Misdiagonsis

This story caught my eye in the WSJ:

I recently resigned as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and an overseer of its law school to protest the shameful treatment of law professor Amy Wax. Her career-threatening offense was to state that in her experience with black students over 17 years at Penn, few had performed in the top half of their class. Penn Law’s dean, Ted Ruger, declared her in error but refused to provide evidence. For dissenting from politically correct orthodoxy, Mr. Ruger forbade Ms. Wax to teach her much-admired first-year course in civil procedure—for which the university gave her an award in 2015.

This oped is the only information I have about this particular incident.

Now I’m happy to believe that there is a lot of PC silliness at universities and that university administrators are craven etc. etc. etc.

In this instance, however, I have a lot of sympathy for the law dean. Even if what Amy Wax said was true. I don’t know the racial distribution of grades in her class – it’s not something I ever think about.

Here is the thing – universities provide credentialing services. By signalling that few black students perform well in her class she has undermined the credential her employer provides to the market. She has also condemned all the blacks students from her law school to the perception of mediocrity. If an employee in the private sector went around dissing their company product they would quickly get sacked.

Professor Wax’s problem isn’t that she dissented from politically correct orthodoxy but rather that she undermined the university business model and degraded the qualifications of its graduates.

Update: My good friend Jim Allan phoned to say there is more of a backstory to this story. Rafe has a fuller version here.

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36 Responses to Misdiagonsis

  1. vr

    Hey Sinc.

    Here are the interviews that got all the attraction response.
    interview 2

    This was the interview that set it off
    interview 1

  2. Egor

    There is only one question: is she speaking the Truth?
    If she is , f**k off.

  3. entropy

    yes, why is she even classifying kids on that basis? losing strategy all round.

  4. stackja

    USA universities have created a credibility crisis over many years. This could just be the latest.

  5. post

    It is the business model that has ruined universities.

    Amy Wax would not have encountered this problem in Science or Commerce at Melbourne Uni. Asians would rank in the top half, and the bottom half. The enrolment of others is insignificant.

  6. Back Burn

    Profit before truth / reputation before statistics.

    A materialist and a humanist walk into a bar….

  7. Roger

    Professor Wax’s problem isn’t that she dissented from politically correct orthodoxy but rather that she undermined the university business model and degraded the qualifications of its graduates.

    Yet I suspect that was not the Dean’s first thought in response.

  8. AussieMAGA

    Didn’t Stalin purge those who threatened his business model too?

    Not sure why you are trolling your readers, but a decent attempt!

  9. Percy Popinjay

    Pilloried for stating the bleeding obvious.

    declared her in error but refused to provide evidence

    Oh dear.

    in her experience with black students over 17 years at Penn, few had performed in the top half of their class

    If she’s any decent sort of academic – and so many of them are not then she would have been recalling her memories of the composition of the alumni at their graduation ceremony. She obviously noticed very few blacks succeeding each year in those graduating classes.

    This bullshit has to stop. I’m a believer in merit, not unfair treatment.

    Thomas Sowell has stated a few things about that.

  10. Shy Ted

    I know her sister Fanny.

  11. Percy Popinjay

    “When people get used to preferential treatment, equal treatment seems like discrimination.”

    Indeed.

  12. Roger

    “When people get used to preferential treatment, equal treatment seems like discrimination.”

    The great Thomas Sowell, let it be noted.

  13. Shy Ted

    Surely you mean MisdiaGonski. For the funding. Check yoru spleling Snic.

  14. Percy Popinjay

    I had noted it, Rog.

  15. MPH

    The Dean has potentially hurt black students – by reacting so strongly to the observation that black students are not performing as well as other races, he has precluded any discussion of why that might be and what might be done to rectify the situation, if rectification was seen as desirable. Much like the subject of Aboriginal child abuse in Australia.

  16. Viva

    If those students were there because of an affirmative action quota then the business model deserved to be dissed.

  17. pbw

    This makes no sense, Sinc. Blacks are, what, about 20% of the population. If they make up the same percentage os the student body, it’s because of “affirmative action,” action affirming the racism of low expectations. Amy Wax points out that her black students don’t do so well. That tells observers that the overall academic performance of the 80% of non-black students is being dragged down by the under-performing blacks. Observers will then rate the 80% more highly than the overall measures indicate. If this results, as is equally likely, in a perceived performance for the 80% that is higher than it would be without the 20%, bonza! Even if it goes the other way, the 80% will still benefit. That will attract more of the 80% students, with more fierce competition for the places, and a consequent overall raising of the academic level.
    The fly in this ointment is that 20% students may not want to apply, leaving their places to more and more dud students whose enrolments are supported by more and more frantic “affirmative actions.” Even so, the increased competition among the 80% enrolees should more than compensate for the affirmative lead in the saddlebags.
    What’s the problem?

  18. Pauly

    But Sinc, the customers of the university will have noticed that a long time ago. Employers know black students get preferential treatment, and are, on average, simply not as good as non black students. There are studies that show identical CVs one with a tupically black name and one with a typically white name, the white CV gets more call backs for an interview. Of course the study attributed this to racism, but its just as plausible that the customer know they’re getting conned. She can’t hurt the business model, because the customers .already know what she says is true.

  19. Tim Neilson

    Why has her statement “undermined the credential her employer provides to the market [or] …condemned all the blacks students from her law school to the perception of mediocrity“?

    Don’t prospective employers just look at the transcript of the individual applicant and thus see whether that applicant (“black, white, yellow or striped like a f***ing zebra” as the Brooklyn Dodgers coach famously said about selecting Jackie Robinson) has high grades or low grades? What employer ever said “well this applicant got straight firsts but he’s black and black students are usually mediocre so I won’t hire him”? [That’s a rhetorical question – see below.]

    And why should her statement undermine the university’s credential? What employer ever said “this student got good grades and interviewed well, but not many black students do well at that university so I won’t hire him”?

    Or, Sinc, are you tacitly admitting that what the furore is really about is that black students actually get awarded high grades in similar proportions to other students irrespective of their actual performance, and that Prof. Wax has blown the whistle on a tacit quota system?
    If so, then what’s the problem? Allan Bloom blew the whistle on that one in 1989 when he published “The Closing of the American Mind”.
    Do you really believe that people in the USA aren’t aware of the tacit quota system? Do you really think that any employer anywhere has ever thought “well, U Penn hasn’t publicly admitted to scaling up the grades of its black students so I can take this black applicant’s transcript absolutely at face value”?
    If the real story is that U Penn law is still using a quota system for marking, the problem isn’t that Prof. Wax has told the truth. The problem is that a big fat lie has been perpetrated by the US education system and no-one is fooled by it, but no-one (apart from Bloom, and now Prof. Wax) has dared to try to get rid of the corrosive effect the unspeakable truth has on the career prospects of accomplished black students.
    The only chance for U Penn’s “credential” and for U Penn’s black students is for U Penn to be totally honest about what they are doing, not to maintain an Emperor’s new clothes charade.

    As for the comparison with private enterprise employees dissing the product, if a private business “sold” a product (i.e. in this case the uni’s graduates) with consciously inflated claims about the product’s results in performance testing, someone might end up in jail. [See e.g. Volkswagen and emissions standards.]

  20. squawkbox

    Typical 21st century Australian academic. Not “is this true?” but “how does it affect the university’s business model?” and “how does it affect the qualifications of its graduates?”

  21. A Lurker

    Her career-threatening offense was to state that in her experience with black students over 17 years at Penn, few had performed in the top half of their class.

    I would have thought that young people who go on to attend university, generally would have done well at high school or shown future potential. If certain students are not doing well at university, then it is clear that somewhere in the system adults are failing them. Maybe their lecturers aren’t doing a good job of teaching them, or perhaps the students should have been given better direction by high school career advisors. Given that other university students are doing well, then evidently the lecturers aren’t at fault in the actual teaching.

    So why are students that apparently are ill-suited to tertiary study, attending university in the first place?

  22. BorisG

    As some have pointed out, the impact on the business model is likely minimal. PC pure and simple. And given the overall climate in academia, I don’t think the dean had a choice.

  23. stackja

    A Lurker
    #2734184, posted on June 11, 2018 at 9:17 pm
    So why are students that apparently are ill-suited to tertiary study, attending university in the first place?

    Quotas?

  24. BorisG

    If certain students are not doing well at university, then it is clear that somewhere in the system adults are failing them.

    This does not make sense. Even if adults don’t fail a single student, there will always be a bottom half.

  25. BorisG

    So why are students that apparently are ill-suited to tertiary study, attending university in the first place?

    who said they are not suited? Most black students are in the bottom half but so are many non-black. By definition, half of all students are in the bottom half. Are they all ill suited?

  26. A Lurker

    This does not make sense. Even if adults don’t fail a single student, there will always be a bottom half.

    If students aren’t failed when they should be failed, and instead they end up with low-pass grades and still graduate, then adults are still ‘failing’ them – and society will have to bear the consequences of below-par graduates.

    Now just imagine one of those bottom-half graduates starting work as an engineer, or doctor, or in some other professional field.

  27. BorisG

    Now just imagine one of those bottom-half graduates starting work as an engineer, or doctor, or in some other professional field.

    I can imagine very well. Teaching classes over 17 years. Currently have a class of four and pretty sure all will have good careers.

    Back where I come from, 93% of our school class entered university on first attempt – and it was a lot more competitive than here in Australia.

    I can understand that bottom 20% can be mediocre – but surely not half. And even if you remove that half, there will always be bottom half!

  28. BorisG

    To make it even more clear, imagine a medical class at Melbourne uni, where the minimum entry score is 99%. That is, you need to be on the top 1% of the student cohort to get entry. Yet within that class, there will always be a bottom half. Are they all failures? I think they can very well become good doctors (although here other factors may be in play, beyond academic excellence).

  29. Leo G

    A materialist and a humanist walk into a bar….

    But the barman refused their monism.

  30. classical_hero

    Too many people are going to university when they should not be.

  31. None

    It seems to me Penn law degrees were vastly overvalued and the market worked perfectly to correct it when it had full information. Gee Sinc and I thought you were an economist.

  32. Leo G

    If politically correct groupthink is the diagonsis, what is the progonsis?

  33. Andre Lewis

    What sort of organisational business model requires that potentially low performing people are taken on board? How does a quota system advantage low potential entrants when they struggle to cope with the program others do well in?

  34. JohnA

    Professor Wax’s problem isn’t that she dissented from politically correct orthodoxy but rather that she undermined the university business model and degraded the qualifications of its graduates.

    No, it is that her statement exposed the undeniable fact that affirmative action quotas instituted by U Penn have already “undermined the business model”, which the lawyers marketplace will have already taken into account, and therefore U Penn has shot itself in the foot.

    She is better out of there anyway, because she will be undervalued as a prof.

  35. Habib

    It only becomes relevant when public funds are used to guarantee places based on race/gender etc. Then it sure as hell matters.

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