Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Through the UW's Looking Glass

One of the most astonishing things at yesterday's hearing before the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities was the disgusting behavior of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison). I have heard that Pocan is not a bad guy outside the white lines, but I am hard pressed to think of an example of more boorish and uncivil behavior by a state official at a public hearing. Pocan deliberately decided to insult and talk over the mild mannered Roger Clegg throwing out a series of questions that seem to reflect a misunderstanding of CEO's study or Pocan's belief that CEO should have done a different study directed to a different question. Pocan acted like a shrill and sneering adolescent. He embarrassed himself and his constituents.

I was also - to use his own words - "disturbed" but not surprised by the testimony of UW Provost Paul DeLuca. I was disturbed by its utter lack of candor but not surprised since the current state of the law almost demands dissembling from university officials.

The UW claims to have a holistic admissions process that considers (apparently on the basis of a seven to ten minute review) a number of factors other than past academic performance as reflected in grades and test scores. Undoubtedly it does and what the CEO results suggest is that the most robust of these holistic factors is the race of the applicant. At minimum, it demonstrates not only that UW uses race in admissions (something the school admits) but it uses it hard.

A candid response to that by the Provost would have been to admit it is so and then defend the university's practices. But, while he did defend the use of race, he declined to admit how important it is.

I would suggest that there is a reason for that rooted in current legal doctrine. The United States Supreme Court has traditionally been divided on the use of race in university admissions. We've had 4-4 splits with - more or less - one side saying that race ought not to be used and the other side saying that it may be. The splits have been resolved - first by Justice Lewis Powell and then by Sandra Day O'Connor - jurists whou tend to prefer fuzzy compromise to clarity often because they saw it as more "pragmatic" and "unifying."

The result has been doctrine that essentially says that race may be used as a thumb on the scale. It can't be dispositive and you can't have quotas, but you can treat applicants differently based on the color of their skin as long as you don't go too far. This has encouraged opacity rather than transparency in university admissions. If you are too candid in describing the process, you may run afoul of the less certain aspects of Gratz and Grutter.

The CEO study is an attempt to look behind the curtain. That apparently disturbs Provost DeLuca and moves Rep. Pocan to something akin to a bout of distemper.


illusory tenant said...

It's no surprise that one Bradley Foundation beneficiary (Esenberg) would leap immediately to the defense of another Bradley Foundation beneficiary (Clegg), and even less of a surprise he would do it by attacking Rep. Pocan, who knew this hearing was a WISGOP stunt before it got underway, as Clegg's perturbations had been rumbling around town for several weeks.

Before you accuse Provost DeLuca of "dissembling," why not address Clegg's litany of data-free assertions? Nobody in that hearing room could come up with one instance of a complaint from any individual showing even one application rejected because the applicant was "too white."

In fact so wanting for evidence was Clegg that during his parting remarks he could do nothing more than once again tediously rehearse his unsupported assertions -- which were themselves derived from suspiciously, anonymously sourced anecdotes -- and actually proposed putting the question to public referendum. Such is his allegedly scientific methodology. It's laughable.

As for the University of Michigan cases, your ideological colleagues on the committee either don't understand them or were attempting to bait the UW officials, e.g., Rep. Knudson's invocation of "plus factors," which to my mind came perilously close to suggesting that UW admissions policy was a reiteration of the "points" system condemned in Gratz.

But of course nobody had any evidence of that either, least of all the Colleges and Universities Committee chair Steve Nass, whose own questioning revealed he's never even seen a UW application, let alone having but a glancing familiarity with the university's admissions procedure.

I don't know about you, but I would expect a greater degree of informedness from the chairman of a legislative committee whose bailiwick is expressly colleges and universities, particularly before he invites a by-all-appearances crank to appear before it.

Ultimately, you can't have it both ways, at once assailing the obfuscatory nature of Gratz and Gruttinger -- which everyone acknowledges -- and at the same time accusing DeLuca of "dissembling" for his good faith endeavors to conform to them.

Clegg's presentation yesterday was an embarrassing failure. Don't take that fact out on Rep. Pocan for telling it like it is.

Rick Esenberg said...

I offered an explanation for DeLuca's desire to be less than candid. That he may have felt compelled to do so by Grutter does not make that a good thing.

Do you not understand the statistical method employed or do you wish not to understand it. The data showed that race has an enormous impact on the likelihood of admission for those with similar academic credentials. The univerity's attempt to avoid the implications of that - pointing to the fact that there are other "holistic" factors that are nonracial - would work only if these other factors were highly correlated with identification of an applicant as African American.

You can defend the university's use of race in admissions if you want to, but it takes wilful ignorance to deny that it is present (again the school admits that) and that is weighted very substantially.

Anonymous said...

Even under Gratz/Grutter (2003), the UW only has another 17 years to continue considering an applicants's race in making admissions decisions.

Rick Esenberg said...

And there is another point. Whatever you think of CEO's study and the issue of affirmative action, this was a public hearing conducted by a legislative committee. I think that calls for a certain degree of dignity and courtesy. Pocan's act cheapened himself and the body.

gnarlytrombone said...

The data showed that race has an enormous impact on the likelihood of admission for those with similar academic credentials

That's if you buy CEO's numbers (70% Afr. Amer. admission rate over the UW's reported 43%), which I assume was used to calculate the probabilities. Maybe the methodology is beyond me, but I don't believe I heard Clegg explain this discrepancy.

Also, Clegg claimed he's talked to rejected applicants who know personally the less-qualified students (and by inference have knowledge of their qualifications) who took their slot. You buy that?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Pocan bothered to ever gave Clegg a chance to explain any purported "discrepancy."

Anonymous said...

illusory tenant fears that Rep. Knudson's reference to "plus factors" was accusing UW of impermissible practices, but maybe IT hasn't read the Supreme Court decision in the Michigan affirmative action case. In Grutter, Justice O'Connor cited the use of race as ONLY allowable as a "plus factor". Her decision used this term repeatedly. Every university in the nation that uses racial preferences now uses race as a "plus factor". That is the accepted term. To use any other term would be silly. In fact what came out of the hearing was that all applicants with strong academics will be admitted regardless of race. Students who don't have a GPA of 3.0, ACT of 24 or class rank in top 30% will be given a postpone code and further evaluated for other factors such as leadership, special talents, etc. This is the point where racial preferences are applied.

Tom said...

If affirmative action is justifiable because of past official mistreatment of certain racial groups, and affirmative action itself is a mistreatment of certain other racial groups, how long must affirmative action continue before affirmative action 2.0 - in favor of those other racial groups - is justifiable because of affirmative action 1.0?

Or we could just, you know, stop racial discrimination by stop discriminating on the basis of race.

Anonymous said...

I watched the hearing on WisEye. Clegg flopped and even Nass was neutered by the end. This effort is going nowhere.

Reducing admissions to raw data can never work. What would Clegg do -- use ACT or SAT scores alone? High school grades can't be the sole basis, as kids take different classes. Should the kid who takes all AP classes be judged the same as the kid who takes the easy way out?

What a joke.

Rick Esenberg said...


The reason appears to be that UW counts an incomplete application as an application. But CEO couldn't use those for its analysis. Remember - the data the CEO used comes from the UW. If they now say that the data is wrong, they have some explaining to do.

Anon 7:09

Roger would not have them use scores and grades alone. He would just have them not use race.

illusory tenant said...

11:30, Right. What I mean is that the representative was using "plus factors" in a way that suggested the university was awarding "points," that is, mechanically, as opposed to the manner described in Grutter (which is actually explained a little better in Bakke). At least, that's how I heard him.

Rick Esenberg said...

I don't know that anyone said that race is used "mechanically" or, for that matter, that one could know that based on the available data. What CEO has made clear is that, in admisssions to the UW, race matters and it matters a great deal. In fact, it matters more than it has mattered in any other university that the group has studied. We can argue the legality or merits of that. I don't think we can argue the fact.

gnarlytrombone said...

The reason appears to be that UW counts an incomplete application as an application

56% of the applications were incomplete? And that number comes from UW?

Rick Esenberg said...

I don't know if there are other things going on but it is my understanding that - as is the case with almost any university - people apply and then don't complete their applications. They decide that they don't want to go to a school, get admitted elsewhere, etc. UW treats an incomplete application as an "application" for purpose of generating its acceptance rates - either because it's more convenient or (more likely) because it makes them look more selective for US News. (I suspect that many other schools do the same thing.)IF you do that, the acceptance rate for all classes of applicants goes down because no one with an incomplete application will be accepted.

That is at least one source of any discrepancy but the larger point is this. The data that CEO relied on came from the UW. To be sure, the UW fought them tooth and nail and did everything it could to avoid turning it over - litigating the case all the way to the state Supreme Court. But the basic data - number of applicants, race of applicants, test scores, grades - comes from the UW. If they gave CEO bad data, then they should explain why.

illusory tenant said...

Hey I'm actually sympathetic to some of the AA opponents' claims and I might even be inclined to see Grutter as a load of touchy-feely mush but Clegg simply doesn't have the necessary empirical support for his outlandish claims. If anything is "disgusting" it's his accusations of racism -- or "reverse racism," as he puts it, which is racism just the same -- against the university, despite his inability to produce even one injured party.

As far as I'm concerned, an applicant's ethnicity is inextricably wedded to her life experiences, the latter criteria being ones that nobody objects to being part of the admissions evaluation. The laudable goal of diversity, as I understand it, means a hell of a lot more than making sure every hue of skin color (Mr. Clegg's particular and tiresome obsession) is represented in the learning environment. That is the argument I would have presented, were I in Provost DeLuca's chair.

illusory tenant said...

(Although I guess Roger Clegg is at this point an injured party after a fashion, except in his case the injury is self-inflicted.)

gnarlytrombone said...

I don't know if there are other things going on

Knowing would seem to be a prerequisite in evaluating methodology. Perhaps if CEO had explained what went on here they could've precluded some of the skepticism.

Rick Esenberg said...

Well, he did explain. In fact, the only reason that I know about it is that he told me this was an issue. But, no, in posting to a forum that emphasizes immediacy, I can't say that I have fully vetted the CEO study and I do try to acknowledge what I don't know.

Incidentally, Pocan's rant - to the extent that it made any discernible point at all - seemed not to be about discrepancies between UW's published figures and the data that it gave to CEO. He was raising red herrings about transfer and retention rates.

Tom, I really don't get your point and I still think you're misundertanding the statistical issues. DeLuca didn't make that argument because he can't. When the UW takes race into account, skin hue is all it cares about. Affirmative action largely benefits middle and upper class African Americans. The diversity argument has to rest on the proposition that there is something about being black that makes a person categorically different. That argument ought to at least make you uneasy. And, even if it doesn't, you have to consider whether departing from race neutrality is worth it.

But the idea that the CEO study proves nothing is wrong. It proves that UW uses race in admissions in a very significant way. I have seen nothing that calls that into question.

gnarlytrombone said...

he told me this was an issue

Awesome. I hear whispering down the lane will soon be added to APA Style, so CEO is far ahead of the curve.

that UW uses race in admissions in a very significant way

Close enough.

Rick Esenberg said...

Actually, I think this point was made publicly - at least in a speech on Tuesday. I don't know if it came up at the hearing because I don't know that anybody at the hearing really challenged CEO's odds ratio as, of course, you have not done.

gnarlytrombone said...

really challenged CEO's odds ratio as, of course, you have not done

I still don't know - and neither do you, apparently - on what basis CEO disqualified 56% of those applications. Were they working on the UW's own determinations of incompleteness etc. etc.? What is the etc. etc.? Was it a guesstimate based on other research of the process?

It wouldn't have been that frickin' hard to lay this out in the report, instead of relying on slippery "public" proclamations from Clegg and word of mouth amongst fellow Bradley Foundation beneficiaries. Which makes me wonder why they didn't do so.