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    384. This Man Ended Affirmative Action | Dr. Peter Arcidiacono

    Responding to criticism with love and understanding can have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships and help navigate difficult situations.

    enSeptember 21, 2023

    About this Episode

    Dr. Jordan B. Peterson and econometrician Peter Arcidiacono discuss the recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court to end Affirmative Action, how his research was instrumental in that outcome, why merit is repeatedly proven to be the best indicator of success, how compassion is used to cloak racial discrimination, and what might actually yield results in service to the under-resourced communities across the United States.

     

    Peter Arcidiacono is the William Henry Glasson Professor of Economics at Duke University. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1999 and has taught at Duke University ever since. He is a fellow of the Econometric Society and the International Association of Applied Econometricians. He is best known for his work in three areas: college major choice, affirmative action in higher education, and structural estimation of dynamic discrete choice models. He served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court cases SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC, examining the role race played in the admissions process at both institutions.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • The recent Supreme Court decision underscores the importance of merit over race in university admissions, prompting a reevaluation of affirmative action policies and the need for race-neutral alternatives to achieve diversity.
    • Objective tests can help overcome disparities in university admissions and provide equal opportunities for all candidates.
    • Implementing test-based admissions can level the playing field and create a fairer system, where individuals are selected based on abilities rather than hidden privileges.
    • The absence of a single definition of leadership and the lack of accountability in universities raise concerns about their expertise, intentions, and fairness in practices and policies.
    • The athletic preference in college admissions, despite historical reasons, can have negative consequences for academically unprepared students and lacks data on the success rates of athletes at prestigious institutions like Harvard.
    • Consider your cognitive abilities, comfort with challenge and competition, and the transparency of graduation probabilities when choosing a college major and institution for personal growth and success.
    • Academic preparedness, equal opportunities, and improved resources are essential for addressing racial disparities in dropout rates, while also addressing discrimination against high-achieving Asian students. A fair and inclusive education system should prioritize all forms of excellence.
    • Improving K-12 education and recognizing individual potential are key steps towards achieving equitable opportunities for all students.
    • Tackling issues like fatherlessness, educational disparities, and healthcare outcomes requires comprehensive approaches that avoid victim-blaming and "white savior" mentalities. Building trust and representation are crucial steps towards positive change.
    • While the Head Start program may not have a lasting cognitive advantage, it does have positive effects in other areas such as increased graduation rates and decreased criminal activity, particularly for children in toxic environments. However, the program's focus on cognitive retraining may not have been optimally designed as it also served as an employment program and teaching young children is challenging.
    • Standardized tests provide a fair opportunity for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to compete with those from privileged schools, and efforts should be made to correct biases within these tests for a fairer admissions process.
    • Responding to criticism with love and understanding can have a positive impact on interpersonal relationships and help navigate difficult situations.
    • Racial affirmative action alone may not benefit individuals, as other factors such as athletic prowess and legacy/recruited athlete processes contribute to discrimination against certain groups. The accuracy of admissions models and potential political influences on court decisions raise concerns.
    • The presence of a political tilt in social sciences, such as economics, highlights the need for robust and credible research. The contrasting reception of papers with conservative implications raises concerns about the fairness of the admissions process in universities.
    • Differentiating among highly intelligent individuals through more demanding tests is important for universities and businesses, as focusing on merit and selecting top performers can have economic advantages.
    • Merit should be determined by individual abilities and skills, not by race. Universities should use objective testing models to ensure fair opportunities for all students.
    • Affirmative Action has its merits in promoting diversity, but also brings concerns about qualifications and scrutiny for both qualified individuals and beneficiaries. Critical evaluation and open dialogue are crucial.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The Supreme Court's Decision and Its Implications for Affirmative Action and University Admissions

    The recent landmark decision by the Supreme Court to end race-based affirmative action highlights the importance of merit as the best indicator of success. Professor Peter Arcidiacono, an economics professor and expert witness in the admissions cases against Harvard and UNC, conducted research that showed the large gap between racial preferences as tiebreakers and equal outcomes. This research sheds light on the need for optimal policies that consider the size of racial preferences in admissions. Additionally, the ability to analyze Harvard's admissions files provided valuable insights into the actual applications and reader comments, revealing the complex nature of the admissions process. The Supreme Court's emphasis on finding race-neutral alternatives in achieving diversity raises questions about the formulaic nature of admissions and the effectiveness of holistic approaches. Ultimately, this decision calls for a reevaluation of how universities admit students based on merit rather than race.

    Flaws in the current university admissions system and the need for objective selection methods.

    The current system of holistic admissions in universities, which includes preferences based on race, athletics, legacy, and donor relations, is deeply flawed and unfair. The advantages given through this system are enormous, creating disparities in opportunities for different individuals. However, there are more efficient and objective methods of selecting candidates that can address these issues. Objective tests, such as IQ tests, have been proven to be reliable and valid in identifying talented individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. By relying solely on objective tests, universities can level the playing field and provide equal opportunities for all. Any alternative system would only perpetuate dynasty, nepotism, and inequality, as historically observed.

    Addressing Flaws in University Admission Systems: Prioritizing Merit and Equity

    The current admission systems in universities, especially the holistic approach, are flawed and favor the privileged. Jordan Peterson and Peter Arcidiacono discuss how preferences for athletics, racial background, and legacy status contribute to this issue. They argue that an alternative solution could be test-based admissions, which many other systems already use. This would help level the playing field, as standardized tests can provide a fair measure of merit and potential success. They emphasize the importance of objective evaluation and meritocracy, where individuals are selected based on their abilities and aptitudes rather than hidden prejudices and privileges. Overall, prioritizing merit and implementing test-based admissions can create a more equitable and fair system.

    Flaws in the Leadership Literature and Higher Education Institutions

    The leadership literature is fundamentally flawed because there isn't a single definition of leadership. Different situations require different styles of leadership, and certain traits like intelligence, conscientiousness, and extroversion tend to make individuals more likely to be perceived as effective leaders. These same traits also predict success in universities. It is concerning that universities are unwilling to use their own data to evaluate the outcomes of their policies, such as their response to the Covid pandemic or their system of randomized roommates. This lack of accountability raises questions about the expertise and intentions of universities. Additionally, the preference for athletic admissions at prestigious universities like Harvard appears to favor wealthy families and may not be based on valid justifications. It is important to critically examine and question the practices and policies of higher education institutions.

    The impact of athletic preference in college admissions, particularly at Harvard, and its historical origins and potential consequences.

    The athletic preference in college admissions, particularly at institutions like Harvard, far outweighs other criteria. While Harvard does consider additional forms of attainment, such as extracurricular involvement, athletics is given separate and significant preference. This preference can be traced back to historical factors, including Jewish discrimination, which led to the development of holistic admissions processes. Additionally, the admissions process at Ivy League schools like Harvard is focused on selecting students who will become successful and financially contribute as alumni donors. However, admitting students who are not academically prepared can lead to negative consequences, such as feelings of failure and decreased academic requirements. Unfortunately, there is no data available regarding the success or dropout rates of athletes at Harvard.

    Choosing the right college major and academic environment for success and satisfaction.

    Choosing the right college major and academic environment can greatly impact a student's success and satisfaction. The conversation highlights how students with different levels of cognitive ability may benefit from different disciplines and academic institutions. It is important for parents and students to consider the level of challenge and competition they are comfortable with, as well as their own academic background. Elite schools may have more resources, but they may be best suited for students with higher cognitive abilities. Additionally, colleges should be more transparent about the graduation probabilities for specific majors, allowing individuals to make informed decisions about their future. Ultimately, finding the right fit and working hard can lead to personal growth and success.

    Academic Ability Overcomes Racial Disparities in Dropout Rates

    Academic ability, not race, is the key predictor of student dropout rates. Peter Arcidiacono's research shows that when controlling for academic backgrounds, the racial gaps in dropout rates disappear. This challenges the notion that systemic racism is the cause of lower persistence rates among certain racial groups. It highlights the importance of focusing on academic preparedness and providing equal educational opportunities for all students, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Additionally, it suggests that instead of relying solely on affirmative action policies, efforts should be made to improve academic support and resources to help students succeed in their chosen fields. Discrimination against high-achieving Asian students is also concerning and should be addressed. Ultimately, the goal should be to foster a fair and inclusive education system that values all forms of excellence.

    Addressing the complexity of diversity and affirmative action in universities

    The issue of diversity and affirmative action in universities is a complex and challenging problem. While some argue that purely objective evaluation systems would lead to a disproportionate number of certain racial and ethnic groups, others argue that disadvantaged groups should not be further disadvantaged. The question arises of how to address the underlying inequities in education and ensure equal opportunities for all students. The data suggests that focusing on improving K-12 education, such as through effective charter schools, may be a starting point. Additionally, the story of Roland Friar, a prominent black economist who came from nothing and showed progress in closing the achievement gap, highlights the importance of recognizing and supporting individuals who demonstrate potential and success.

    Addressing Systemic Problems: Complex Challenges and Potential Solutions

    The issue of addressing systemic problems that hinder educational attainment and overall life success is complex and challenging. One contributing factor to psychopathology and antisocial behavior is fatherlessness and unstable families. However, attempting to remediate these issues at an early age can be invasive and difficult without being accused of victim-blaming. Furthermore, there are significant disparities in early literacy exposure and skills based on socioeconomic status, with children from literate homes having a clear advantage. Many underprivileged parents genuinely want their children to succeed academically but lack the knowledge and resources to provide the necessary nonverbal precursors to literacy. This highlights the importance of finding ways to help without resorting to a "white savior" mentality or blaming the victims. Additionally, building trust and representation, such as having more black doctors, can be crucial for ensuring better healthcare outcomes and patient compliance. The complexity of addressing these systemic problems requires thoughtful and comprehensive approaches.

    Potential limitations of the Head Start program and the challenges of cognitive retraining

    The Head Start program did not have a lasting cognitive advantage for its participants. Despite the initial success in grades one to three, by grade six, the other students had caught up, and the cognitive advantage disappeared. However, Head Start did have positive effects in other areas, such as increased graduation rates and decreased criminal activity, particularly for children in toxic environments. The program's focus on cognitive retraining may not have been optimally designed, as it also served as an employment program and teaching young children is challenging. The Supreme Court's decision on race in university admissions aims to eliminate discrimination, but there are concerns about potential abuse of the loophole allowing discussions of experiences.

    The value of standardized tests in university admissions and the importance of addressing their flaws.

    Standardized tests like the SAT can act as an equalizer in university admissions. Despite their flaws, these tests can accurately predict general cognitive ability and potential for academic success. They provide an objective measure that allows students from disadvantaged backgrounds to compete with those from more privileged schools. Removing these tests from the admissions process could result in the loss of valuable data that could help address biases or improve the tests themselves. Instead of discarding the tests, efforts should be made to correct any potential biases within them. By focusing on objective, race and ethnicity-blind measures, universities can create a fairer admissions process that incentivizes all students to improve their performance.

    Responding with Love and Understanding

    Peter Arcidiacono's experience has taught him the power of responding to criticism with love and understanding, rather than hostility. He believes in giving people the benefit of the doubt and explaining his true intentions when faced with misinterpretation. This approach may not always be easy, and he acknowledges that horrible things could still happen to him. However, he feels that responding with love does not compromise on the truth. Arcidiacono strives to meet others where they are, treating them well in his interpersonal relationships. This mindset has helped him navigate difficult situations, and he has even found that he has received zero hate mail since a Supreme Court decision.

    The Complexity of Racial Affirmative Action in University Admissions

    The issue of racial affirmative action and discrimination in university admissions is complex and multifaceted. Peter Arcidiacono, in his discussions with Jordan Peterson, emphasizes that racial affirmative action alone did not benefit him, but rather his athletic prowess as a Duke basketball player. He argues that discrimination against certain groups, such as Asian Americans, occurs through legacy and recruited athlete processes. The models used to analyze admissions decisions were criticized for their lack of accuracy, with a pseudo R-squared measure being deemed nonsensical. The outcome of these cases, according to Arcidiacono, may have been influenced by the political leanings of the judges. Arcidiacono acknowledges the need to be cautious and minimize bias in his research and testimony due to potential consequences.

    Political Bias in Social Sciences and Implications for Research Credibility

    There is a political tilt in the social sciences, including economics, towards the left. This means that publishing a paper with conservative implications in a peer-reviewed journal is more likely to be robust and credible, as any reasons to undermine it will become apparent. An example of this is seen in the contrasting reception of two papers by the same commentator, one on Asian American discrimination and the other on legacy and athlete preferences. The Harvard admissions case highlighted how the university's own research team found evidence of discrimination against Asian Americans while also giving a boost to low-income students. The inconsistency in interpreting results based on personal preferences raises questions about the fairness of the admissions process. Moving forward, universities may need to reconsider their selection processes, potentially relying more on objective tests rather than subjective factors.

    The Significance of Percentile Scoring and Differentiating Highly Intelligent Individuals

    There is a significant difference between scoring in the 95th percentile and the 99th percentile on tests like the SAT. Scoring at the 95th percentile means being the smartest person in a room of 20 people, while scoring at the 99th percentile means being the smartest person in a room of 100 people. This difference continues to be relevant as you move up the scale. Therefore, it is important to have more demanding tests at the top level to differentiate among highly intelligent individuals. This applies not only to universities but also to businesses, as selecting top performers can have a huge economic advantage. Additionally, focusing on merit rather than diverse characteristics is crucial in ensuring the best candidates are chosen for positions. However, limited exceptions can be made for diversity that brings unique perspectives and expands research opportunities.

    Rethinking Merit and Race in University Admissions

    The measure of merit should not be solely based on race or ethnicity. Jordan Peterson and Peter Arcidiacono discuss how having unique insights into a certain community should not automatically grant someone merit. It is important to recognize that individual differences within any ethnic or racial group are much larger than the differences between groups. This means that there is a greater variation of skills and abilities within a specific group, making race a poor indicator of merit. Instead, universities should focus on rigorous objective testing models to determine a candidate's probability of success. This would allow qualified students to make informed decisions and choose universities that offer them the best chance of success. Additionally, alternative approaches, such as privately-funded scholarships, could help address the issue of racial preferences without government involvement. Overall, the key is to promote fairness and equal opportunity based on individual merit rather than race alone.

    The Pros and Cons of Affirmative Action: Increasing Diversity but Raising Questions

    Affirmative Action has increased the representation of minority students at top schools and has led to more diversity in positions of power, such as the Supreme Court. However, it also raises the question of whether less qualified individuals are being given opportunities they are not fully prepared for, which can be detrimental to both them and those who are truly qualified. The additional doubt and scrutiny faced by those who are genuinely competent is a brutal consequence of this policy. It is important to consider the potential negative effects of policies like Affirmative Action and have an honest discussion about the trade-offs involved.

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