Wisconsin Economics Professor Accuses UW-Madison Of Plan To Require Race-Based “Diversity Grading”

UW-Madison_logo.svgLee Hansen, a professor emeritus of economics at UW-Madison, has caused a stir in academic with an article entitled “Madness in Madison” with the John William Hope Pope Center for Higher Education, a North Carolina-based think tank. The article quotes at length from a UW-Madison guideline entitled Forward Together: A Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence that refers to equity in grading and also references how minority students should be allowed into special programs or high-demand majors. The broad language raises concerns with faculty like Hansen over how professors are supposed to achieve these goals and whether they will be evaluated based on such guidelines. Hansen is a well-respected economist with a long and impressive academic history.


The document contains a definition of diversity that seems to include virtually characteristics of every human on Earth:

Individual differences in personality, learning styles, and life experiences, and group or social differences that may manifest through personality, learning styles, life experiences, and group or social differences. Our definition of diversity also incorporates differences of race and ethnicity; sex; gender; and gender identity or expression; sexual orientation; age; country of origin; language; physical and intellectual ability; emotional health; socio-economic status; and affiliations that are based on cultural, political, religious, or other identities.

It is a challenge to distinguish such a statement on the meaning of diversity from a simple acknowledgment of humanity. It is equally challenging to think of how a professor is to “recogniz[e] [those] individual differences” in teaching beyond recognizing that you have a class of humans rather than androids (which thankfully have not made the list as of yet).

250px-1549_siftwinnowHansen clearly believes that the school’s commitment to “sifting and winnowing” goes a bit too fall when it comes to race.

The real controversy surrounds the more concrete mandate for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.” Hansen notes that students normally compete for high-demand majors and special programs but could now be told that they must select a different major due to their race or ethnic background. Hansen argues that department chairs would have to create in some cases a de facto quota system where students were excluded or included solely on the basis of their race.

The call for consideration of race and ethnic background in grading is the most controversial. The mandate for “proportional participation . . . in the distribution of grades” has created the greatest outcry. It is not clear how a professor is to guarantee such “participation” in the grade distribution. The obvious fear is that race is supposed to be considered. However, to me, it reads like an aspirational statement that the overall program seeks to better educate all students to guarantee that there is racial equality among the top performing students. However, the concern remains about the measures that a professor must take to try to accomplish this objective:

At the very least, this means even greater expenditures on special tutoring for weaker targeted minority students. It is also likely to trigger a new outbreak of grade inflation, as professors find out that they can avoid trouble over “inequitable” grade distributions by giving every student a high grade.

Hansen adds that this analysis of the available data shows that roughly 25 percent of admitted minority students “do not meet the competitive admission standard applied to other applicants [and] find themselves at an immediate academic disadvantage” at the school.”

The debate at UW-Madison is occurring at a time when the Supreme Court is signaling increasing discomfort with race-based admissions and lawsuits are increasing over allegations that state schools continue to circumvent rules against race as a determinative criteria in admissions (or any criteria in some states with prohibitions). We discussed the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Schuette v. BAMN that states, like Michigan, can prohibit any use of race in admissions in a “color-blind” state entrance system for colleges and universities.

The court has been struggling in this area for decades. In 1977, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the court allowed only a limited use of race for the purpose of achieving “diversity” in classes. The Medical School at the University of California at Davis set aside 16 of the 100 seats for minorities. The court ruled it unconstitutional but was deeply divided on why — a harbinger for the line of cases that would follow Bakke.

The court spent nearly the next 40 years spinning on the ice of affirmative action, unable to get traction or a clear direction. The court’s split decision in 2003 is illustrative. It was presented with two cases involving the use of race as a criterion in the undergraduate and the law school admissions processes at University of Michigan.

In one case, Gratz v. Bollinger, the court voted 6-3 that the university violated equal protection in the selection of students based on race and other criteria. It then ruled 5-4, in Grutter v. Bollinger, to uphold race criteria in the admissions process for Michigan Law School.However, Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stressed that the court “expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” O’Connor’s statement was ridiculed by many (including some on the court), but seemed to capture the fluidity of the court’s position on the use of race.

In 2013, the court again seemed to produce a nuanced and uncertain decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, where the court rejected a lower court decision upholding the use of race in admissions at the University of Texas. However, it did not prohibit the use of race but rather sent back the case for the imposition of a more demanding test of “strict scrutiny.”

These cases offered little hope that a “bright line” could be reached to bring resolution of the issue and meant that the court would continue to referee such matters. That line, however, was reached in Schuette.

Michigan voters responded to the divided results in the Grutter and Gratz cases to bring their own clarity to the area. They passed a constitutional amendment that required an entirely colorblind process for selection at state schools (as well as barring schools from giving an advantage to some students based on other immutable characteristics like gender). By a vote of 6-2, the court ruled this week that citizens could do precisely that.

Some academics argue that the guidelines like the ones at UW-Madison represent another form of end run around these rulings by telling administrators and faculty that they are tasked with ensuring equity in grading and participation in various programs. In fairness to UW-Madison, I cannot find fault with stating that goal which after all is part of the academic creed of equity and diversity in education. What some view as a requirement to elevate students by race, others would view as merely an aspirational statement on what we hope to achieve as academics. Hansen however notes that such guidelines are taken as more concrete directions and leave faculty uneasy in how they are supposed to help guarantee such results. All academics are already committed to avoiding racial bias (which is often deterred through anonymous grading) and any such prejudice is already grounds for dismissal of an academic. These guidelines raise greater concerns because of the continuing tension of admissions standard that incorporate race and the lack of transparency over admission scores and standards for academics like Hansen.

What is clear is that even the last two Supreme Court decisions in Schuette and Fisher have done little to quell the ongoing controversy and uncertainty over the use of race in admissions or grading. That promises a continuation of decades of litigation over these issues, which is good for commentators like me but hardly positive for academia as a whole.

40 thoughts on “Wisconsin Economics Professor Accuses UW-Madison Of Plan To Require Race-Based “Diversity Grading”

  1. Everything has to be taken in context. UW is the PC capital of the US. This is wink and a nod collusion. Ironically, it’s like much racial discrimination that occurred decades ago in the north. We didn’t have Jim Crow laws, our racism was much more genteel. The “gentleman’s agreement.” This is the UW “gentleman’s agreement.” To understand history one must appreciate irony.

  2. To echo jonathanturley’s point, can a generalized aspiration also be a specific guarantee?

    The tension is also playing out at the high school level. See the current dedicated NAACP LDF-led legislative (NYS Legislature) and administrative (DOEs) campaign to replace the objective, transparent, rank order, math/verbal/logic-based, (stipulated) race-neutral Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for New York City’s venerated specialized public high schools (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, et al) with subjective multi-measure admissions criteria. The NAACP LDF’s explicit goal for replacing the longstanding transparent objective admissions test with an opaque subjective multi-measure criteria is engineering a higher black and Latino ratio in the specialized public high schools. Currently, Asian students comprise the majorities.

  3. Well. If it was History 101 and Prissy said in her test answer to the question about Birth of A Nation that : I don know nuthin bout birthin babies. I would give her an A.

    To give someone a hedge on grades because of race is difficult. Obama was half white but his dad was never around. He should only get 10% consideration. None in P.E.

  4. This is the worst PC idea that idiot administrators have come up with yet. Is there a push by the Feds behind this? I know they have their fingers in several higher education pies. Grading on the racial curve? Geez!!!!

  5. If they really wanted to help out, they would cut the cost of textbooks by half and prevent professors from writing a new one every other year.

  6. What Congress should have done in the first place was create affirmative action for only two groups: Native Americans and African-Americans. And there should have been either an expiration date or a condition which would terminate the program when it achieved its goal. The latter case could have been accomplished by means of a ratio of the two groups compared to the rest of the population.

    And now, of course, liberals keep adding minorities to the list of ones to receive special rights. Obama keeps adding more varieties of LGBTs to the list.

    Perhaps we should create “leveling” schools where minorities are given specific training to bring them up to the level of the rest.

    But then again, why bother at all when we are hell-bent on outsourcing all of our jobs to India, China, and other countries?

    P.S. Has anyone in government noticed how pathetic our schools are?
    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/12/03/american-high-school-students-slip-in-global-education-rankings/

  7. Saucy, Newsweek does an annual ranking of high schools in the US. I live in Wi. which pats itself on the back as being “the best schools in the US.” Every year I get a letter to the editor in the local paper published about how poorly Wi. does. The editor is like minded. Wi. hardly ever has even one school in the top 200. Last year mid 200’s was the first appearance I believe. Wi. routinely gets its ass kicked by states like Texas, Florida, you know..those “backward” states. The education industry has turned education into a great deal for those who work in it and horseshit for students who are victims of it. Top to bottom, we need to clean house and get back to STUDENT BASED education. Teach For America is a step in the right direction. I have a niece who graduated from Emerson w/ a degree in Theatre in May. Her senior year she helped w/ a project w/ inner city Boston kids getting involved in communication projects. She loved it, signed up for Teach For America, and just moved to San Antonio to teach this Fall. I bust her balls. She is fluent in French. Spent a year in France. She won’t find any French speakers in San Antonio! But, she has a great ear for language, she’ll be fluent in Spanish by the end of her 2 year stint.

  8. Nick, US News & World Report listed the following high schools in its top-20:
    – Texas: School for the Talented and Gifted, School of Science and Engineering Magnet
    – Florida: Pine View School, Stanton College Preparatory School, Design & Architecture Senior High

    All of the above are for gifted kids, so I cannot necessarily agree with your general assessment that Texas and Florida are kicking the country’s rear (maybe WI, though).

    http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/national-rankings

    Our school system has many problem, including but not limited to:
    – mainstreaming
    – preventing teachers from booting troublemakers
    – emphasizing sports over the basics
    – prioritizing student self-esteem over learning
    – not preventing school shootings
    – political correctness
    – allowing girls to dress in a scantily clad manner

    P.S. Your niece should move to Europe.

  9. UNC had a scandal which no one in NC pays attention to where they allow basketball players to major in Afro American Studies, not attend classes and give them good grades so that they can stay on the basketball court.

  10. BarkinDog, someone I used to know worked at a large Midwestern university in the 1950s and 1960s. He told me many times that football players were pampered and were sometimes given exam answers in advance so the football program would not suffer.

  11. Saucy, It was not my assertion Texas and Florida were the best in the US. As you surmised, my intention was to show they are much better than Wi.

  12. Barkindog, I saw a piece on one of the networks where the professor who exposed this UNC scandal was vilified by the school. She touched the third rail on Tobacco Road, BASKETBALL!

  13. saucy – when I was finishing my master’s I tutored athletes for ASU. I can tell you for a fact that they were not getting any answers in advance. Have there been cheating scandals, yes, you betcha. However, most of that ended. What got touchy were summer computer/online courses that they could take together and help each other with the answers.

  14. Nick, sorry, I did not intend my response to come out that way. Yes, you were clearly denigrating WI.

    Paul, the classes I know about were ones which everyone needed to take, e.g. ROTC and classes included in many degree programs. This was before classes were online.

  15. saucy – when I took ROTC, my commander promised to pass me if I never showed up for drill. Said I was making him look bad. :)

  16. Saucy, No “sorry” needed. On the subject of quotas, it has long been thrown out there that 10% of adults are gay. Now, I believe you are born gay or at least leaning that way. But, that 10% always seemed very high, for political reasons. The NIH just completed a study and found 1.6% of adults identify themselves as gay. That comports what common sense said to me and many others.

  17. Nick, the only people throwing out the 10% figure were liberals trying to convince the rest of the population that LGBTs were common to gain popular acceptance, The Atlantic Magazine wrote two years ago that the percentage was between 1 and 2 which sounded right to me. Do you have a URL for the NIH study? The only one I unearthed was one that found that children of homosexuals are more likely to be that way compared to the general population, which is rather significant in itself. I am rather shocked this has not received greater recognition especially considering that “social and parental influences” are a significant factor in someone declaring himself to be LGBT.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20642872

  18. As a guide dog for a half blind guy I can tell you that blind grading is the answer to fairness in schools. The teacher grading the paper, exam, piece of artwork, or whatever should not know the name, rank, race, serial number of the perp involved. To do otherwise would be to have to have the blind leading the blind. God put Dog here on Earth for a variety of purposes.

  19. How come I always hear this sort of rant that Liberals are in favor of gay people and gay marriage when all the gay people I have met have been conservative as all Hell. The Choice Not An Echo mantra started with conservatives. That is the beginning of gay marriage. Now if you want to talk about marriage and echo then you had to meet my mother in law. Jeso. If they ever name a hurricane after Ruth then I am moving to the mid west on a fast train.

  20. Annie, accepting a sociological study from the National Bureau of Economic Research is like accepting medical advice from a lawyer.

    The 20% figure does not pass the smell test. Here’s a better article:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/05/americans-have-no-idea-how-few-gay-people-there-are/257753/

    And you really should read the NIH article I referenced because it puts a dim view on the common knowledge that gay adoption is free of risk.

    P.S. The Atlantic is about as liberal as it gets.

  21. BarkinDog wrote “The Choice Not An Echo mantra started with conservatives. That is the beginning of gay marriage.”

    You really shouldn’t lick your balls when writing comments.

    Phyllis Schlafly wrote a book titled “A Choice Not an Echo.” She opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions. She said that “[a]ttacks on the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman come from the gay lobby seeking social recognition of their lifestyle.”

  22. Saucy, The report is @ cdc.gov It’s titled: Report 77 Sexual Orientation and Health Among US Adults. It was published on 7/15/14. It’s extrapolated from the extensive study they did in 2013.

  23. Saucy, Thanks much for the article. I may have discussed this w/ you? I have gotten to know several Iraqi Christians in San Diego where I spend winter. They own virtually all the convenience and liquor stores. Great people. They love the US. These guys left during Saddam’s reign of terror. They hated him. They really worry about friends and family who were unwilling or unable to get out of there.

  24. saucy – the 10% figure goes back to the Kinsey Report, I think. Kinsey was working with bad data to begin with so his figures were skewed.

  25. Nick wrote “I may have discussed this w/ you”

    Yes, me. It is getting bad there when Islamists even take children’s toys.

    Paul wrote “the 10% figure goes back to the Kinsey Report”

    That answers a few questions. For some people, Kinsey was some kind of god.

  26. Sounds a little silly. Mathematics & engineering obviously is right or wrong. History usually ends up with one version of the truth but these days there could be another right answer. English does have some bearing on ethnicity and social background, but it still has to be good and consistant. One should never give an ethnic minority a higher mark for that reason alone.

  27. How will they achieve these goals? The same way Affirmative Action has always worked in practice: by lowering standards and imposing quotas.

    Some of my professors bitterly complained when I was in college that they had to teach the class 2 ways: to those who deserved to be there based on academic merit, and to those who were completely lost but had the “right” skin color.

    Making the basal amount of melanin a requirement for anything is a misguided approach. Skin color should have NOTHING to do with your qualifications for ANYTHING. Admissions, the legal system, the real estate market – it should all be blind.

    If you want to improve college admissions for minorities than fix the public education system so that everyone gets an excellent education. Address the high dropout rate among minorities. Fix what is dragging these students behind, but don’t lower the bar for any reason.

    Because what do these people think these programs do to race relations – when the “right” skin color will get you a better grade? I recall some firefighter and cop friends of mine bitterly complaining that it took them years to get in to their respective academies, when they accepted African Americans with far worse test scores and the barest expressed interest. It caused resentment for those recipients of favor.

  28. Karen – the worst example is the NOLA police force that lowered the bar so low they had criminals on the police.

  29. I had a firefighter explain to me years ago how they lowered the physical fitness standards (but ONLY for women) so that women could become firefighters . . . who were then unable to carry unconscious, full grown men out of burning buildings, or carry the hose up flights of stairs.

    I don’t care what gender a firefighter is who’s come to pull me out of a house fire – I just want them to be able to do the job.

    It’s a fact that most men are stronger than most women. I don’t want any bars lowered for me. I just want to be treated equally. If a woman is physically able to pass the test and other requirements to be a firefighter, then go for it. But I won’t care too much about the quota of women that got on the fire department if I burn to death because they’re not strong enough to get me out.

Comments are closed.