Mickey Kaus cracks open a subscription service and delivers Obama's thoughts on whether he was a beneficiary of affirmative action at Harvard:
"I have no way of knowing whether I was a beneficiary of affirmative action either in my admission to Harvard or my initial election to the Review. ... If I was, then I certainly am not ashamed of the fact, for I would argue that affirmative action is important precisely because those who benefit typically rise to the challenge when given an opportunity." [E.A.]
Let me change the emphasis a bit - Obama would argue that "affirmative action is important precisely because those who benefit typically rise to the challenge when given an opportunity". Typically, or occasionally?
I think we can agree that, if Obama was a beneficiary of AA, then he is a great success story. But is there any evidence supporting his notion that beneficiaries typically rise to the challenge? My strong impression is that an alternative notion is widely believed - schools lower standards a bit and AA students end up at a too high an an altitude for their actual academic skills. In other words, an AA kid who would do fine at Notre Dame ends up at Harvard, and struggles; a kid who would do well at Ohio State ends up at Notre Dame, and struggles, and so on.
Thomas Sowell tackled this in 2002:
In other words, where the racial preferences in admissions are not as great, the differences in graduation rates are not as great. The critics of affirmative action were right: Racial preferences reduce the prospects of black students graduating. Other data tell the same story.
Compare racial preferences in Colorado, for example. At the flagship University of Colorado at Boulder, test score differences between black and white students have been more than 200 points -- and only 39 percent of the black students graduated, compared to 72 percent of white students. Meanwhile, at the University of Colorado at Denver, where the SAT score difference was a negligible 30 points, there was also a negligible difference in graduation rates -- 50 percent for blacks and 48 percent for whites.
In short, it is not the relative rankings of the institutions but the racial differential in admissions standards that has been crucial. You are not doing anybody a favor by sending them where they are more likely to fail, rather than where they are more likely to succeed. Critics of racial preferences and quotas have been saying that for more than 30 years, and now the data back them up -- which may be why you don't hear much about those data.
Is that even controversial? Are their other studies showing that, despite large differences in incoming test scores and GPAs, affirmative actions beneficiaries track well with their fellow students?
MORE: Controversial? What am I, nuts? From 1999, The Atlantic assures me that the real problem is unfavorable stereotypes. And how could I have forgotten that the gaps in SAT scores and GPAs are simply racist artifacts? My bad.
I assume there are many amicus briefs related to the 2003 Supreme Court decisions on AA that address this. Unfortunately, this is not a good research day for me. [But the amicus briefs, pro and con, can be found here, and I learn that the Reason Foundation takes up this issue starting on p. 17 of the .pdf.]