Apples and Oranges

This is an interesting and uncomfortable story. The American Association of University Professors is about to publish a study which shows that Affirmative Action policies at US colleges and universities have failed to close the gap between whites on the one hand and blacks and Hispanics on the other.

The article will highlight admissions policies that give special consideration to the children of alumni and donors to colleges; prepaid-tuition plans, which benefit only those parents who can afford to save money for college; and the current movement among many public colleges to tighten admissions standards and end remedial programs, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Surely that sentence skates rapidly over the difficult issues inherent in the subject. Surely there are two very separate problems that the article plans to highlight. Special consideration for alumni would indeed seem to give an advantage – an arguably unfair and arbitrary advantage – to people whose parents went to universities in the past, which will naturally be white people. But what of this movement to tighten admissions standards? Is that unfair and arbitrary in the same sense? Is it unfair and arbitrary at all? Is it inherent in the education process? Perhaps the study addresses these issues. Perhaps it is simply impartially listing the causes of the gap. But a newspaper story’s grouping all such factors in one sentence, without reference to the differences among them, could create a false impression.

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