Category Archives: Affirmative Action

Supreme Court Upholds Michigan Affirmative Action Ban


In a 6-to-2 decision in Shuette v. BAMN, the Supreme Court upheld a new provision in the Michigan Constitution that bars state agencies from using racial preferences (i.e., affirmative action) when making state decisions, including colleges admissions at schools such as the University of Michigan.

The justices split between several opinions, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the lead opinion for three justices. In doing so, a majority of the Court narrowed the reach of two racial preference cases from 1969 and 1982 that have long been criticized by conservative legal scholars.

Many knew and did nothing. Why?

City ignored pleas to ax ‘lunatic’ principal

They knew.

Teachers begged city officials to investigate “School of No” Principal Marcella Sills soon after she started in 2005 — citing her 140108_sills_jcrice_98.jpgconstant tardiness, harassment of staff and extravagant spending on parties while the school lacked books, pencils and paper.

“Get rid of her before it’s too late,” a 2007 letter urged District 27 Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bey, who oversees Queens principals.

Letters describe Sills as a tyrant and “rude lunatic administrator” who spurred an exodus of excellent teachers and failed to provide basic student supplies and services while handsomely furnishing her own office and squandering funds on catering and decorations.

Now the question is – Why? Because she’s black? Or what does she have on leadership, which could be so volatile that it elicits silence from authorities? Even after the family of a girl filed a $2 million dollar negligence suit against her, the sound of crickets was heard all the way to Bloomberg’s office. Amazing in its scope of blatant ignorance of her performance.

No books, no clue at city’s worst school

And they do nothing, why??

The 234 kids get no gym or art classes. Instead, they watch movies every day.

“The kids have seen more movies than Siskel and Ebert,” a source said.

And the principal — Marcella Sills, who joined PS 106 nine years ago — is a frequent no-show, sources say.

Sills did not come to school last Monday. On Tuesday, she showed up at 3:30 p.m.140108_sills_jcrice_98.jpg

On Wednesday, The Post found her at home in Westbury, LI, all day before emerging at 2:50 p.m. — school dismissal time. Wearing a fur coat, she took her BMW for a spin.

She showed up at school Thursday, but not Friday.

When Sills, 48, does go to work, it’s rarely before 11 a.m. — and often hours later, say sources familiar with her schedule.

“She strolls in whenever she wants,” one said.

The school hasn’t had a payroll secretary in years.

A Department of Education spokesman said Sills was required to report her absences and tardiness to District 27 Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bey but would not say whether Sills did so last week.

Justices wrestle with affirmative action ban


The Supreme Court ventured into the fractious debate over affirmative action Tuesday, hearing a challenge to a statewide ban Michigan voters imposed in 2006 on consideration of race or gender in public education, employment or contracting.

The fate of the measure appeared to be in the hands of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who suggested at the outset of the argument that the Michigan constitutional amendment was clearly invalid under a three-decade-old Supreme Court precedent.

“I have difficulty distinguishing” between Michigan’s ban and a Washington state ban on racial busing that the court struck down in 1982, Kennedy said.

However, later in the afternoon, Kennedy seemed troubled by the implications of the rule the court adopted in that case and appeared concerned that it swept so broadly as to be unwise or unworkable.A ruling upholding the Michigan constitutional amendment is unlikely to end all affirmative action programs, but it could lay out a road map for those looking to end those programs in individual states.

Major universities and civil rights groups have supported the legal battle against the Michigan measure, approved by voters in 2006, 58 percent to 32 percent.

Measures of Segregation


Court decisions dating to the 1950s theoretically ended racial segregation of higher education in the United States. But data to be presented today at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association show that the pace of desegregation has slowed over time. And in a finding that could be controversial, the study finds that states that ban the consideration of race in admissions may see the pace of desegregation accelerate.

The study is by Peter L. Hinrichs, an assistant professor of public policy at Georgetown University. He focuses on black and white students, not those in other racial and ethnic groups, and he examines “exposure” and “dissimilarity” (defined below) of black and white students as two measures of desegregation. Hinrichs uses federal data from every college, filed since the era in which desegregation started. He argues that these measures illustrate the extent to which colleges are truly desegregated, which may not be reflected simply by increases or decreases in black student enrollments (which can be concentrated at certain institutions).

Is the Ivy League Fair to Asian Americans?


Again, the implication here seems to be that while Asian-American applicants as a group excel at tests, an important factor in admissions, their talents, skills, and other interests tend to be significantly inferior to students of other races, and having them around isn’t as enriching for other students. Given what you know about the vagaries of college admissions, do you think that’s a rigorously reached conclusion, however uncomfortable, or an echo of the prejudicial stereotypes of Asian Americans that are pervasive in society? If the former, you have more faith in the Ivy League than me.

“Without practices like affirmative action,” Bugarin continues, “admissions officers are constrained to select only those who demonstrate a very narrow set of skills, which is not necessarily what our nation and economy need.” Again, is there any reason to think that Asian Americans are more “narrow” in their skills than folks from other groups? And even if it were so, wouldn’t it emerge from an admissions regime that took all sorts of things into consideration, but explicitly did not factor an applicant’s race into the process?

Obama creating African-American education office

Is he doing the same for Latinos, Asians and Caucasians?

President Barack Obama is creating a new office to bolster education of African-American students.

The White House says the office will coordinate the work of communities and federal agencies to ensure that African-American youngsters are better prepared for high school, college and career.

Obama is announcing his election-year initiative Wednesday night in a speech to the civil rights group the National Urban League as he seeks to rally black voters. Aides say his executive order, to be signed Thursday, will set a goal of producing “a more effective continuum” of programs for African-American students.

Is Meritocracy A Sham?


I review books on the United States for Foreign Affairs; that means every couple of months a huge box of books arrives at the stately Mead manor and I go through piles of books trying to decide which ones to read for review. It’s a lot of work for not much product; the “capsule” reviews are about 200 words each. That’s much the same length as the book reports I used to write for Mrs. West back in the third grade; if I’d known how important this literary form was going to be to my future career, I might have tried harder back then.

There are times when this seems like an intolerable burden; between blogging, teaching, keeping up with the news and reading books for review, I don’t have as much time for free reading as I’d like. There are all kinds of books on 17th century French and Spanish history piling up on my iPad these days — full of insights and juicy ideas that would deepen my understanding of early modern history and generally refresh my soul, but I don’t know when I’ll get to them. (And that’s saying nothing about the literary and genre fiction I’d like to read this summer. More Hilary Mantel, more Neal Stephenson, and more Allen Furst, please.)

One of the books I’ve been reading for review is Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes. I’ll save the review for Foreign Affairs, but for Via Meadia readers, this is an interesting book because it represents an effort by a talented and thoughtful left thinker to grapple with the nature of contemporary American populism.  Hayes (who I’ve never met, but would like to) is an interesting guy and his perspective a few steps to the left of the center-left technocratic consensus of the mainstream media allows him to make some interesting observations about where things stand in the United States today.

I get the impression he’s still in the group that thinks we could preserve the blue social model if we just willed hard enough; that was my view for maybe 15 or even 20 years after I first started writing about the unraveling of post-war American liberalism and what I now call the blue social model back in the 1980s. The old system worked so well for so many people that it seemed to a great many people who cared about progress and democracy that we just needed to keep tweaking this model to approach an almost ideal society through a smooth and gradual process of incremental social change.

The failure of that social democratic future to materialize, and the set of changes which have made capitalist society much more competitive and riskier pose a huge set of challenges that the left is still trying to master.  Intellectually it is looking for a theory and programatically it is looking for a workable political program. So far in my view there is no real sign of progress on this front; rather than trying to resuscitate a political vision whose economic, historic and moral foundations are irretrievably lost, the left (like everybody else) has to come to take on a much more difficult task. We all need to understand how the new global information economy works, and think our way through to some kind of understanding of what kind of free, just and sustainable social organization can be raised on these still-emerging and still poorly understood foundations. That has to happen, in my view, before either the left or the right can offer meaningful political ideas about how the new society and new world should be governed.

But I’m getting away from Twilight of the Elites. What Hayes does here that is so useful and valuable is that he brings some good old fashioned left skepticism to the Mcnamara-Obama vision of a technocratic, meritocratic society run by the “best and the brightest.” What we loosely call American liberalism today is made up of several quite distinct strands; two of the most important are social populism and technocratic progressivism.

The social populism side of the left comes out of the agrarian and labor protests of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This was a mix of traditional American individualism and populism with a sense that the “little people” had to band together to bring down the big beasts of the capitalist jungle: the Carnegies, the Morgans, the Rockefellers and so on. The monopolists and the big capitalists were such a danger to the freedom, dignity and economic well being of ordinary Americans that the little guys were going to have to band together and act through politics before the trusts and the corporate elites crushed the life out of the American dream.

The technocratic progressives were a very different group of people, culturally and socially. They were (and are) upper middle class and upper class reformers: good government types. They saw their role as to curb the excesses of both the big beasts in the capitalist jungle and the unwashed masses of the populist movements. People like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (who hated each other on a personal level but whose social visions had much in common) thought that most of society’s problems were technical rather than ideological. Good administration and effective, non-political management by well educated technocrats could solve society’s most important social and economic problems by finding a middle way between the angry left and the greedy kingpins of capitalism.

There was always a tension here. The technocrats sold themselves to the populists as the means through which the populist dreams could be achieved, but the society the technocrats wanted — and want — was very different from the one populists thought they were building. For the populists, equality was the point. They wanted an America in which ordinary people ran their own lives in their own way — as much as this was possible in a modern industrial society with all its complex dependencies.

But the technocrats were — and are — committed to the concept of rule by the best and the brightest. This is not a temporary stage on the road to a higher and ultimately more equal stage of society to gentry liberals. It is a natural division of power and responsibility based on innate differences in human beings. Gentry liberals believe that people who score high on SATs, do well in college, and get through the PhD process are, well, smarter than people who don’t do those things and that society will be better off if the dumb people get out of the way and let the smart ones make the important decisions. (And the unimportant ones too — like how big a Slurpee should be.)

This is, sort of, what Thomas Jefferson meant by a natural aristocracy. The meritocratic social ideal is that there should be an open competition to determine who is best. There should be good schools that ensure that the children of non-elite families get real educational opportunity. Alumni privilege and other extraneous factors should not affect admissions decisions at the best schools. From this process will emerge the cadre of talented, public spirited and able leaders who, to put it in the blunt, nasty way that liberal technocrats think is horribly tactless but actually true, can best make the decisions that the average person is too stupid to understand.

The “open meritocracy” paradigm is very powerful in America today and, to some degree, we couldn’t live without it. William F. Buckley (and I) might rather be governed by names selected at random from the phone book than by the Harvard faculty, but nobody wants their airplane piloted or their kidney operation performed on that basis.

But, and this is what Hayes is pointing out, there are a couple of problems with meritocracy in practice. The first is, evidently, that it doesn’t always work as advertised. The “best and the brightest” organized the financial market reforms of the Clinton years that led to the Bush bubbles and the Obama doldrums, and neither the wars in Vietnam by the Kennedy era Great Meritocrats nor the Bush and Obama era wars were triumphs of social engineering.

The second problem is that in the end, meritocracy doesn’t promote democracy. The meritocrats may have won their positions through an open competition and their kids (with some advantages to be sure) are still going to have to struggle to make it into top colleges and so on, but once they win — they’re an elite. And their perceptions about how hard they competed and how fair the competition was makes them more smug and more entitled than the old elites ever were.

The new elites don’t feel guilty about their power; they didn’t inherit it. They earned it. They are smarter than everybody else and they deserve to rule — and in their own minds at least, they also deserve the perks that power brings. Money, fame, access: bring it on.

Wealth and entitlement corrupts the meritocratic elite. Members of this elite can no longer see society easily from the perspective of ordinary people and so their decisions increasingly reflect their own interests rather than those of the people they are supposed to represent. They lose the ability and perhaps also the will to be impartial arbiters between the masses and power; they identify with power and start to use their own influence to tilt the system farther and farther away from the populists and toward the old power centers.

I’m not of course doing justice to Hayes’ book here; if I could it would have been a blog post not a book. But this critique of the meritocratic ideal from the left speaks also to the populism of the right; indeed, while Hayes loathes what he understands of the ideology and political program of the Tea Party as much as any left intellectual in America, he has far more emotional sympathy for its hatred of the überclass than many writers on his side of the spectrum.

There’s much to be said about this subject, and regular readers of these essays will see many ways in which Hayes and I worry about some of the same things, if often from a different point of view. But rather than get into all that today, there’s another point I’d like to make. This has to do with another dimension of today’s American meritocracy that I think is deeply problematic: atheism.

Now before all the atheists out there ignite a new flame war in the comments pages, let me make some points. I’m not about to argue that all religious people are nicer or better than all atheists. And there are many atheists who avoid some or all of the pitfalls I’m about to explore. I am not writing this as a criticism of particular individuals; there are lots of atheistic meritocrats in America today who I consider friends and for whose achievements and character I have both admiration and respect. And before the foreign readers go incandescent in gibbering rage, let me also point out that  I’m talking much more about atheism in an American context than in a European one. The dynamic Whiggish optimism that is such a deep element of American culture needs the kind of balance that, classically, comes from a theologically grounded sense both of Original Sin and of God’s transcendence of all human history and thought.

But caveats and cautions aside,  there are certain consequences of success in a meritocracy that put people, and especially American people, without a strong religious faith at great risk, and I think we can see today in American life some of the consequences that come when a powerful but to some degree godless social elite lacks the spiritual resources and vocabulary that would better equip it for its role.

The first problem is arrogance. A practicing and committed as opposed to a theoretical or a birth Christian (and I talk about Christians rather than Jews, Muslims or Hindus or other people because this is what I know best, not because I’m trying to say that only Christians derive these kinds of benefits from their faith) who succeeds in a meritocratic structure has all kinds of inner convictions and reflections that can keep his or her arrogance within limits. This doesn’t always work; the case of Woodrow Wilson is one that we should all study.

For a Christian, the belief in the equal value of all people in God’s eyes is a bedrock belief. Every human being is created directly by God; every human soul is beloved by God. Human beings are not all alike, and we have different gifts and different abilities. But each of us was created to be exactly who and what we are by the Author of the Universe, and we believe that God loves and values the child with Downs’ syndrome as much as he loves and values the Nobel-prize winning economist.

That’s right. God thinks Trig Palin is just as marvelous and wonderful and adorable as Paul Krugman. The homeless old guy with the shakes down by the subway is as important to God’s vision for the world as the Rhodes Scholar passing him by.

For the Christian, what matters about you isn’t, in the last analysis, your gifts or your talents. God uses our gifts, but he doesn’t need them. He can raise up a million children smarter than you and faster than you and more ambitious than you, should he so choose. He’s made you an intellect, an artist, an entrepreneur because his love wants you to join him in co-creating the world, not because the world wouldn’t be rich and beautiful (and efficiently governed) without you.

More, God’s knowledge, his “talents” are so much infinitely greater than your own that the intellectual distance between a Newton and a retarded child is, quite seriously, insignificant in his eyes. St. Thomas Aquinas, a great Catholic philosopher and theologian, widely considered to be one of the greatest intellects who ever lived, said that in the light of God’s presence, everything he had ever written was like so much straw. And that’s about right: God doesn’t think any of us are particularly smart, though he does, I suspect, sometimes think we’re cute when we start spouting off.

The kind of arrogance, vanity and inflamed self-esteem that flatters the imagination and corrupts the spirit of the successful meritocrat needs to be checked and humbled. Being constantly reminded on the one hand of the infinite gap between ones own limited talents and vision and the perspective of Almighty God, and on the other of the radical equality with which God judges and loves the human race is a healthy counterweight to the flattery of the world and the smugness that comes with success.

But there’s more. Serious Christians have to struggle continually against the temptation to view “merit” uncritically. To begin with, any gifts that you have are just that — gifts. Your ability to score 800 on the math section of the SAT is something for which you can personally take no credit whatever. It’s like a pretty face or perfect pitch: it’s very nice to have, but it’s God’s sovereign choice, not your sublime inner nature, that is responsible for this. And of course, he doesn’t give his gifts without a purpose.

And guess what: the reason God made you smart wasn’t to make you rich and to make you special and to allow you to swank around in the White House or at Davos. He made you smart so that you could serve — and the people he wants you to serve are exactly all those people you feel so arrogantly superior to. At the end of the day, they aren’t going to be judged on how much they deferred to you, respected you, and handed over to you all those rewards you felt you deserved. God isn’t particularly interested in what the Paul Krugmans of this world think though he wants us all to do our best to get things right; he’s interested in how much Paul Krugman and the rest of us loved and sought to serve one another.

You are going to be judged on how much you did for the “ordinary folks.”  Were those Downs’ syndrome kids any better off because of the way you used your mathematical and reasoning gifts? Were the poor better fed and better housed because of the use you made of the talents God trusted to your care? Did you use your power and the freedom that came with it to help others live freer and more dignified lives, or did you parade your superiority around like a pompous and egotistical ass, oppressing and alienating the world when you should have been enlightening it?

And the serious Christian meritocrat is going to spend a lifetime being haunted by the warnings of Jesus. God actually judges the gifted and the successful by a tougher standard than he uses with the “ordinary” and the poor. The popular pundit on the television talk show needs to go home and tremble on his knees when he or she reflects on the judgment that is in store. The corporate CEO needs to lie awake at night wondering whether his business dealings have been fair; God will demand an accounting for the wages he offered to his janitors and his employees overseas. As you sit at the five star restaurant with the celebrity chef, enjoying a convivial dinner with congenial, intelligent people, you need to be haunted by the specter of the homeless outside on the street; God not only cares as much about what they eat as he cares about your dinner — he is going to ask you one fine day just what you did to make sure they were served.

Are you speaking the conventional wisdom to applause and esteem? Then know that God warns you of the judgment to come: the dreadful words of the Gospel of Luke (chapter 6, verses 24-26) must always echo in your ears:

But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full ! for ye shall hunger . Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep . Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.

Finally, the Christian meritocrat must live in the light of the doctrine of Original Sin. Often seen as some dark, dismal dogma of the bigoted and the misanthropic, this idea may be the single most necessary piece of mental equipment a successful person needs to lead a genuinely constructive life in America today.

Original Sin is the idea that human beings, despite all their talents and capacities, are deeply and hopelessly flawed. Like water flows downhill, we are constantly turning toward our own selfish goals. We are vain, jealous, petty, self-seeking. Our judgement twists away from what’s right to what benefits us and our side. We can’t keep our fingers off the scales.

It’s not just our moral choices that go awry. Our thinking isn’t straight. What we think is logic is often self interest. When our interests and our passions are engaged, we lose all mental clarity just when we need it most.

At the collective level, this explains why meritocracy cannot in itself be an answer to the political problems of the human race. There are no Platonic philosopher kings, no unmoved movers, who will judge all things and all men clear and true. And the problem isn’t simply our ignorance and partial knowledge; it’s the flaw in our natures that means that our intellects are often the least dependable when we need them most.

At the individual level, for the successful American who has gone through the right schools, won the merit badges and made it through to a position of power, influence and either affluence or great wealth, a lively sense of original sin helps protect you from the evils and temptations to which you exposed.

First, you must acknowledge and remember your own sin. Original sin is not just an abstraction; every human being has done sad and shameful things. We all have weak and shaky bits of our character. We all fall short of what we could have done and should have done; we have all wasted and misused the gifts intrusted to us. A serious Christian life keeps these truths before you as in daily prayer and meditation you weigh your thoughts and deeds by God’s standard and tremble at what you see.

Success makes you smug and self satisfied, and this makes you less fit for any useful purpose in the world. Christians today understand that the Pharisees as depicted in the New Testament do not reflect the insight and wisdom of the Jewish religious tradition that developed from the Biblical era, but without projecting this picture onto our Jewish friends and associates, the picture of the Biblical Pharisee is one to keep before us always. Legends of righteousness in their own minds, revered by the ignorant multitude, teachers of the law who applied intellectual discipline to difficult social and moral questions: what is the Pharisee but the meritocrat of an earlier day?

Think of the one who stood in the synagogue to pray, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11) Is this not a picture of the smug meritocrat who drives a Prius, eats locally sourced organic foods, has impeccably progressive views, is effortlessly brilliant in the practice of a complex profession and for every occasion knows the right attitude to take and the right thing to say?

From the standpoint of the Gospels. much of Jesus’ public career was a struggle against the meritocratic social and intellectual elites of his day. Yet his attitude wasn’t simple demagogic populism. Over and over again he speaks of his respect for the knowledge that they have, but insists repeatedly that while it is indispensable, it is also worthless unless your heart is right. And you can’t make your heart right by study or achievement. For your heart to be right, you must be born again. You must look outside yourself, your education, your offices and your honors. Your “merit” on its own doesn’t stand. Only the merit of another can give life and meaning to who you are and what you do.

The old gospel song “Denomination Blues” says it best, perhaps: “You can go to your college, you can go to your school/But if you ain’t got Jesus you’re an educated fool.”

There are crackpots and know nothings who sing that song meaning that nobody should go to school and college. “Jesus” is all you need. And there are those who think that the right school and the right college will teach you all you need to know. But there are a great many people running around today who studied for years in top colleges and top schools without ever learning what it’s all about. In many cases, nobody ever even offered to teach them.

In any case, a serious Christian commitment serves as a moral and psychological anchor for members of an elite. Your life circumstances may be different from those of hoi polloi, you may have power and freedom that most people don’t, but if you are a serious Christian wrestling daily with your inadequacies before God and your need for God’s grace, you are living an inner life that is very similar to the lives of millions of your fellow citizens. The spiritual life is the ultimate democracy: every human being approaches God on the same terms. A Nobel economic laureate or a Fortune 500 CEO who spends time on his or her knees in honest prayer and honest spiritual struggle every day is keeping it green; for those few minutes that person isn’t a successful meritocrat whose meteoric career streaks across the sky.

Chris Hayes is not wrong that American meritocracy as it exists today is both a symptom and a cause of a society losing its footing and in danger of a real fall. And I do not say that a “Christian” or theistic meritocracy would work where a secular one must fail. (We had a Christian meritocracy in Puritan New England. The best, brightest and godliest hanged Quakers and burned witches.) And I repeat what I wrote earlier, to avoid misunderstanding: Christianity is not the only religious or other source of the kind of moral insight and spiritual depth that can mitigate the problems of a meritocratic society. It is the one I understand best and the one that, historically, has played the most important role in American life. I leave to others the task of describing other resources and traditions by which other Americans whose talents have brought them into important and powerful positions in our society can be guided and checked.

But with those appropriate reservations appropriately taken, I do say that the fading of serious Christian commitment in the sleek and successful ranks of America’s meritocracy plays a significant and damaging role in our national life. The renewal of Christian commitment among a significant sector of America’s elite is, I think, a necessary condition of continued American progress and success.  If we get this, we will still need social reforms and social change — much of it, I suspect, not what Hayes wants, but that is another story. But if we don’t get that kind of renewal and commitment, no program of reform, however wisely engineered, can keep our liberty, our prosperity and our democracy safe, much less transform them into something richer, deeper, greater and more widely and fairly shared than anything we have yet seen.

Metro State College of Denver OKs tuition cut for illegal immigrants


As far as Sarahi Hernandez is concerned, the only difference between her and every other student at Metropolitan State College of Denver is nine digits.

“A Social Security number — that’s it,” Hernandez said, shortly after Metro State’s board of trustees voted 7-1 Thursday to pass a new tuition rate for illegal-immigrant students like her.

A sophomore from Denver who carries a 3.8 grade-point average, Hernandez said students like her deserve affordable tuition. The new rate, which will go into effect this fall, is $3,358 per semester, which is higher than in-state students, who pay $2,152, and lower than out-of-staters, who pay $7,992.

“We all deserve the chance at a higher education and to become productive members and give back to our community,” she said.

Three criteria must be met to qualify for the new category of tuition. A student must:

• Have attended a Colorado high school for the past three years.

• Have graduated from a Colorado high school or gotten a general equivalency diploma in the state.

• Provide proof they are in good legal standing, other than their undocumented status, and that they plan to seek lawful status when eligible.

Trustee Jack Pogge, the only member of the board to vote against the plan, wondered whether the benefit derived by Metro State from implementing the new rate was great enough, particularly in light of the failure of the state legislature to pass the ASSET bill.

“It’s not our position to do this,” Pogge said.

The ASSET bill would have provided a lower tuition rate for illegal-immigrant students across the state with a GED or diploma from a Colorado high school who could also prove they had been a resident of the state for three years.

That measure had failed to pass the legislature on five previous occasions.

At least two Republican state legislators spoke out publicly this week against the move by Metro State. Rep. Cheri Gerou, a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, said the school may be disregarding the will of the legislature.

But state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, also a member of the JBC, joined Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero and almost 20 other people Thursday in public comment supporting the new rate. Only one person spoke in opposition.

Steadman pledged that he had “no intention of seeing anyone retaliate” in the legislature.

“Is Metro going around the actions of the legislature? Probably. But it’s something we enabled them to do,” he said.

In 2010, legislation was passed that gave state colleges and universities broad discretion in coming up with ways to overcome what Steadman called “a horrible job” by the state of providing funding. Funding from the state for higher education has declined by $216 million, or 31 percent, over the past three years.

Based on the state mandate, the colleges banded together and made a unified funding request to the JBC this year, with a breakdown of what each school system would be allocated.

The legislature also has allowed institutions to enact moves such as setting their own tuition rates or creating opportunities to find revenue to help defray their costs.

Metro State president Stephen Jordan said about 300 illegal-immigrant students could end up at his school this fall paying the new tuition rate. Estimates are that another 120 such students are already enrolled in the school.

School officials estimate those students could generate about $884,000 in revenue next fall and more than $2 million in five years.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find any institution who wouldn’t be happy to bring in a new population and increase enrollment by 300 students,” Jordan said.

How Academics Concocted a New ‘Middle Class’


To hear politicians tell it, the college diploma is the guaranteed gateway to middle-class life, so everybody should probably go to college. The argument seems self-evident–over a lifetime, college graduates far out-earn those without a degree ($2.1 million, supposedly), so go to college, live the American Dream. Unfortunately, as many recent college graduates have discovered, diplomas no longer guarantee success. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, for example, reported that in 1992 some 119,000 waiters and waitresses had college degrees. But by 2008 this figure had soared to 318,000. The study also found similar increases of under-employment in other low-level occupations. In 2010 the unemployment rate for college graduates was the highest since 1970.

Why does this “attend college” mania flourish despite ever more graduates struggling to find jobs worthy of a college degree? Many factors are involved, but one deserves special mention, namely how modern social science altered the definition of “middle class” so just getting the degree, it was claimed, secured the American Dream. And with this new definition in place, a government committed to economic improvement began pushing as many young people as possible into college. What an uncomplicated solution to generating wealth–just award scholarships, build more colleges, hire more faculty, and just watch as the American Dream comes to everyone.

To understand this transformation, begin by recognizing that there is no single, universally accepted definition of “middle class” other than the obvious one of a class between upper and lower. But, let me offer one definition, albeit a hazy one, that prevailed in the 1950s (and earlier) when I first encountered “middle class.”

This older understanding rested on psychological traits, and these were manifested in certain outward behaviors. The core of being middle class was a strong work ethic, self-discipline, a willingness to defer gratification, an aversion for flashy consumption, and an embrace of what might be called “respectability,” i.e., sobriety, a morality that stressed honesty, a solid family life, being law-abiding, and valuing education (though not necessarily being “intellectual”). These inner dispositions were associated with speaking clear, grammatical English, exhibiting decent table manners, never using profanity in public (and almost none in private, too), being “clean cut” in appearances, and always acting politely. Middle class members also abhorred the thought of taking government handouts. If you want to see such people in the flesh, watch popular TV programs of the 1950s: Ozzie and Harriet, the Stu Erwin Show, even I Love Lucy. A bit complicated for a definition, for sure, but you knew it when you saw it.

Yes, these “square” traits were associated with material well-being but this prosperity was a result of middle class values, not its defining elements. Nobody believed that the causal flow was reversible–home ownership could inculcate middle-class values. In principle it was possible to be lower class despite owning middle-class doodads. A well-paid entertainer may live well but could still be considered white trash if he dressed in tattered clothing, beat his wife, openly philandered, cursed and spit in public, and spent a dime for every nickel earned. By contrast, families could sustain middle-class status by sticking to these outward respectable behaviors even if their incomes certified them as “poor.” To repeat: outside of inherited money, being middle class in the psychological sense brought material success. Home ownership, for example, was only the visible sign of thrift, sobriety, and a stable marriage among multiple other conventional virtues.

Beginning in the 1960s, university-based social science research began altering this understanding. To condense a long story, empirically-based quantitative social science research needed a simple, clear-cut measure of “middle class,” and utilizing multiple, often nebulous psychological inclinations like delayed gratification was just impractical.

“Middle class” merely became a mid-point on some Socio-Economic Status (SES for short) Scale and was made concrete by boiling it down to income or education levels. Researchers (including myself) would now take these data and divide it into upper, middle, and lower class categories. More detailed measures might include occupational status. But, no matter how sliced and diced, the underlying psychology of being middle class, e.g., a strong work ethic, probity, and all the rest, was replaced by one or two easy-to-measure traits that were separate from any underlying dispositions. It was just assumed, for example, that anyone who had a college diploma also had the fortitude to get it.

With passing decades this simplified university-manufactured definition came to dominate. To appreciate the depth of this shift, imagine if a presidential candidate in 2012 announced that his anti-poverty program entailed teaching the poor old-fashioned morality, a passion for work, self-reliance, restraining one’s consumption, and saving for future purchases versus credit-card debt. That is, traditional (pre-1960s) middle-class values. He would be vilified, accused of imposing “white” values, and clobbered by a rival who instead promised instant cheap college loans as the instant pathway to the American Dream (see here).

It gets worse. Conflating outward appearance with underlying traits is typical of poorly educated Third World nations and, sad to say, America is increasingly drifting in that direction. In these societies, possessing a fancy paper saying “diploma” becomes irrefutable proof of being “educated.” “Education” may also be acquired by dressing as an educated person–glasses, a three-piece suit, a briefcase, a fountain pen and similar theatrical props. Translated into current American society, one becomes “middle class” by owning a college diploma even if the acquired learning is less than what was once gained in high school and acquiring the degree required a small army of helpers.

Today’s policies trying to build a “middle class,” absent promoting the core psychology, makes failure inevitable though a financial windfall for those supplying ersatz diplomas. Employers will quickly grasp that the “college graduates” they interview are imposters with little self-discipline who lack the tenacity for tough tasks. If forced to hire them by some Department of Justice fatwa, the employer will relocate or substitute a machine rather than deal with an employee unable to show up in time. In other words, with no effort to inculcate old-fashioned middle class values, “middle class” status is being counterfeited and the shoddiness is quickly discovered by employers.

An important message about university research lies here. What transpires in obscure corners of the academy may eventually matter, so pay attention. The re-definition of middle class is hardly unique. Books could be written about how professors labored to show that objective truth is a fiction imposed by “the patriarchy” or that any statistical disparity in wealth automatically proves discrimination. How about the wonders of diversity to make America strong? All university concocted. The social sciences are not the hard sciences, but there is one parallel worth noting. As with scientists working in germ warfare laboratories, be very careful lest something toxic escape.


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