Why We Are Having a REAL Affirmative Action Bake Sale At Fordham
Dr Mark Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
The REAL Affirmative Action Bake Sale, organized by the Affirmative Action Senior Seminar at Fordham University, not only represents my classes’ outrage at the “Promote Diversity” Bake sale organized by College Republicans at the University of California Berkeley, it reflects my own frustration at the misinformation about Affirmative Action that prevails among large sections of the American public.
If you would believe Donald Trump --who claimed Barack Obama only got into Columbia and Harvard Law School because of Affirmative Action--and millions of other Americans, including many of my student’s friends and relatives, you would think that preferences given minorities are the major departure from an otherwise meritocratic admissions process at the nation’s top college.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As I know from both my own research and from personal experience, preferences given recruited athletes and children of alumni are far more powerful than those given under represented minorities and affect a far larger number of students. According to James Shulman and William Bowen, in their book The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values, recruited male athletes, in the 1999 cohort, received a 48 percent admissions advantage, as compared to 25 percent for legacies, and 18 percent for minorities ( the comparable figures for women athletes were 54 percent, 24 percent, and 20 percent, respectively). Not only do athletes get a larger admissions advantage, Bowen and Shapiro report, they constitute a larger portion of the student population than under-represented minorities at the nation’s top colleges, averaging 20 percent at the Ivy League colleges and 40 percent at Williams. And the vast majority of the recruited athletes at those colleges who get those admissions advantages are white, including participants in sports like men’s and women’s lacrosse, golf, tennis and sailing, which few minorities participate in.
But it was not the material in The Game of Life which most outraged my students, it was the analysis offered in a book I used in my course for the first time, Peter Schmidt’s Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning The War Over College Affirmative Action. According to Schmidt, higher education has become a plutocracy, where “ a rich child has about 25 times as much chances as a poor one of someday enrolling in a college rated as highly selective or better.” In the last twenty years, Schmidt claims, universities have quietly given significant admissions advantages to students whose parents can pay full tuition, make a donation to the school, or have ties to influential politicians. Schmidt’s statistics, showing 74 percent of students in the top two tiers of universities come from families making over $83,000, as compared to 3 percent come from families making under $27,000 a year, enraged my students. They had no idea that students from wealthy families had such a huge advantage getting into college and when they read a September 21, 2011 New York Times article by Tamar Lewin, “Universities Seeking Out Students of Means” which confirmed all of Schmidt’s conclusions, they got even angrier
Enter the College Republicans “Increase Diversity” Bake Sale at Berkeley which charged Whites, Asians and Males higher prices than Blacks, Latinos and Women, and left athletes, legacies and children of the wealthy out of the equation. When I suggested that we might consider organizing a bake sale whose categories and pricing structure were based on the materials we had been covering in class, they jumped all over the idea. They formed committees to write press releases, secure support of campus organizations, develop a price structure consistent with what really goes on in college admissions and make sure we have an ample supply of baked goods. Thanks to all their hard work, thee sale will take place Friday, October 7, from 11 AM to 3 PM, in Fordham’s McGinley Student Center, and use the following price structure, based on the latest research on actual advantages in college admissions
Women (General Admission) $1.30
Men (General Admission) $1.25
Under-Represented Minorities $1.00
Legacies (Children of Alumni) $1.00
Recruited Athletes $.50
Children of the Very Wealthy $.25
We are also calling on students in other Universities to follow our example and organize bakes sales of their own based on sound research, not rumors and myths. The goal is not only to dramatize the extraordinary power of great wealth in American society- something highlighted by the Wall Street Occupation and the protests inspired by it around the country- but to remove the stigma that has been placed on minority students as recipients of unfair preferences. These students are tired of being attacked as an affront to American “meritocracy.” Enough is enough!
My students are excited and confident, looking forward to the discussion and debate on and off campus their bake sale will inspire
I am very proud that of the courage and energy they have displayed in organizing this ground breaking event!