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.