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MISMATCH by Richard H. Sander


How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended To Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It

by Richard H. Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-465-02996-9
Publisher: Basic Books

Sure-to-be-controversial take on race-based considerations of student need and institutional diversity.

Affirmative action is one of those subjects, write Sander (Law/UCLA) and National Journal contributor Taylor (co-author: Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, 2007), that often cannot be raised without provoking shouting on one side, the other, or both. By their account, the practice of affirmative action—a form of preferential admission of minority candidates into institutions that receive federal funding, particularly colleges, as a means of combatting institutional segregation whether knowingly or unconsciously practiced—is harmful by virtue of purely unintended consequences. The “mismatch” of the title refers to an important one of those consequences: namely, the disorienting effect on the student of taking him or her from an underprivileged setting and making that student compete with students who have had all the advantages. The authors write that African-Americans from the lower-income brackets are more likely to enter college than are whites of the same socioeconomic level, thanks at least in some measure to affirmative action, but are far more likely to earn low grades, “rank toward the bottom of the class, and far more often drop out.” The authors offer extensive data in support of their conclusions that the present system is not serving those students well, though they might have performed far better had they gone to nonelite schools. This information will be argued over all the same, but the authors’ evenhanded suggestion that what might be a better strategy is to raise educational attainment by investing more in elementary and secondary education for lower-income students—“targeting economic need before racial identity,” as they put it—seems unobjectionable on the face.

The subject may be hard to talk about, but it must be, and this is a valuable contribution to opening that needed discussion.