A brief exchange about how best to ensure that all Americans have access to the most coveted schools and jobs.
Guinier (Law/Harvard Univ.; Becoming Gentlemen, 1997, etc.) and Sturm (Law/Columbia Univ.) open this slender volume with a not-so-modest proposal: silence the critics of affirmative action by reforming the way that we determine who is “most qualified” for advancement without sacrificing diversity. The authors begin by questioning the “testocracy” that has determined who gains entry to the best schools and companies in recent decades, claiming that standardized tests (such as the SAT) are inaccurate predictors of future success. In addition, those from privileged backgrounds tend to do better at such tests, thereby perpetuating the status quo. According to the authors, a far better predictor of success would be a form of probation, during which the candidate has an opportunity to perform in the desired job or university. After a probationary period, he or she would be evaluated according to a number of criteria that have been identified as relevant to successful performance. With the exception of a single hypothetical, however, the practical application of such a system is left for another day. Having advanced their proposal, the authors invite responses from various academics who pinpoint the weaknesses of the author’s naïve suggestions. One objection is that standardized tests offer the best chance for minorities (particularly Jews and Asian-Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds) to crack the old-boy network. Another point is that standardized tests are rarely used in the workplace, and almost never for the most coveted jobs. Finally, there is no guarantee that the subjective, post-probationary review suggested by the authors would not be susceptible to the prejudices of the evaluators. The replies made to these and other criticisms are unconvincing.
A well-intentioned proposal that is not quite ready for prime time.