Dagger in hand
A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.
--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.
Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com
Friday, May 31, 2002
Some innocent questions/observations about the Sixth Circuit's opinion upholding UM Law School's affirmative action program:
1) The Law School seeks to enroll a “critical mass” of “under-represented minority students.” How does the Law School identify a minority as being “under-represented” in the first place? This would seem to imply some criterion for deciding what level of representation is appropriate for a given racial group. What exactly is that criterion? Does the Law School also worry whether there are there any “over-represented” minorities? If the criterion is a straight comparison of representation in population (of what? Michigan? the U.S.? the world?) to representation in the law school's student body, one could wind up concluding that certain groups who tend to achieve admission to law school in high numbers (like Jewish students) would fall in this latter category.
2) I’m no mathematician, but I do use numbers on a fairly regular basis. I had never noticed it on my own, but apparently not all of these critters are “meaningful.” Some of them are just out there I guess, looking for all the world like regular numbers but actually devoid of all semantic content. It’s pretty unnerving, if you ask me. I mean, I’d heard of “imaginary” numbers like the square root of negative 1 and so forth, but I had no idea that there was a danger of their o’erleaping the bounds of abstract calculation and screwing up the admissions process. I really wish the Law School would publish a list of all the non-meaningful numbers so I can avoid any future dealings with them.
3) Here’s what we know about the elusive concept of “critical mass”:
No portion of the class is set aside for it.
It is not a set number or percentage.
However, the school judges whether it has achieved one or not by looking at the number of target students enrolled, and evaulating whether this number is “meaningful.”
How is this done, one wonders? I have this image of Erica Munzel looking at an admissions chart, brow furrowed. “This number just doesn’t mean anything to me.” There must be deposition testimony on this. “Q: Is 10 a meaningful number? A: No, I’ve never had much use for 10 myself. Q: How about 11?”
But then we get some further clues as to what will cause meaning to shine forth from the barren digits. A number is “meaningful” if
it is sufficient to ensure that the under-represented minority students are able to contribute to class dialogue without:
feeling like spokespersons for their race
feeling uncomfortable discussing issues freely based on their personal experience.
So that explains the fluctuations in the size of the “critical mass” from year to year! Obviously, it’s based on the psychological make-up of the under-represented minority applicants in a particular pool, something the Law School evaluates carefully as part of its review of each individual applicant. (They surely would not make any assumptions on this score, as that would be to engage in racial stereotyping.) The more susceptible the under-represented minority candidates for that year are to feelings of racial isolation, the more of them the school needs to admit to counteract these potential feelings. At least, this is the only conceivable explanation for the fluctuation that I can perceive on the face of the majority opinion.
Of course, for this strategy to have the desired effect, the affirmative action really needs to be extended down the level of course enrollment, doesn’t it? I mean, if someone is susceptible to feeling like an isolated spokesperson unless surrounded by a critical mass of racial brethren, the real issue is how many are present in the classroom when issues are being discussed, not how many might be spread throughout the student body. Isolation after all, like power, is contextual.
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