Minor Thoughts from me to you

Defending the Mismatch Theory of Racial Preferences

About five months ago, Ramesh Ponnuru quoted Justice Clarence Thomas, on the theory of academic mismatch.

Here’s Thomas in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003):

The Law School is not looking for those students who, despite a lower LSAT score or undergraduate grade point average, will succeed in the study of law. The Law School seeks only a facade–it is sufficient that the class looks right, even if it does not perform right.

The Law School tantalizes unprepared students with the promise of a University of Michigan degree and all of the opportunities that it offers. These overmatched students take the bait, only to find that they cannot succeed in the cauldron of competition. And this mismatch crisis is not restricted to elite institutions. See T. Sowell, Race and Culture 176—177 (1994) (“Even if most minority students are able to meet the normal standards at the ‘average’ range of colleges and universities, the systematic mismatching of minority students begun at the top can mean that such students are generally overmatched throughout all levels of higher education”). Indeed, to cover the tracks of the aestheticists, this cruel farce of racial discrimination must continue–in selection for the Michigan Law Review, see University of Michigan Law School Student Handbook 2002—2003, pp. 39—40 (noting the presence of a “diversity plan” for admission to the review), and in hiring at law firms and for judicial clerkships–until the “beneficiaries” are no longer tolerated. While these students may graduate with law degrees, there is no evidence that they have received a qualitatively better legal education (or become better lawyers) than if they had gone to a less “elite” law school for which they were better prepared.

Justice Thomas was wrote about academic mismatch with minority students and racial preferences. I hadn't heard about academic mismatch theory until recently, but I've seen that it makes a lot of people very angry, many of them claiming that academic mismatch theory is just another smokescreen for justifying racial discrimination.

I went to the University of Pittsburgh for an Information Sciences degree. I went because I liked Pitt's marketing materials and Pitt's campus. I also went because I felt like Pitt was the best match between my abilities (or the actual work effort that I was prepared to give to college studies) and the degree's rigorousness and requirements.

I didn't even bother to apply to Carnegie Mellon University or MIT. For the sake of argument, let's say that a program existed that would have given me a much easier admission into CMU or MIT and that I'd taken it. I'm convinced that I would have done far worse, academically, at either of those schools. I would have struggled to have mastered the material and I would have had poor grades. Knowing what I know about my employer and their hiring criteria, I doubt I would have gotten the job that I have now.

Whether going to Pitt or CMU or MIT, I'm the exact same student with the same abilities, talents, and skills. One school was appropriately matched to me and gave me a good education and prepared me for a great start to my career. The others would have been a mismatch for me and would probably have given me a worse education (in that I would have understood and mastered less of the class material) and wouldn't have launched my career in the same way.

I, myself, am as white as can be and am blessed with a full menu of "privileges". And I think going to the wrong school, one where I was overmatched, would have been a bad thing. I'm definitely sympathetic to the argument that enticing students into schools that they're not prepared for is a bad thing.