Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Case


So I figured once enough people asked about it, then I'd post. Here are the top five questions about the recently filed complaint by Black graduate engineering students:

1) Dumi, what do you know about this?
As most of our readers are now aware U of M was named in a complaint to the US Department of Education. The complaint is spearheaded by Simeon Anderson a Black PhD student in Engineering. Prior to his filing of the complaint I did hear that he was working on "something" and he was compiling experiences of Black students at U of M. So when the new story broke I was not surprised, but I was intrigued.

2) Dumi, do you know this guy or are you one of the people who is filing?
Despite my obsession with Blackness and graduate education, I am not one of the filers. I do not know Simeon, but we share a few mutual associates. In the near future I may have an opportunity to learn a bit more about where his head and the heads of other Coalition for Action Against Racism and Discrimination members are at. Right now, I'm still learning.

3)Dumi, have you seen the complaint?
I have seen a version of the complaint, I do not know if it was the complaint that was filed to the US Department of Education, but I have read it a couple of times.

4)Dumi, how you gonna say you saw the complaint but not tell use about it?
Well, because I don't know Simeon (yet) and I know that sometimes discussing non-public things (or items that haven't been FOIA'ed yet) can be counter-productive to the needs of those who filed them. I've contact Simeon, if he'd like me to post the complaint, I will. Remember, I'm not a journalist, I just play one in cyberspace.

5) So what do you think will happen?
This is the most tricky of all the questions that people have asked me. First, I don't have access to all the materials of the complaint nor the statement of all members of the Coalition, so predicting with little data can be dangerous. Man those X years of stats really paid off, huh?

But on the real, I'll be watching the situation closely. It is occurring in a very interesting political climate. I've seen a number of conservative responses to the complaint which essentially boil down to unqualified or underqualified applicant theses. These are always interesting to me because people know nothing about him except his race and that he filed a complaint of discrimination. Somehow the next response is to jump to one of these "theories." It seems to me, before one should advocate these theories, one should have access to his (and others') academic records, maybe that's too much to ask... or as my mom would say "too much like right."

Obviously in the face of MCRI, this stands to create a tense relationship between the U and people of color... particularly in the public eye. So I'm sure that the conservakids will try to use this to spread their messages of anti-race preferences as they campaign to 'give us free' of discrimination.

Lastly, the bar of demonstrating discrimination in the contemporary United States is extremely high. Even if everything Simeon and coalition said is true, the pending investigation will likely not find discrimination- or rather racial discrimination. Oops, well there it is, a prediction. My prediction is honestly based more on the political climate than the facts of the case, so I would not mind being proved wrong.

Aight, those are my five responses to the top five questions. Thoughts?

6 comments:

Garlin II said...

Thank you Dumi. I know that I have asked you all 5 of these questions personally :-). I am anxious to hear both sides of this argument as I have my own personal reservations about the situation. This will teach me a lot about more than just discrimination in education, which I know firsthand is reality. It will also teach me about some of the dynamics of the career of a graduate student and how that life differs from that of an undergraduate. Being a graduate from the UM's undergrad engineering program, I am deeply concerned with how students are treated in its pre-college, undergrad, and grad programs.

Folks, keep a close watch on The SuperSpade for more coverage of this important news item. See the first story and comment from MCRI here.

ThaWritt said...

enjoyed the read. told some kids on a message board about your page. i'm proud of you.

Chetly Zarko said...

SuperSpade, my comment on your forum was not "from MCRI" - it was from me personally. Please don't confuse the two.

Second, I know much about the Engineering program, and I believe the environment of retaliation and mistreatment there transcends race. These students have bona fide concerns and complaints about treatment because the department has serious problems dealing with all of its students and non-departmental chair faculty and professors. There is a culture in the department that is odd, at least. I wrote a story about how they thwarted departmental staff input during a chair search, in plain violation of the First Amendment (http://www.chetlyzarko.com/essays/kauffman-af.html,)

Third, this case does come at an interesting time and say things about race preferences. In response to Dumi's assertion that this proves an "unqualified" or "underqualified" thesis and that is the argument conservatives are making, I would like to note that I'm not making the argument. My argument is far more detailed and nuanced than that - in its simplest terms I suppose this fits into the Richard Sander "mismatch" hypothesis, but this situation is more complicated than that. First, the students here clearly "expected" more programs and more preferences AFTER admission. U-M has always had two faces on this one - first, they say to the courts and general public that preferred admits are "equally qualified" and that this is a "one-time preference". Then they recruit individuals privately with incentives, promises of aid and follow-through, and in literature targeted to minorities they claim that they have great follow-through assistance programs. I don't blame the individuals for believing this - they were recruited that way. I blame the university for the double-faced approach - it's called "fraud." It's REAL fraud, not this strange "opinion fraud" that BAMN has invented for public consumption about MCRI's signature collection. So U-M should be called to serious task for this by both sides - its something we CAN AGREE UPON. I've also written about how serious academic supporters of preference have criticized the lack of follow-through on preferred admits and "soft-science tracking" in undergraduate departments to artificially boost graduation rates - its a serious problem with any preference system, because to really do preferences "justice" U-M would have to do ALOT MORE after the preference than it is, than it is willing, or than it should do (that's why I demand that the resources be put into K-12, not inefficiently put into a policy that can't realistically work). It's a fundamental practical problem and inconsistency with preferences. We probably won't agree on the final conclusion - that preferences can't work in a rational sense of the word, but that's just the way it is. Preferences are not about social justice - there about power. There not about redistributing power to poorer or less advantaged people - there about retaining power. The political climate is such that U-M's "leadership" in preference-giving WILL ACTUALLY DECREASE THESE INDIVIDUAL BLACK STUDENTS ABILITY TO USE CIVIL RIGHTS LAW. As I've written, that is the greatest danger of preferences for minorities seeking to benefit from them. Once preferences are used everywhere, it will be exceedingly unlikely that any civil rights litigation succeed. Defendants will simply say - we give preferences to minorities, how can we be discriminating? That's why corporations signed the green briefs. Individual enforcement of rights would be far more productive to truly aggrieved individuals than group dilution of rights through preferences.

Dumi said...

Chetly,
You say, "First, the students here clearly "expected" more programs and more preferences AFTER admission." Where is that? Please demonstrate it for me. Is the request to be treated fairly and not discriminated against asking for preference? In that case, every person who enters an institution wants the "preference" of equal treatment. On the mismatch point, it really isn't more nuanced than the one word theses that I put forward in the original post. One still does not have the evidence/data (and I know you're a hound for that Chetly) to demonstrate "mismatch" thus it falls back into the pile of underqualified.

Chetly Zarko said...

Dumi,
I'd like to correct that statement slightly. I don't know that they expected "more preferences," but from their statements and the information I've seen they did (rightfully) expect more programs (support) because U-Mich fraudulently lead them to believe that. Given that the allegation is that they were "guaranteed a PhD slot" when admitted into the graduate program (which only entitled the average person to a Masters unless they qualified for one of the limited PhD spots), I suspect they expected that "preference", although the expectation was fraudulently generated. But it's impossible to be sure they saw this as a preference or in their mind that it was "continuing" (since it was granted before they were admitted), so I'll amend what I said to make that clear. There could be no "fraud" however if they expected nothing specific (other than what they were legally entitled to, like fairness and non-discrimination).

To the extent that they expect fair treatment and non-discrimination, all people are entitled to that and it is not a preference to not discriminate.

Discussing the mis-match hypothesis here is too complex to do justice here (note above I said it wasn't what I was trying to prove here, even though some parts of this story might fit). The point was that U-M has alot to explain here in this case, first in terms of fraud, and second in terms of how it defines certain terms like qualified.

(note reposted due to screening system error, originally posted several days ago)

Dumi said...

Chetly-
First thanks for resubmitting your comment. You will notice I have a couple of comment blocks up because of recent spamming of comments. Just a spam blocking technique, not a ideological one ;)

Glad to hear you "ammend" your argument about preferences. If the students say they were "guaranteed" their spots, which are few, then I will defer to them on that, since they know their position better than any of us do or will (at least for now).

Obviously PhD programs in general are constantly attempting to renegotiate the concept of qualified. I can attest to that having set on a PhD admissions committee before, it's not always as easy as it may appear.