Racial preferences and academic mismatch at the University of Oklahoma

October 24, 2012 | By RALPH KASARDA

On Monday, the Center for Equal Opportunity released a study showing that the University of Oklahoma granted racial preferences in student admissions in law, undergraduate and medical school.

According to the study, minority students were admitted to undergraduate school despite having lower college entrance examination scores and high school grades.  Depending on a student’s race, the preference was equivalent to a combined math-verbal SAT score of 160 points.  In its law school admissions, students of preferred races were admitted despite having lower LSAT scores equivalent to a combined math-verbal SAT gap of over 100 points.  At the University of Oklahoma Medical School, 29 non-minority and 2 Asian American applicants were rejected despite having higher MCAT scores and undergraduate grades than other applicants who were granted admission.

When a university grants preferences to admit applicants of certain races, the university must discriminate against applicants of other races–a practice that is presumptively unconstitutional.  But to make matters worse, racial preferences in college admissions result in harm to the very students the preferences are intended to benefit.  Preferences result in academic mismatch: a significant gap in academic credentials between those students that received preferences and those that did not.  Research shows that students who receive large preferences struggle academically, even if the preferences were granted for non-racial reasons, such as athletic ability, or alumni connections.  Consequences often include poor grades, lower graduation rates, high attrition rates from science and engineering majors, lower self-esteem, and high failure rates on bar exams and medical examinations.  In their article, The Unraveling of Affirmative Action, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor discuss academic mismatch in more depth.

The Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in a case called Fisher v. University of Texas.  The issue in that case is whether the University of Texas can justify its race-conscious admissions policy.  The Court’s decision will likely impact the University of Oklahoma’s apparent use of racial preferences.  Until then, the university should notify students who received any type of large preference in admissions about academic mismatch and the related harms.