On this week’s episode, John and I are joined by Tyler Austin Harper, assistant professor of environmental studies at Bates College. Recently, Tyler has published a couple of pieces on race and affirmative action that caught our attention, because they seemed, well, pretty reasonable. It’s refreshing to hear his critiques of current affirmative action practices and poisonous white “antiracism” coming from a black progressive college professor, even if he does have three names (I kid).
I think the thesis of this week’s guest was basically Goodhart’s law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”.
If no one gamed affirmative action, it would work a lot better, but human nature means that the minute people know that being black is preferred, everyone who has one mixed-race uncle will check the box on their application for “black”.
This years ERAS application (this is what recently graduated medical doctors use to apply for training as a resident or a fellow) included a new section which was basically “tell us about a difficult situation you faced during your education”. Previously, there was just one open-ended personal statement, and there was a suggestion and an incentive to use it to talk about how tough you’ve had it, which is certainly what I did.
I actually think there’s some potential benefit to this new approach. By cordoning off the “life is tough” section, it frees up the personal statement to be less “gamified” around victimhood. Thus, I used mine to talk about intellectual interests and career goals. The “life challenges” essay was also optional, and I’m sure admissions committees don’t look to it first, if at all. It was also a very short character limit, only a paragraph or two short paragraphs at most, so you have to make your point and you can’t ramble on (this is also a profound disincentive to use character-intensive social justice newspeak).
One thing white people could do is to simply treat everyone like everyone else - regardless of their pedigree. Make no assumptions about others, do as Thich Nhat Hanh urged, treat everyone in front of you as though they're the most important person/people on the planet. It's quickly becoming racist to assume that just because someone's black they've suffered mightily and can't walk outside their house every day without getting murdered by white supremacists. It's quickly become a racist stereotype.
Not seeing this in Apple Podcasts. Anyone else having that issue?
Had to chuckle at your self-congratulatory assessment at the end of the episode...but have to agree, this was a great discussion, one of your best in the two years or so I’ve been a regular listener. Nicely done.
A refreshing conversation with Prof. Tyler Austin Harper.
One thing i never hear said from the people who argue for "class-based" affirmative action, is rather than lower standards for the poor, risking putting them into mismatch scenarios which have shown to be a recurring phenomenon, why not strictly increase standards for the rich, while maintaining the same baseline minimum requirements?
I enjoyed this episode... refreshing.
I was a little surprised that there was no pushback given when Dr Harper made the assertion that we needed to focus on class for affirmative action because those with means can afford tutors and we would see them boost their children's test scores from a 1200 to 1400 and beat out the poor child with a 1350. The data simply does not align with this assertion and it seems like he's clinging to an anecdote as if it were data.
It seems like private tutoring can increase scores about 30-40 points on average. There are also a number of free resources online for those students simply willing to dedicate time to improving their odds, which have nearly the same results. What may be missing among some of the poor students is the expectation of pushing themselves to study and go beyond the minimum requirements, but even this isn't true of poor Asian students whose parents typically demand they focus on studying.
Dr. Tyler also just published in The Atlantic this review of the new Richard Hanania book:
I was very impressed by Professor Harper. Haven't read his piece in the NYT, but recently encountered his writings in The Atlantic. And happy I did, especially his well-reasoned take-down of the odious Richard Hanania. But what pleased me most is his academic work as a scholar of environmental studies. I am a retired wildlife biologist, and encountering people of other races than my own is still very uncommon. That Professor Harper isn't expected to represent the "black perspective" on his field is a sign that we are making progress.
Good episode. People in literature classes should really stop talking about the white guys. There’s a way to say we should all be reading Morrison, Ellison, and Hughes without condescending to tokenism. Interest in those authors is commodified by the special interests discussed here.
God how I am sick of affluent hyper educated Ivy League liberals questioning the value of class based affirmative action as the guest seemed to do. Democrats could bring many working class whites back into the party and reduce tribalism if they embraced class based AA but they can’t do it. They hide behind the fig leaf of “systemic racism, slavery and Jim Crow” while the real reason is different as John alluded too. Truth is, it is people in power are protecting their perks. Class based AA is completely lawful and will help underprivileged but the black elites of the east coast would not get into the ivys of their choice. What a sad state of affairs. The whole feasibility of AA
as a concept is risked and trumpism fueled so Malia and Sasha’s friends from Greenwich get into Harvard.
Another fantastic episode Glenn, thank you. The most heartening thing to me was to learn that Tyler has received overwhelmingly positive feedback to his Atlantic and Times pieces. In part this reflects his standing to discuss such issues, as you observed in your brilliant self-censorship paper. This leads to a presumption of good faith, giving him the space to speak freely.
I still think that there is so much in that 1994 paper that could be developed and expanded upon. Loved spending an hour with you discussing it. Posting a link here in case anyone wants to take a look:
Best episode in a long time.
That op-ed was so good I wanted to post it to Twitter but I was not on time. I am glad that Glenn and John have caught on.