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It has become fashionable in the world of higher education to advocate eliminating the requirement that prospective students take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the ACT and then submit their scores to the admissions offices of the colleges and universities to which they apply. Janet Napolitano, the President of the University of California (UC), has even proposed that at Berkeley, UCLA, and the other elite institutions in the California system such scores be ignored altogether.
The faculty senate at UC has come down on the other side after conducting, at Napolitano’s direction, an extensive study of the question focused on the utility of the tests and on the question of whether they are a source of racial discrimination. The faculty study concluded that the tests have been useful for distinguishing those who could profit from the courses of study at these elite schools from those who could not and that the existing racial disparities in their student bodies had to do chiefly with poor preparation and not with the tests themselves.
What, you might ask, is this all about? The answer is simple enough. High school grades no longer mean much. Grade inflation has ensured that. The SAT and ACT tests may not be infallible. There are able people who do poorly on standardized tests, and these examinations reveal little about the grit and determination of those who score well. But, on the whole, they do a pretty good job of measuring what they purport to measure – the quality of the young person’s preparation for college and his or her aptitude. And in the aggregate, as the faculty senate at UC discovered, they do an excellent job of predicting academic success.
The same can be said for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Forty-six years ago, when I was a graduate student at Yale, the history department’s Director of Graduate Studies, a Bahai from Iran, did a study seeking to find out whether there was a clear correlation between GRE scores and academic success in the department’s Ph.D. program. And, lo and behold, he found that this was so.
So why have universities, such as the University of Chicago, made the SAT and ACT optional? And why has Janet Napolitano rejected the recommendation of the UC faculty senate?
The answer is simple. If one requires that prospective students submit SAT or ACT scores, one cannot practice “affirmative action” – a euphemism for systematic racial discrimination – without it being obvious that one is doing so. The lawsuit brought against Harvard by an Asian-American coalition has embarrassed that venerable institution, and embarrassment of that sort we cannot have.
The shenanigans now being contemplated by college and university administrators all over the country have nothing to do with a genuine concern for the well-being of African-American and Hispanic students. They have to do solely with virtue-signaling.
The truth is that “affirmative action” harms its supposed beneficiaries. Long ago, back in the 1940s, as Gail Heriot once pointed out to me, a series of studies were done testing whether athletes of talent recruited by elite institutions with little regard for their scholastic aptitude profited from the education on offer at these institutions. The conclusion reached was that they had actually been damaged. They could not compete with their fellow students, they associated almost solely with one another, and they tended either to fail and drop out or to major in the least demanding fields: sociology, education, playground management, exercise science, and the like. Had these young people attended less elite schools, as their less athletically-talented academic peers sometimes did, they would have had an opportunity to make up for poor preparation in high school and they might well have prospered (as many of their peers did).
I mention these particular studies – because the athletes in question were white. What pertained to them in the 1940s pertains today to African-American and Hispanic students inadequately prepared for high-level college work who are recruited by our elite institutions. At less demanding schools, those like them do compete, they make up for lost time, they advance, and many of them enter the professions.
This is no secret, and the college administrators intent on allowing high school students to apply without taking standardized tests are not ignorant. They merely want to signal to their peers that they are virtuous, and they do not care what harm they do to the supposed beneficiaries of the policies that they want to institute.
The people who run most of our institutions of higher learning are profoundly corrupt. For the better part of a century, for the sake of pleasing their alumni and their teams’ fans, they have averted their gaze from the damage they have inflicted on the athletes they recruit and then shamelessly exploit. For a long time now, they have taken advantage of minority students for a similarly cynical purpose. Now they have hit on a scheme for concealing their lack of scruples. You have to admire their cheek.Published in