Thomas Sowell Patiently Explains Academic Mismatch to Leftists Crying ‘Racist’

December 16, 2015

During recent oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia mentioned the theory of academic mismatch, that affirmative action hurts its intended beneficiaries by putting each affected student (whatever his individual academic level) in a school where he will be below average and do poorly, rather than a school where he will be on par with his classmates and do well.

Many on the left, true to form, hurled accusations (“racist”) that were as ugly as they were unfounded.  (The accusers included panelists on Meet the Press and even top Senate Democrat Harry Reid.)

In responding to these accusations, some conservatives have focused on the fact that Supreme Court justices routinely play devil’s advocate, asking attorneys for both sides to respond to the arguments that parties or amici on the other side have come up with.

That’s true, but it’s also important to point out that it would be ridiculous to call someone a racist for mentioning mismatch, even if it were his actual point of view.  It’s not a racist theory; on the contrary, it’s all but a necessary logical consequence of the left’s affirmative-action policies.

Don’t take my word for it; take it from Thomas Sowell.

Despite much media spin, the issue is not whether blacks in general should be admitted to higher ranked or lower ranked institutions. The issue is whether a given black student, with given academic qualifications, should be admitted to a college or university where he would not be admitted if he were white.

Much empirical research over the years has confirmed Justice Scalia’s concern that admitting black students to institutions for which their academic preparation is not sufficient can be making them worse off instead of better off.

I became painfully aware of this problem more than 40 years ago, when I was teaching at Cornell University, and discovered that half the black students there were on some form of academic probation.

These students were not stupid or uneducable. On the contrary, the average black student at Cornell at that time scored at the 75th percentile on scholastic tests. Their academic qualifications were better than those of three-quarters of all American students who took those tests.

Why were they in trouble at Cornell, then? Because the average Cornell student in the liberal arts college at that time scored at the 99th percentile. The classes taught there — including mine — moved at a speed geared to the verbal and mathematical level of the top one percent of American students.

The average white student would have been wiped out at Cornell. But the average white student was unlikely to be admitted to Cornell, in the first place. Nor was a white student who scored at the 75th percentile.

That was a “favor” reserved for black students. This “favor” turned black students who would have been successful at most American colleges and universities into failures at Cornell.

(Read the whole thing.)

Ramesh Ponnuru points out that Scalia’s fellow justice Clarence Thomas has also made the same point.

It pains me to live in a society in which this has to be said, but inasmuch as our current culture insists on judging participants in the national debate partly by the color of their skin, rather than simply on the merits of their ideas, it must be pointed out that Thomas Sowell and Clarence Thomas are both black Americans, as well as being two of the greatest intellects in America today of any color.

Thomas SowellClarence Thomas

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2 Responses to “Thomas Sowell Patiently Explains Academic Mismatch to Leftists Crying ‘Racist’”


  1. No one cuts through the baloney and gets to the truth better than Thomas Sowell.


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