Education Race, Affirmative Action
August 1st, 2023 Podcast by The Glenn Show

The Glenn Show: John McWhorter and Peter Arcidiacono – The Economics of SFFA v. Harvard

Part of what made Students for Fair Admissions’ case before the Supreme Court so compelling was the data. It was very hard to look at the numbers and not conclude that discrimination was involved in Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s admissions practices. This week on The Glenn Show, John and I are joined by the man behind that data, Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono. I feel like we’ve been talking about this case for a long time, but Peter signed onto the project back in 2015. He’s a modest guy, but in my view a considerable amount of the credit for SFFA’s victory belongs to him.

Peter is an economist before all else, and he walks John and I through some of the work that went into the case. As he explains, the statistical analysis he worked up for SFFA is only part of his longstanding social scientific interest in college admissions. Some of his work is even being cited in attempts to get rid of legacy admissions. Ending legacies would suit John just fine, but to me it seems incorrect to conflate clearly discriminatory admissions policies and the institutional discretion involved in admitting legacies and athletes. Peter’s work goes a long way toward revealing what’s really going on behind the scenes in university admissions offices, and to him one thing is clear: Colleges are not being honest about their policies.

Despite his work with SFFA, Peter hasn’t received much blowback within academia. Compare his situation to that of Roland Fryer, whose work on race and policing challenged the company line. As Peter says, academia’s loss may result in greater gains for all if Roland’s innovative new businesses bear fruit. To conclude the conversation, we discuss how, if universities take a more open and honest approach to the data at their disposal, they could change education for the better. I hope they’re listening.

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