Categorized | Current Events, North America

The Statistics of Affirmative Action

This article is a response to the letter from G. Dhananjay and R. Venkataraman regarding the recent overturning of Proposition 2 in the American state of Michigan.

The recent overturning of Proposition 2 is perhaps a stunning example of judicial activism in America.  The people of Michigan voted overwhelmingly to ban affirmative action, but two activist judges claimed that it was somehow unconstitutional because it somehow restricted the political rights of minorities.  While one could plausibly make the argument that assigning racial preferences to Black and Hispanic students, solely on their race gives them more political rights, it is preposterous to say that the elimination of such preferential treatment and the consideration of the an individual’s merit as a student is somehow unfair.  To put it bluntly, an affirmative action ban is not unjust simply because it doesn’t allow underachievers from the ghetto to take spots from better qualified students.

Particularly, part of the Michigan State Constitution (Section 26 of Article I) was being targeted, which stated:

The University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and any other public college or university, community college, or school district shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

This law on its own, would sound perfectly reasonable, but in practice it turned out the Black and Hispanic students were losing out.  The Federal Appeals Court judges were enraged that the only factor which wasn’t allowed to be considered was the student’s race while other criteria were left alone.  This is an audacious remark which would have garnered disdain had the race in question been the white race.  Shanta Driver, a Black activist claims that overturning Proposition 2 now allows Black and Hispanic students to attend the University of Michigan.  The problem with this logic is that they also had the opportunity to attend without affirmative action.

We would like to present some statistics in order to shed an objective light on race-based admissions.

A 2010 study produced by the makers of the ACT (an American college-qualifying exam) showed that in the state of Michigan, about 7% of blacks were academically prepared for math at the college level, and 4% of blacks were qualified for biology.  As it can be seen, the average for all races in those categories is 33% and 25%, respectively.

Based on US census data, a hypothetical prospective applicant pool of 1,000 students from Michigan would include  141 African-Americans, 23 Asian-Americans, 796 European-Americans and 4 Hispanics.  Bout of these, if we consider mathematics qualifying scores, we might expect to see approximately 10 African-Americans (the number who applied multiplied by the percent qualified), 14 Asian-Americans, 318 European-Americans, and perhaps 1 Hispanic student.  Adding these numbers, it would mean that in merit-based admissions, out of the original applicant pool, 343 people were admitted, which is about 30% lower than the rate at which Michigan actually admits its students.  Based on this, we would expect an average entering class would should be approximately 92% white, 4% Asian-American, 3% Black, and less than 1% Hispanic.  According to data from 2009, the actual acceptance statistics were: 5.8% Black, 12.1% Asian, 65.0% white, 4.1% Hispanic, and 5.7% International, with about 7% of people declining to state their race.

This would mean that both Blacks and Hispanics, while less qualified than Whites, were over-represented while Whites were in fact under-represented.  The anomaly here seems to be the Asian population, however, 34% of University of Michigan students came from out of state.  As Michigan has a relatively low population of Asians compared to other states, west-coast states may provide a greater number of Asian-Americans.  Also, it is not clear if the University of Michigan includes foreign students under the category of “Asian” to bolster this statistic.  Indeed, under the old system, the Asian-Americans were not considered an under-represented minority, and their numbers rose as a result of the affirmative action ban.

About William van Nostrand

William van Nostrand is a native of Chicago, Illinois and is currently the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of He holds a B.A. in Economics as well as a minor in cultural anthropology. His interests are highly varied and include late medieval European architecture, German romantic classical music, and travel.