1. I am targeting my attention on the T14 schools, and engaging the debate strictly on the basis of scholastic merit1. This is because scholastic merit is the criterion against which the people who argue against affirmative action frame the debate. One can imagine other qualities that may be relevant: “leadership”, etc., but these complicate the issue from the outset, when, for the sake of ease of discussion, I would rather that they complicated the issue at the end of the discussion.
2. I am defining “affirmative action” as any admissions process that does not systematically discriminate against equally-qualified black, hispanic and native american applicants;
1"Acquired skills relevant to the study of law". I figure that we all more or less agree on what this means -- ability to follow and anticipate a line of inquiry; to read properly; to see shades of meaning; and to think critically, independently, and imaginatively.
6By the way, I don't see what is so fuzzy about looking at applications holistically. On the contrary, it strikes me that that is the way to achieve a greater measure of accuracy in judging an applicants' scholastic merit and potential. And no, they don't look at everyone holistically -- they assume that the 3.8/175 is bright and motivated and admit him/her automatically (what I have read suggests that approximately half of each class at schools such as Penn, CLS, Harvard is admitted automatically in this way), when we all know that that is not necessarily so: you can show 3.8/175 and be as dumb as a brick.
In any case, I am absolutely not arguing for a system that blindly adds 6-4-2 points to every black-hispanic-native american applicant’s index number.
I'm going to respond as carefully as I can, Red, since your well-considered post warrants it. You asked:
"Do you think that I have not sufficiently problematized the assumption that the LSAT is a straight race-neutral measure of reasoning proficiency?"
I take no issue with your problematization of AA. I am not an expert in social science or on "stereotype threat." In my postings on this thread, I have assumed as true that "stereoytpe threat" is a real phenomenon that accounts for the gap in LSAT scores between different races. I leave it to others more skilled in these areasto critique your argument on whether "stereotype threat" is real or accounts for the entire gap. Thus, in all my postings on this thread, i take it as fact that the LSATs objectivity as a standardized test is undermined by"stereotype threat."
In my previous long post (a few pages back) I agreed that "stereotype threat" justifies AA in theory, as you suggest, as a way to neutralize test discrepencies and give an equal shake to all law school applicants. So I accept your definition of AA as "any admissions process that does not systematically discriminate against equally-qualified black, hispanic and native american applicants."
I also concur with your definition of "merit" as "Acquired skills relevant to the study of law," from which it follows that race is not a factor in merit (at least not ideally).
My challenge to your justification of AA arises when I ask how do we implement AA in a meritocratic manner. I understand that you are not suggesting "a system that blindly adds 6-4-2 points to every black-hispanic-native american applicant’s index number." But how else can AA operate in practice? And if AA cannot operate meritocratically in practice, then i do not think AA is justified by merit. Another way of stating this point is to ask: what would an "admissions process that does not systematically discriminate against equally-qualified black, hispanic and native american applicants." Because this is the definition of AA, if we cannot explain what such an admissions process is in practice, then we have not justified it since all we have justified in theory is an ambiguous concept. The normal way of answering my question is: more "holistic examinations," or greater "contextualization," answers that i find vague.
The reason why I find "holistic examination" fuzzy is that it is generally employed as an argument, disguised in high-falutin academic language, against using numbers (LSAT\GPA) in admissions. A holistic examination should include all aspects of a candidates application, including their numerical indicators. Perhaps in certain circumstances for particular candidates, admissions committees give less weight to these numbers (thus, people may submit addendums explaining why they underacheived). And that is proper, but those are limited circumstances determined on a case-by-case basis.
I do not see how a reasonable case-by-case determination can be made for applicants on the basis of race. Although I'm uncertain about this, I imagine that it is tough for admissions committees to decide between most applicants' backgrounds, either because they are mostly similar (which would make sense for most students directly out of college, or just a year or two out of school) or because they are incommensurable (how do you compare the background of a person who overcame a brain tumor with one who worked and supported a child throughout college? Is the person who overcame the death of both parents at a young age less than, equal to, or superior to someone who knows 4 languages? What about if the person knows 8 languages? Or started their own business?). In the few instances where a background is exceptional, we see those applicants being accepted to schools despite sub-par numbers, though not too low (no 140s or <2.0s at T14s).
I imagine this scenario: Princeton Law School, the newest entry to the T14, subscribes to your policy of entirely meritocratic admissions based on holistic examinations. It makes a few auto-admits and a few auto-rejects based on holistic examinations (thus kids with both good numbers and great backgrounds are admitted, and kids with bad numbers and unimpressive backgrounds are rejected). That leaves 70 or 80% of the applicants. URMs were admitted at a rate among the auto-admits that, if continued for the entire applicant pool, would result in URMs becoming Ms. However, now that all the candidates with exceptional backgrounds are out of the way, URMs are at a disadvantage in comparison to non-URMs. All these leftover candidates are largely indistinguishable: either they have average numbers and backgrounds, or there are some with good numbers and average backgrounds or good backgrounds and average numbers, but, at the margins, non-URMs always have slightly better numbers, particularly LSAT scores, with the result that, upon ranking all students on the basis of a holistic examination, URMs are disproportionately low on the admit list. What does PLS do? If it admits students purely on the basis of its list, URMs will continue to be URMs.
However, the admissions committee learns about "stereotype threat," which it believes accounts for the numbers gap at the margins. But how does it apply this knowledge? It does not want to blindly add points to every person subject to "stereotype threat." It wants to know for sure who is unduly affected by "stereotype threat" and to what extent to bump them up the list fairly. What indicators of "stereotype threat" are there? How can PLS distinguish between candidates who performed as well as they could and those who actually suffered from "stereotype threat?" I think there are none. Let's make this situation more concrete:
While ranking, PLS has grouped together 10 non-URMs and 10 URMs with comparable backgrounds and GPAs. However, the URMs all have LSATs 6/4/2 points lower (relative to their race), which, if accurate, are below the school's acceptable levels given an unexceptional background. How should PLS rank them? On average, these candidates are all equal, and, perhaps, if PLS could admit all of them, it should. But lets say that it cannot: they are down to their last 10 spots, or these are the 20 candidates from Florida and PLS only wants 10 admits from Florida; now the individual rankings are crucial. Despite being equal on average, it does not follow that PLS should consider them all equal when ranking them individually, because some of the URMs might have not been affected by the "stereotype threat" and others might have been affected by it by more than 6/4/2 points. Nor does it follow, though, that greater "contextualization" or a more holistic approach will miraculously reveal which of these URMs suffered from the "stereotype threat" and to what extent. Since it is meritocratic, PLS would, unless it is risk-seeking (which is highly doubtful since it is a law school admissions committee), rank the 10 non-URMs higher because each, individually, is more likely to have an acceptable LSAT score than each individual URM, even though, on average, they all have the same score (and obviously LSATs are not sure things, they are only indicators, but if the only difference between two candidates is an LSAT score, the only meritocratic course is to rank higher the student with the higher LSAT). Because it is impossible to specifically determine the affect of "stereotype threat" on any of these individual candidates, it is more meritocratic to rank 10 170s higher than 10 165s, even if some of those 165s might really be 170s or 175s if the "stereotype threat" is properly accounted for in the individual cases. Unless PLS boosts all of the URMs equally (and blindly) it seems impossible to have a fair or meritocratic method that would not rank the 10 non-URMs highest.
Thus it seems that PLS can either have a meritocratic admissions system or an AA admissions system, but not both.