Thursday, March 22, 2018

Glenn Loury And Amy Wax: Exploring The Need To State Facts Forthrightly And To Say What Needs To be Said On Race

A deep and searching exploration of the issues involved here,  which stem from Amy Wax having publicly said that black students significantly underperform at Penn Law School where she’s a full professor.

In two comments below is the beginning of some discussion about the diavlogue.

....I have to say, I find her to be quite compelling in her arguments as well.

But at times I think she wants to have it both ways. She insists that she was making a very limited point in a very specific area: that on average, her black students simply aren't performing at the level of other racial groups in her classes, and that their energies would be better spent studying than looking for racism as an explanation for why that's the case. And she wants to rest on that being empirically true, and to leave it at that.

But she also seems very comfortable with the idea that this is a much more generalizable phenomenon. From her criticisms and examples (the ivy league Dean position at a medical school for instance), it seems very clear that in her mind, what's happening in her class is what's happening everywhere. And she doesn't seem very curious about whether anything but good old fashioned hard work explains it.

Now, it's true that part of her argument is that we simply don't have the data to know what's really going on. I'm not totally sure whether that's a problem or not. As Loury says, there are many things we don't say, or don't publish, for many reasons. Would a racial breakdown of grades at schools across the country improve or harm things? It seems to me that could go both ways. And in any case, the reasons for why those disparities exist would bring us right back to the same place we've been, with competing stories from progressives and conservatives. 

One thing I would have liked Wax to do was to be more curious about a broader scope of literature than performance measurement. I would think a great many social scientists would have a great many things to say about the topic - sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, etc. It sometimes seems as though she's stuck on a particular line of thought.....


Me in answer:

....Thanks S for your thoughtful perspective.

A few comments on your first two paragraphs, which I think are, too, responsive to your final ones.

I see no both wayism and that’s my main point here.

As to your first paragraph: I go back first of all to one of Loury’s last questions: he says, paraphrase, she can’t say that her conclusions about black underperformance are based on a rigorous study of voluminous data, can she? She says she cannot. She says here and elsewhere that she was making a narrow point based on her own observations and teaching experience. She says generally that what prompted her saying back in September what she did about underperformance was in the context of a question, if I have this right, about “mismatch,” a term of art, in affirmative action. She doesn’t say she has a rigorous empirical basis for what she’s observed—partly because her school, like others, won’t release racially gathered records of performance—but she does say that it’s settled statistics that blacks on average do measurably less well than whites and Asians on the LSAT, in law school performance measured by grades, in finishing law school and in passing the bar. She notes that what she observes is pretty consistent with that settled data. And she generally notes that there is a grievance culture that pettifogs everything as racist, that the students who purvey it don’t get down to their main task—say mastering in one instance the law or medicine or whatever else they’re to learn—and that that culture finds validation and vindication in grievance rather than in buckling down and succeeding. This last point, the cultural observations about grievance, *isn’t* claimed by her to be empirically supported but is rather what she observes and, so, characterizes. 

Still with your first paragraph, I don’t know what exactly you mean by “leave it that.” She’s here essentially  reprising and giving context to what she said back in September and answering Loury’s effective devil’s advocate criticisms of her position and how she had set it out.

Getting to your second paragraph that fills in your charge of two wayism, I don’t agree with your characterization as it appears there. In answer to Loury’s illogical counter argument that no one knows all the facts, and so there may be ways of her articulating her position without stressing what is evidently so personally hurtful and diminishing to the subjects of it, she says, that we must proceed in clearly stated, non gratuitous way from what the facts are—facts have no feelings—to what remedies lie at hand to ameliorate them. There is no other way. And one of the facts is the paucity of black and Hispanic candidates for very top positions that require the highest level of academic excellence—the top of the top 1%. (She is vehement, as am I, in her rejection of equality of outcome and disparate impact theory.) But to make clear that plain fact—paucity of candidates—is verboten, even in answer to a charge of racism as explaining racially disproportionate outcomes. All of this is getting down to the brunt of her argument in defending what she’s charged with and critiquing the critics. 

Having just said all that in the foregoing paragraph, my first point in answer to two wayism is that the why of underperformance isn’t the subject of this exchange. It’s implicated in it to be sure, but it’s hardly two wayism not to explore in depth a question that isn’t essential *to this particular discussion.*

My second point is that in any event her alleged incuriosity is a canard. Besides that the why of underperformance isn’t the point of the diavlogue, she in fact is curious enough to have written a book on the why of it—Race, Wrongs, and Remedies—as well as any number of essays, op eds and articles. And from her studies she has an analysis and a position. To reduce it all simply to “good old fashioned work hard” is reductive and superficial but not necessarily inaccurate as a metonym for a deep analysis of what can be done as a matter of state craft and what must be done as a matter of “self craft” and “community craft” to ameliorate an undoubted horrific past of terrible treatment. It’s to be noted tangentially that there are plenty of black thinkers, including Loury, who either share her view or at least don’t dissent from it.

A general point: it’s not that she’s heedless of or indifferent to or doesn’t  bother with other perspectives. In her work on the culture and data of why, she’s reviewed plenty of them and doesn’t agree with them, especially on how much the state can ultimately do, and on the ascriptions of systemic and institutional racism as the why. 

Finally, as I first noted, my read is that Loury in the end, after playing the devil’s advocate, which he does I think very effectively, is somewhere between agreeing with her and not dissenting sharply from her.......

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