Tim O'Hearn's Reviews > Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It

Mismatch by Richard H. Sander
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it was amazing

At the convergence of the college admissions bribery scandal, the announcement of socioeconomic status being added to SAT profiles, and Asian-Americans suing elite colleges for discrimination, people on all sides are left wondering why nobody seems to know what's going on behind closed doors at college admissions offices.

This is the book that nobody wants you to read. It blows the doors off the inner cloisters of our most revered sanctums of learning. Really--the facts contained within are heresy. Really--like Stuart Taylor's other book about the Duke Lacrosse Rape Scandal--it's frowned upon to talk about this subject matter at cocktail parties even though you will be struck with a burning desire to proselytize.

A couple of years back, Richard Sander wrote an article in which he presented the Mismatch Hypothesis. This hypothesis, simply, is that those who are meant to be aided by affirmative action are in actuality set up for failure. They are underqualified, especially for Law School and undergraduate STEM majors, and end up discouraged and confused.

Disappointed and confused; and with quantifiably worse life outcomes than their peers who went to less selective schools.

Even to someone who hasn't attended college, this probably sounds plausible. Sander's research showed that it's not that beneficiaries of affirmative action can't achieve great things. It's just that human beings, in general, learn better when they are more toward "the middle" of the class rather than the lowest deciles. However logical, this original essay was attacked from every angle imaginable.

Prominent critics made up facts and called him a racist. Others cited papers that were of dubious quality. Sander was so annoyingly correct that he was actually able to harness counter arguments made against him, match what was said with indisputable empirical data, and use them to further bolster his points. Journals rescinded their offers to publish his work. Powerful people tried to pull his funding or restrict his access to data sets. Oh, and the media refuses to talk about it.

Thankfully, Sander teamed up with Taylor and they proceeded to double down and clean up. Such a systematic and brutal rebuke penned by these two legal scholars is about as fun as watching a heavyweight boxing match ringside except the tickets only cost $20.

Another phenomenon presented is called the cascade effect, where the most capable beneficiaries of affirmative action end up disproportionately in the most elite schools meaning that the schools downstream have even worse candidate pools to draw from.

For example, one can't deny that there is a small group of targeted minority students that don't need affirmative action to get into Harvard. They will end up going to Harvard. But then, because of affirmative action, you have a lot of high schoolers who would otherwise be just below Cornell's standards breezing into Harvard. Then, Cornell has to drop standards to hit quotas. Having an even worse pool of prospective candidates, Colgate has to do the same. And so on and so forth for less prestigious schools. The result is that even once you get to upper-mid-tier schools like Colgate or my alma mater Lehigh, minority students have horrible outcomes.

Lehigh University accepts 20-something percent of students each year. It wasn't easy for me to get in. Despite my strongly-worded book review, I don't hold beneficiaries of race-based admissions quotas in contempt. I feel bad for them--and this book helped me form an understanding of what can be done to help. Lehigh has traditionally been known as an engineering school and the engineering classes are very difficult. If you saw how many students are chewed up by Calc 1 only to end up as Sociology majors, you wouldn't believe me. I was a teaching assistant and tutor for the entry-level Computer Science class. The first few weeks were a sad shitshow (and, before you ask, yes, I have participated in happy shitshows).

The effect of this, beyond what's recounted above and covered in the book (okay--I admit Richard Sander mentions it briefly), is that these students end up rather pissed off for the rest of their time at the school. Which leads to my wondering what role academic frustration has played in the rise of extreme campus activism over the last five years.

Things are going to get worse. These guys are never going to get the credit they deserve. If you think of yourself as a member of the "American people" who cares about "the issues," this should be your next book. It can be our secret.
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Reading Progress

June 11, 2017 – Shelved
June 11, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
May 28, 2019 – Started Reading
June 9, 2019 – Finished Reading

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