Friday, January 26, 2007

Discriminating Tastes

So much for a Friday Fluff Piece...

This was a comment I was going to write in response to a previous post concerning the membership practices of the Congressional Black Caucus. The comment thread had started into a new direction. It had gone from the old “what if there was a Congressional White Caucus” modest-proposal-style argument (that ignores the fact that Congress is overwhelmingly white and male and has been for some time), and had journeyed into the more pressing, and important (in my opinion) discussion about discrimination & reverse discrimination in America. We’ll go ahead and make that a thread of it’s own.

Well, number one, whenever anyone makes a choice about anything, they are technically discriminating against whatever choices they did not choose, for whatever reason.

That being said, what DADvocate describes is the "anti-affirmative action/reverse discrimination" debate and some of the less than stellar results of a society grappling to right, correct or realign in the midst of a history of social ills, which is an important debate to have, and deals with issues society as a whole doesn't usually like to deal with in the public arena.

“The beginning of the end of my liberalism was when my mother told be that it was OK to discriminate against me, her own son, because others had been discriminated against for so long. Yet, she had always taught me that two wrongs don't make a right. But, some think they do in racial/gender politics.And, yes, I have actually been denied opportunities because of my skin color, white. An unusually candid personnel worker at TVA who knew my father told me so.The favoritism the company I work for now shows women is almost beyond absurb. Twenty something women have "special work schedules". No men. Several have requested, all denied.”

As far as the real issues behind what you're saying, I live in the South, I hear this all the time. I'm sure I've been denied jobs because folks who did the hiring wanted to hire a woman or someone of a different race, and I even realize that sometimes folks who were hired instead of me may not have been as qualified as I was.

But I know for a fact that I have been denied jobs because the folks who did the hiring hired someone with less qualification, less experience, or less recommendation than me who was a white guy! It is because, with 90% of the (worthwhile) jobs in this country, the person doing the hiring already knows the someone who they want to have that job. They are just advertising the position because Human Resources departments of organizations require it to be advertised to comply with Equal Opportunity Employer regulations. The interviews and resumes and cover letters are usually just a dog and pony show, to meet requirements.

While there are exceptions, and many places of work are actually looking for a qualified applicant to fill a position regardless of race, color, gender, creed or personal friendship (and God bless those folks), I would venture to say that the majority, the vast majority, of bosses are hiring folks they know, or their employees know, over other qualified applicants.

This is borderline nepotism, at least insider-ism, and the feeling that is left in the heart of the qualified applicant who was denied the job so someone’s pet could get it is that of anger. This is true regardless of race, creed or gender. Everyone has a story of how someone of another race, creed or gender got a job they were more qualified for – everyone. That’s why some folks, denied such employment, will be for affirmative action, and other folks, denied the same employment, will be against affirmative action.

My beliefs are not those that say ‘it is OK to discriminate against someone because of history,’ because that ain’t liberalism, that’s stupid-ism. Affirmative action is not, and never was supposed to be, a plan to fill the bureaucracies and businesses of America with un-qualified workers and administrators, it was designed to break the insider-ism of actual discriminatory hiring practices, where qualified individuals of minority races, creeds and genders were denied opportunity. Sometimes an organization would have to give a job to someone with less experience and education because the experience and educational opportunities had never existed before in that field, but the plan (maybe the hope) was that the folks who did have the education and experience in that field would work with and bring those with newly acquired opportunity up to speed.

Instead, the implementation led only to resentment, and an excuse for human resources departments, managers and workers everywhere to stop doing their jobs of ensuring excellence in the workforce by throwing up their hands and saying “what can we do, we have to keep ‘diversity’ around” sneering as they said the word diversity as if there weren’t a million other folks who could do a job that wasn’t being done by someone who just couldn’t keep up.

You can’t fire someone because of their skin color, gender or creed, and I’m glad we live in a country where that is the case. However, you should always be able to fire someone for not doing their damn jobs, but that takes actual work in the training, documentation and quality control of your damn employees. I guarantee, there are a million qualified workers of any race, gender or creed who are willing to fill the slot of your incompetent worker of any race, gender or creed and do a better job. Managers have to let them.

Instead, we’ve become a milquetoast society that is not ready to actually make sure our employees are doing their jobs because our managers don’t have the stones to do theirs. Yet, we’re the most productive society on earth because our workforce is filled with underemployed individuals who can’t get a job higher up the chain, who are working their butts off to cover their own rear ends and the rear ends of at least one incompetent co-worker.

You can look at the big American-Car-Company-Who-Can’t-Make-Money that made headlines yesterday if you think I’m lying about any of this.

Affirmative action ain’t your problem, is what I’m saying. It is lack of follow through and people making excuses. That ain’t a ‘liberal’ problem or a ‘conservative’ problem, that’s a ‘competency’ problem. That’s ‘our’ problem, because all of us who know better have to work hard against incompetency.

In closing, I will share with you the moment I lost faith in the anti-affirmative action/reverse discrimination crowd. It was when the University of Georgia’s Supreme Leader decided not to actually defend OUR affirmative action policy, that was not actually an affirmative action policy at all, but got to feed the myth that affirmative action is wrong.

In the realm of UGA admissions (and this is a highly generalized description of what was told to me by university admissions officials), we had standards for students who applied. On the first tier were students who had GPA’s and SAT scores over thus and such. All of those applicants were accepted to keep them from going to UNC. Then there was another tier of lower SAT’s and GPA’s. They got accepted as well. Then there was the third tier, with SATs and GPAs bordering on the “you don’t gotta go home, but you can’t come here”* level. Many of these students were considered a ‘tie’ for entrance, and the point system went into effect.

The point system was a 14 item (if I remember correctly) list of descriptions of the student where, if you fit a description, you’d get either .5 or 1 point. On this list were the questions of gender and race, and you got a point if you were in the minority of the UGA student body. BUT also on this list were questions of ‘did your parents attend UGA,’ and ‘did you live in a rural county.’ Both of those, in Georgia, were slanted towards white people getting points towards easing the tie. There were other questions about extracurricular activities and what not, but those four questions leapt off the page at me, because those are the things I pay attention to.

When, several years ago, two young ladies sued the University of Georgia because they were denied admission in favor of ‘other students,’ the insinuation was that they were denied admission in favor of unqualified black students who didn’t deserve to be at UGA. That being the 'affirmative action/reverse discrimination' myth. The reality is, if they were denied, they were probably denied based off their GPA and SATs (which is kinda what we aspire for in discrimination in the field of higher education). If they were denied because they lost to the points system at the time, they were going head to head with other students in their same GPA and SAT area, making anyone who took their spot qualified to go to UGA. And if they had been denied because they lost on the points system at the time, it was more likely they were denied by a male (minority gender), from a rural/suburban (white) county, whose parent(s) had gone to UGA (white) who had more weight in points than a male (minority gender) who was of a minority race.

But, instead of having THAT conversation, we got to hear the whispers like City Confidential as UGA’s ‘defense’ of our policy always seemed more of an admission that our University was doing something wrong. Last I heard, the points for minority gender and minority race had been removed from the points list in the event of a GPA and SAT tie. The 'legacy' and 'rural county' points were still there, again, last time I heard anything about it.

I guess it kind of explains why all of the black people I met at UGA were in on the first and second tiers, making a tie situation unnecessary; and why my brother’s funniest joke about me is that I made it into UGA before they did away with the minority gender provision, making my tenure at the University of Georgia only possible because of Affirmative Action.

*(I erased my original snarky comment, which was “maybe you ought to apply over at the University of Tennessee”, but I ain’t no classless UNC grad who looks down their nose at graduates of other big state Universities**)

**@# Florida.


Dante said...

"It was when the University of Georgia’s Supreme Leader decided not to actually defend OUR affirmative action policy"

Pat, what exactly are you talking about? Do you mean President Adams? He spent a boatload of money on the legal defense of the University's affirmative action policy. He also told the Admissions Office that they were going to go through with the original policy until the last minute when the University lost the court case and all of a sudden a new Admissions criteria was needed.* He didn't think he was going to lose. If it seemed like he didn't do enough to defend then-current policy, it was more due to arrogance than malice.

Your tiers are almost right. The first tier of decisions were to accept those that were obviously qualified and reject those that were obviously not. Then we took a look at enrollment goals vs. applicant quality and defined a more specifc set of obvious admit and reject criteria and we gave it another go. That takes you through about 90% of the applicants. Up until that point, barring something fishy (like legal troubles) the computer made the selection process based on the student data entered. We set the criteria, leave for the day, and overnight, the applicants are accepted and rejected based on the criteria. That entire set of students lived and died by whatever formula they were using that year.

Every reject got a full review (in later years they got two) to make sure there were no circumstances that would make them a redeemable candidate despite poor academic performance (family death or something like that).

Standard small bonuses in the formula that I can remember are race and gender (removed right before I started working for Admissions), family alumni, first generation college bound student, graduation rate and GPA of others who went to the same high school (this was put in to combat grade inflation from what I've heard), and of course things like test scores, GPA, strength of curriculum.

The formula was always being tweaked and the above items if present were worth more some years and less other years. The formula exists based on how current students are doing at UGA. The object is and always has been to pick the students who have the best chance of succeeding at UGA. Incoming students were compared to current students (and historical student data) to try to achieve that goal.

Now the final tier of applicants are the only ones that really needed to bother with things like essays and extracurricular activities. There's a two to four stage review process depending on the year for each applicant in this pool. Members of the Admissions Office and University Faculty are both involved here. The formula still exists but it's more of a guideline than a rule. Applicants are admitted on an individual basis. Someone actually has to log in and change the admissions status by hand. It's a very subjective process to pick out the ties. (They are all ties at this point in the University's eyes.) In later years, those who didn't make it through this phase were put on a waiting list. There was also an appeals process but the unwritten rule of thumb on appeals was that if you didn't know who to talk to to request an appeal, you weren't getting one.

I haven't been part of the process in about three years so any of this could've changed since then but I imagine the vast majority of what I described is still what happens.

* You'd think that would plunge Admissions into utter chaos, but it was actually one of the smoothest and most efficient admissions season UGA has ever had. Of course they were already busy tweaking the process from then on and it was never that good again.

Dante said...

Oh, and I almost forgot to tow the company line on the legacy app. Legacy students statistically have lower dropout rates and higher graduation rates than students who are first generation Georgia students. I'm not saying I agree with it, but that was what was argued to me.

And there is and never was any such thing as a 'rural' county bonus. The bonus for attending a high school that had high GPA and graduation rates from its students was often mischaracterized as a rural bonus but students from larger counties could have that same bonus if they had similar graduation rates and GPAs from their students.

Patrick Armstrong said...

The way homeboy defended it told me he wasn't actually defending it, he was just going through the motions. Either that or he had not idea what the policies actually were or how to explain them to the public. I figured someone as machiavellian as he is actually wanted to get rid of the junk, but had to make the fight look expensive to maintain appearances.

Kindof a conspiracy-theory nuthouse explanation, I know, but he also spent a boatload of money secretly on a coach who ended up fired.

The admissions policies were explained to me back in '97-'99. The overview on admissions requirements I got said "rural county" as one of the 14 or so points. That may just have been lost in translation, which isn't too far fetched in that the explanation I got was being given from a department other than Admissions, so that other departments could explain the admissions process.

Thanks for the insider clarification on the process. Though it doesn't change my mind about the Supreme Leader's defense of the policy, I still don't think inclusion of gender or race within the tiebreakers was a bad idea, or something the courts should have thrown out.

Dante said...

"which isn't too far fetched in that the explanation I got was being given from a department other than Admissions"

The best way to think of the deparments in the University of Georgia is to compare them to a confederacy. They all have some common goals so they work together when neccessary to achieve those goals but each department sees itself as greater than the University as a whole. That in turn leads to situations where one department has little idea what another is doing and the other may not be all that willing to explain themselves to an outsider (departmentally speaking). I don't know about your specific case with 'rural' but I wouldn't be surprised if it were done out of spite and/or ignorance. That sort of thing happens in the University confederacy.

Anonymous said...

Of course, in saying you weren't being snarky, you were being snarky.

I'd sue UGA if they denied me admission, also. How embarrassing!! Why should race or gender matter when being considered for a college? And, if it does, why aren't colleges, other that University of Alaska at Anchorage, doing more for males?

Affirmative action is not, and never was supposed to be, a plan to fill the bureaucracies and businesses of America with un-qualified workers and administrators, But in many cases this is exactly what happened.

Another little story, my father was a psychology professor at the wonderful University of Tennessee for 35 years. During the late 70's or early 80's, the department head stepped down. The university, being under tremendous pressure from the Feds, spent two years interviewing minorities and women to be department head.

Minorities and/or women were in such demand nationally, the university couldn't find one who would take the job at the salary being offered. So, finally, they hired the typical white male, Ray Fowler, then president of the American Psychological Association. Funny how such a well qualified candidate became so low on the list.

I do support helping financially disadvantaged persons in every way possible to attain a higher education. My favorite example of a place that does that is Berea College in that backward state of Kentucky. Only the financially disadvantaged need apply and it's a great school. No tuition. All students work to help pay their way.

From Berea's website:
At Berea, opportunity is everywhere.

It’s in nationally recognized academics and extra-curricular activities. It’s in an on-campus job and a laptop computer.

It’s in a 4-year tuition scholarship.

But most importantly, opportunity is in you—and we’ll help you discover it.

But the more we divide people into racial, ethnic, gender groups, the more divisiveness there will be because that's what happens when you divide people up.

BTW - We can change the images on money to animals or something if it will make you feel better.

patsbrother said...

Pat: as I recall the situation (owing, perhaps, to my lack of I-Hate-Adams-colored glasses), the decision not to appeal the loss in court was strategic. Two colleges had ripe cases to appeal, and Michigan's program looked more promising. Thus, Georgia decided not to muck things up and let the prime contender go first. (However, I do not know the ultimate outcome of that strategy.)

dadvocate: I'm not clear on the absolute facts, but the women who sued the University were originally denied admission due to a clear and distinguishable prefrence for another demographic: those who were competent. While I do not remember the exact figures, after hearing about this legal fiasco for several months only to read their reported academic records and test scores, I believe I choked a bit on my dining hall breakfast. While I consider most of Pat's history of affirmative action to be dangerous conjecture, my memory tells me that his assessment of this facet of the story is absolutely true. Personally, I was appalled that the University extended admission to one or some number of these ditzes as part of a settlement agreement. These women likely were not denied admission because of a preference for minoriites or for men: they were admitted because of the suggestion that such was the case.

Patrick Armstrong said...

I'd sue UGA if they denied me admission, also. How embarrassing!! Something tells me you'd probably make it in in the first tier, with a GPA and test scores high enough not to have to deal with contention. (Then I have to wonder, if you were 18 today, what kind of high schooler you'd be?)

If I got denied for UGA admission, which would almost surely happen today with my high school grades and SAT's being what they were back in 1996 (plus my negligible 'academic rigor' during my senior year and lack of any substantive extracurriculars), I would have ended up at Georgia Southern or Valdosta State, or more likely Coastal Georgia Community College for two years, with a possible transfer into Georgia.

I know for a fact that I would be denied admission to Georgia's graduate schools right now with what my GPA was when I came out of Athens.

To be fair and balanced, the University of Tennessee would probably tell me to find somewhere else to go as well, in both instances.

And honestly, those grades of mine being what they are, if I was even considered "a tie" with someone to get into either institution, and ended up getting left out, that would be fine with me: at least I made it to the consideration phase and lost on tiebreakers.

(And I went to the UGA and UT admissions sites and clicked around) I can't be sure at all what their actual admissions standards are, because neither of them actually say. I reckon that has to do with each University having the formula that Dante talked about that took the many, many different factors into account as far as admissions is concerned.

Berea college sounds like a winner. I'm glad someone's doing that kind of a thing. Wish we had a national service program so we could do something like that nationally to help financially disadvantaged folks work their way through college...

Finally, " 'Affirmative action is not, and never was supposed to be, a plan to fill the bureaucracies and businesses of America with un-qualified workers and administrators', But in many cases this is exactly what happened. But whose fault is that? The folks who did the hiring, hired, and then stopped performance reviews and institutional development. That's my point.

We all have horror stories of things that happened back in the day within the bureuacracies when the Affirmative Action plans started going on. We all have horror stories about quotas not being met. But that could have all been solved with a little common sense from the HR folks, or by managers, or by co-workers.

Why worry if the process takes a little longer so that applicants can be found, especially if you want to give minorities a chance to get in? I don't mind that at all. What I care about is the performance after the hire, the oversight by their manager making sure the job is getting done right, and if the job isn't getting done right, the new recruiting process.

Anonymous said...

Tennessee' standards aren't very high or at least didn't used to be. I think they are more concerned with keeping enrollment up than academic excellence. I doubt you'd have any trouble.

As to what kind of high schooler I'd be? I think it depends on parents more than era. But I did have a penchant for mischievousness, which I never tell my kids about. I think in some ways we're to strict on kids today. Some of the stuff I got away with would land my kids in jail.