past. It is impossible to understand the predatory sexuality and irresponsible fathering behavior of young black men without going back deep into their collective past.

Why would it be impossible? It is pretty well-known that even during slave times and Jim Crow, blacks married at very high rates, children had two parents who were married, and fathers did not shirk their responsibility at the rates that they do now. Certainly the rates weren't as high as for whites, but not nearly as bad as they are now. A recent op-ed in the Washington Post by Joy Jones underscores this point. So, if slavery or the collective consciousness of blacks is somehow a central explanation for the current problems facing black men, why did these factors creep into the collective consciousness 40 years hence?

Despite this small disagreement, his op-ed is quite good and highly recommended reading. (Via Ann Althouse)

Limits of Tolerance

As revealed in a New York Times magazine cover story several weeks ago, Yale has been harboring the former Deputy Foreign Minister (and mouthpiece in chief) of the Taliban as a "special non-degree student". John Fund of WSJ's OpinionJournal has been on the story since day one, asking Yale to explain its inexplicable decision to admit Hashemi. His latest contribution includes an interesting revelation:

A small effort to help build a modern economy in Afghanistan was launched by Paula Nirschel in 2002, when she founded the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. Her goal is to match qualified women with at least a GPA of 3.5 or more with U.S. colleges, where they can pursue a degree. The initiative grants all its women full four-year scholarships. They come to college prepared; none need remedial classes. (That's something that can't be said of all U.S. students. Last year, only 52% of entering freshmen in the California State University system passed the English placement test.)

As The Wall Street Journal reported in an editorial Friday, Ms. Nirschel sent a letter to Yale in 2002, asking if it wanted to award a spot in its next entering class to an Afghan woman. Yale declined, as did many other schools. Today, the program enrolls 20 students at 10 universities.

I guess Yale's love of opressed women ends at the point where their hatred of America begins. I'm glad that my alma mater, which I loved while there, has made the conscious decision that in the battle between America and America's enemies, it will take the side of the enemies. This is what the banality of evil looks like.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Follow-up to Stuntz

One striking comment in the Bill Stuntz (Harvard-Law) article I linked to earlier is his argument that while universities are decidedly leftist in some sense, they are conservative in a sense that is really important:
Most Americans think of universities as a bastion of the political left, and in one sense they are. But in a deeper sense, institutions like Harvard embody a particularly blind sort of conservatism: All change causes discomfort, and so must be resisted. In this deeper sense, Summers was and is very much a man of the left--the best kind of left. Good for him. Harvard's governing board has now chosen, publicly and emphatically, the status quo. Bad for them, and before long, bad for all of us.

This is exactly right. And I think that it actually cuts partially to the heart of the debate about whether academia is decidedly liberal or not. Many on the Right (and Left, such as Peter Schuck of Yale Law) argue that is while many who can speak from the comfort of tenure say "move right along, nothing to see here." This is the impression I get from many academics. They don't even want to acknowledge the problem despite the overwhelming evidence (e.g. from the empirical research guys at Northwestern Law), and usually without any bad intentions on their part. A friend of mine told me recently about the debate between Peter Schuck and Jack Balkin at the Yale Federalist Society on Tuesday about conservatives in legal academia. Balkin apparently seemed quite reluctant to admit that there is a problem.

Now, I don't mean to pick on Balkin here. He's a good guy. But, I think that his reluctance to admit to a problem that seems evident to almost everyone on the outside of the academy is a reflection of the exact thing that Stuntz was talking about in the TNR piece. I am not sure that Stuntz intended his commentary to apply to this particular issue as well, but I think it does quite well.

Harvard as the new GM

As much as I want to relish in the fact that my alma mater's sworn enemy is in decline according to a piece in The New Republic by Harvard Law Prof Bill Stuntz, there's nothing to celebrate here. To quote:

Harvard is the General Motors of American universities: rich, bureaucratic, and confident--a deadly combination. Fifty years from now, Larry Summers's resignation will be known as the moment when Harvard embraced GM's fate. From now on, the decline will likely be steep. And not only at Harvard: Among research universities as in the car market of generations past, other American institutions will follow the market leaders, straight to the bottom. The only question is who gets to play the role of Toyota in this metaphor.

When one sees a large competitive opportunity, it's usually a good bet that someone else has seen it already. Universities in other parts of the world now enjoy an enormous opportunity. And the competitive position of American schools is worse than GM's in the 1950s. Then, Germany and Japan were still prostrate; no one could imagine that within a generation their economies would seem poised to overtake America's. Now, it's easy to imagine that a generation hence, Chinese or Indian universities will dominate the world, or perhaps that some intellectual entrepreneur will bring Oxford or Cambridge back to the top of the heap.

As Instapundit says, read the whole thing.

A SIDE NOTE: Notice the part in the article about the academic life of graduate students. While I am and have never been a supporter of graduate student unionization, is it any wonder that graduate students have been trying to unionize? Especially given that the movement is essentially led by humanities grad students for whom it is not uncommon to spend 7 or 8 years in grad school, this trend should be no surprise.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A New Award

Today, I hereby announce the creation of the Bruce Ackerman Award for Political Advocacy Disguised As Scholarly Authority. We dedicate this award to the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University because he has perfected the art of using his academic position and stature to engage in political advocacy disguised as learned scholarship. The best specimen I have ever seen is his brilliant piece in the London Review of Books claiming that Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Robert Bork are Neo-Conservative jurists! So with that, look forward to the very first award. A hint: like Ackerman, it will be a Yale Law Professor.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Alito and the Concerned Alumni of Princeton

Supposedly, Sam Alito included the CAP on his 1985 application to work in the Reagan administration as part of his conservative credentials. It has been alleged that the purpose of the CAP was to turn the tide against coeducation at Princeton and oppose the admission of blacks and other minorities. I don't know enough about CAP to say whether this is true or false, and certainly opposing the admission of blacks and other minorities sounds problematic. I also don't know enough about Alito's specific involvement with the group (did he just send a yearly check for a year or two, or was he plotting with the main guys what the strategy should be? are the bad-sounding statements made by the group's leaders indicative of the positions taken by CAP or did CAP have other official goals?).

I am simply commenting on the outrage that the coeducation bit has generated here and here.

Now, recall that until the late 1960's and early 1970's, some schools such as Princeton and Yale were all-male. Imagine now for a moment, that Bryn Mawr or Smith (which are currently all-female) decided now all of a sudden, to go co-ed and some powerful alumni were vocally opposed to that move. Would these alumni be in the wrong and should they be condemned for their sexism? After all, the number of men in colleges has been declining rather precipitously in recent years. Again, I am not saying that coeducation has been bad for Princeton and Yale. In fact, in hindsight, I think that it was a great idea. But, would it be wrong for alumni to want to maintain the distinctive character that defined their colleges? I don't think that nowadays, anyone would lambast Bryn Mawr or Smith alumni if they were opposed to co-education, nor should they. But why should CAP be criticized for their desire to keep Princeton all-male at the time?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Misoverestimating Europe

Katerina Apostolides, over at my old haunts, the Yale Free Press blog, writes up an interesting review of Robert Kagan's book Of Paradise And Power. I haven't read the book, so I cannot comment on Kagan's work, but I have some serious issues with Katerina's analysis of the relationship between European and American conceptions of power.

First, there are several problems with her facts. Among them, she writes:

Of course, during the Cold War, America had reasons for wanting Europe to arm herself (and take responsibility for self-protection), but in the aftermath of the Cold War, it has been to America's advantage to be able to establish world hegemony.

Umm, if that's true, then America has not been very succesful at it. Before the expansion of NATO in recent years, the ratio of North American defense expenditures (US and Canada) to those of Europe, has been essentially constant. You can go here to see the figures (I'm using the 1988 and the 2001 charts) for yourselves. So either, America was not particularly succesful at getting Europe to fund its own defense back during the Cold War, or it is not succesful now at supressing their military expenditures. And remember, that Germany, one of Europe's largest economies has a neutered military and so can not arm itself too much, even if it wanted to, or was asked by the US. So, I find it hard to believe that the US was attempting to drive up the European military industrial complex back in the 1980's.

Second, she seems to misrepresent the Bartholomew Telegram from 1991 in response to European desires to create a European defense alliance within NATO. I am no expert on the matter, but my cursory studying of the issue seems to indicate that Europe was sort of confused itself as to what role it wanted to take and the US, likewise, had a confused response. For example, later, President Bush the Elder said that if Western Europe wanted to take a more assertive role in its defense, it better make that decision soon. Again, I am not an expert on this, but my understanding of the issue is that it was a time of general confusion on both sides and that both sides sent rather mixed signals about European identity.

Later, she writes:
Among other things, Europe succeeded in getting Iran's support for the invasion of Afghanistan.

I can't imagine that it would have required much arm-twisting on the Europeans' part since Iran's ruling Shiite crypto-fascists hated Afghanistan's ruling Wahhabi crypto-fascists. In fact, the Iranian mullahs endorsed George Bush for president over John Kerry, among other things, thanking him for getting rid of its two sworn enemies, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

But the problems about the facts are the least of them, in my opinion. She can not provide one iota of evidence how the "soft" approach of the Europeans can achieve anything. After the Iran zinger, she writes:
This may be true, and yet it denies that there is a place for diplomacy, soft power, and negotiation that Europe--uniquely--offers. For example, when Pres. Bush identified the 'axis of evil', including Iraq, Iran and North Korea, Europe understandably reacted to this language.

Does she have any insight or ideas as to why it is "understandable" that Europe would react to such language? Just because it's mean to say someone is evil?

She writes that "There needs to be an alternative to 'confrontational, coercive politics' and Europe embodies precisely that." But confrontational, coercive politics achieves results. I agree that starting random wars for no reason is a bad idea (and reasonable people can disagree about the wisdom of the Iraq War), but confrontational, coercive politics involves using both the carrot, and the stick. Because if there is no stick to back up warnings to rogue regimes to change their behavior, then these regimes will have no interest to change.

Finally, I think that part of her argument is somewhat incoherent. She first argues, as above, that the US wants Europe to be weak militarily now, because it's in our interest to become a global hegemon. But she then writes:
While it may benefit America in the long run for Europe to become stronger, it will not benefit her for Europe to embrace the full implications of the 'ideology of power.'

So which is it? Do we want a powerful Europe or don't we? Which will benefit us more, a powerful Europe or a weak Europe?

I am not saying that the Europeans are worthless and that we should not be partners with them. To the contrary, our partnership is important. It will only work, however, if both Europe and the US are in agreement as to the consequences to be faced by rogue states and actors who do not abide by civilized norms of behavior. There is a longer post waiting to be written here somewhere, but that will have to wait for another time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bolick vs. Underkuffler Rounds 2 and 3

On Monday, I wrote some critiques of Duke Law Prof Laura Underkuffler's arguments in her debate with Clint Bolick over school vouchers.

It turns out, that in Rounds 2 and 3, Clint Bolick in fact, made the same criticism as I have. Universities, of all religious stripes currently accept federal Pell Grants and there is no Establishment Clause violation. Schools like Bob Jones University whose racial intolerance is counter to the state's public policy goals, do not accept the Pell Grant. Bolick writes:

At the post-secondary level, students are free to use their aid at public, private, or religious schools. Your school, Duke University, probably couldn't survive if students could not use Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill, and other public funds to attend. I'll bet if we looked over Duke's course catalogs over the years, we'd find some courses that would not win any societal popularity contests. That's fine: the point is that it's the students who choose where to spend the aid. Society has decreed in enacting such aid programs that any education is better than no education, and that individual autonomy over where to spend the money is better than government compulsion.

Likewise, you fail to address the much larger choice system in higher education. Students may use Pell Grants, the G.I. Bill, and other forms of college aid at virtually any school. Overtly racist schools like Bob Jones University are excluded. But every other type of religious school is included, even if they teach things that offend some people, whether it is the sins of capitalism or the sins of homosexuality. Amazingly, still no rioting in the streets. That is because America is a pluralistic society that values the rich diversity of religious beliefs (or lack thereof).

Of course, Bolick is right. What is Underkuffler's response? Well, she seems to shift the terms of debate. On Monday, she wrote that eventually, we will have Establishment Clause problems as we would be in a bind where the public would have to fund schools that teach religious values it doesn't agree with:

We could say no—that such schools should be excluded, on the basis of the content of what they teach. We might be able to do this if the schools are completely secular in nature (although, of course, content-based exclusion contradicts the ideal of parental choice). However, if the schools are religious in nature, exclusion would be far more difficult. Exclusion which turns on the nature of the sponsoring institution's religious beliefs would undoubtedly contradict the Constitution's guarantees of free religious practice and equality of all religious sects.

Today, however, she argues that SCOTUS has ruled (in Locke v. Davey for example) that states are free not to fund certain religious instruction if it goes against their own state Establishment Clauses:

Perhaps even more to the point, states remain free to reject the Zelman fiction, and to conclude that vouchers are "state funding" as far as they (and the public) are concerned. In Locke v. Davey, very recently decided, the Supreme Court held exactly that. In Locke, it was held that although the federal Establishment Clause does not (under Zelman) prohibit voucher programs, states are free to bar them under their own anti-establishment guarantees.

(By way of background, in Locke, a student sued because the state of Washington would not let him use a scholarship to study theology.) But doesn't this expressly contradict her original argument, that we would not be able to close the Pandora's Box once opened to funding of religious institutions? Meaning, that if we gave vouchers for students to attend Jesuit, Methodist, and Episcopalian private schools we would also have to give vouchers for students to attend Wiccan, Wahhabi, and Shiite schools, something the public might find objectionable. The entire point is that the Supreme Court has already set boundaries and states themselves have set boundaries (which SCOTUS has allowed them to use) over the teaching they will fund and that which they will not. We can argue about where that boundary ought to be, but it clearly is there. The state of Washington said that students can use the scholarship at a religious institution (for example, the college where Davey wanted to enroll, Northwest College, was church-affiliated, but was nonetheless eligible for the scholarship) as long as they do not study devotional theology. And the Supreme Court said that there was no Establishment Clause or Free Exercise Clause [UPDATE: Free Exercise Clause inserted after the original post was published] violation by their policy. There is no Pandora's Box, as she herself admits by using the Locke argument.

Furthermore, she still fails to address the question of why there is no serious concern about giving Pell Grants to students attending Gonzaga University (Jesuit), Southern Methodist University (Methodist), Calvin College (Calvinist), and Christendom College (Catholic).

She then makes the argument that the outrage over UNC-Chapel Hill forcing incoming freshmen to read the Koran is indicative over the fragility of our society's tolerance for different religious groups (as Bolick had asserted existed):

Take, for instance, a recent episode in North Carolina. In the summer of 2002, in a stated effort to "stimulate discussion and critical thinking around a current topic," incoming students to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were directed to read Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations, a book translated and introduced by a Haverford College professor. News reports recount the controversy. When the assignment of this book was publicly discovered, a furor followed. The choice of the book was denounced by a campus activist as offensive on the ground that this country was founded on the principles of Christianity, not the Qur'an. A lawsuit was filed in federal court against the University, alleging that the University was promoting Islam and encouraging students' conversion. As a result of the book's assignment, the North Carolina House Appropriations Committee voted 62-10 to bar funding for the University's summer reading program during a state budget hearing. Counsel for the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit stated that "[w]e think that what we've uncovered so far is just the tip of the iceberg." Whatever one might think of the merits of such controversies, it is impossible to dismiss the dangers of religious divisiveness in this country as mere "histrionics."

But from my understanding of the issue, the controversy is that UNC-Chapel Hill is wholly a subsidiary of the state of North Carolina, rather than merely a service provider like a private school would be. The controversy is that this is UNC forcing freshmen to learn the Koran. If it were Duke, the legislature of North Carolina could do nothing (even though some students at Duke receive aid from the state to attend the school). I think that the public can discern the nuance between the state paying for a service provided by a religious institution and one of the state's own institutions promoting a religious view.

Her argument over the past two days is that the tolerance in our society is fragile as evidenced by all of these disputes about what the government can fund and what it cannot. But, the existence of controversy is not a problem. Controversies help us set boundaries. Her original argument is that there is NO boundary that we can set. Clearly, the existence of controversies shows that there are boundaries that we can set that are still within the Establishment Clause's guarantees of religious non-discrimination.