The Supremes are going to take up an affirmative action (AA) suit. One argument against AA may seem to be the result of benevolent concern for under-represented groups. It employs mismatch theory.
“Mismatch theory” says that AA clearly gets some students into better schools than they are otherwise qualified for. But such students are then at a disadvantage, since those who get in on merit will out perform them and leave them at a loss in class after class.
As Dan Slater in the NY Times says:
[Mismatch] is the idea that affirmative action can harm those it’s supposed to help by placing them at schools in which they fall below the median level of ability and therefore have a tough time. As a consequence, the argument goes, these students suffer learningwise and, later, careerwise.
And Slater seems to think a 1991 study of the law bar is significant, though very imperfect:
In 1991, more than 27,000 incoming law students — about 2,000 of them black — completed questionnaires for the B.P.S. (Bar Passing Study)and gave permission to track their performance in law school and later on the bar.
Among other things, the questionnaire asked students (a) whether they got into their first-choice law school, (b) if so, whether they enrolled at their first choice, and (c) if not, why not.
Data showed that 689 of the approximately 2,000 black applicants got into their first-choice law school. About three-quarters of those 689 matriculated at their first choice. The remaining quarter opted instead for their second-choice school, often for financial or geographic reasons. So, of the 689 black applicants who got into their first choice, 512 went, and the rest, 177, attended their second choice, presumably a less prestigious institution.
Those who went to their second choice schools did significantly better.
Duke researchers have weighed in and they argue that it is STEM fields that mismatch causes problems. Stem courses build on expertise acquired in earlier classes, and problems can multiply in very serious ways.
As far as I know, this is pretty much the whole mismatch argument, made famous in fact by Clarence Thomas. I’m really interested in hearing what you think of it. I’m going to restrict myself to pointing out that the mismatch argument proponents don’t seem very concerned about all the others who get into universities on something other than academic merit. For starters, legacy students and athletes are among them. Perhaps also famous actors, members of royal families, the children of presidents, and so on. And since the worry is that students who benefit from AA will be below the median, shouldn’t we worry about all the other students there too?