Many readers are agitated over this post:
Regarding the comments from the “Asian-American reader and Harvard grad with a JD and MPH” on rhetoric and composition, my field of discourse, I guess I never thought to consider Aristotle, Cicero, Campbell, Blair, John Quincy Adams, Nietzsche, Burke, etc., as “squishy” scholars. I suppose I could make some rude comment about the unenlightened, unethical, anti-humanities discourse of the commentator. However, I will just let his own remarks stand and undermine his own ethos and that of his argument.
Another has Freddie’s back:
I’ve enjoyed the dialogue between you and Freddie deBoer, and I am genuinely conflicted on the merits of the policy in question. While I appreciate your dedication to airing dissents, the recent reply from the Asian-American Harvard grad is both misinformed and mean-spirited toward Freddie. I think it’s worth noting a few things:
1. Freddie’s Ph.D. program in Rhetoric and Composition (he does not yet have his degree) is extremely rigorous and empirical; I’d love for your reader to read this article and explain how it typifies “squishy” humanities thinking: “Evaluating the Comparability of Two Measures of Lexical Diversity”
2. The idea that Freddie can be lumped in with any group of “happy talk” liberals (especially the anti-intellectual strawmen this reader depicts) is pretty laughable.
3. To the larger argument: MIT is about 24% black and Latino and about 24% Asian. CalTech has chosen not to use affirmative action; that’s fine. But it is a choice, and the idea that they would be unable to put together a more diverse class should they choose to do so is not supported by any evidence at all.
4. The final anecdote about the risky brain surgery at the hospital that rewards diversity and not merit is a ridiculous false choice. Your reader went to Harvard, which has been open about trying to diversify its student body since the mid-1940s. Should your reader’s diploma have an asterisk on it? Forget brain surgery – I wouldn’t let this particular reader feed my cat.
Freddie also responds to the Harvard grad, in an email to the Dish:
My research interests are diverse, but most of my time is spent looking at spreadsheets, using algorithms used in natural language processing and corpus linguistics, typing away in R Studio. I do quantitative work, myself, computerized, quantitative work. I personally don’t think that makes my study more rigorous or meaningful, but clearly, the emailer does. Even a minute of genuine research would make this aspect of my research identity clear. Instead, the emailer Googled my name, spent 15 seconds, and did no other research to confirm his or her presumptions. I would call that remarkably lacking in merit, myself.
Your reader, his credentials aside, seems to forget that his alma matter has, according the US News, the third best chemistry department in the country, the second best physics department, the best biology department, the third best math department, and the seventh best statistics department in the country. Now, while I’m well aware that Cal Tech doesn’t use affirmative action, Harvard seems to be doing just fine using affirmative action, and in some cases, better than Cal Tech. Remember, Cal Tech is the anomaly here – all the Ivies and other elite colleges (MIT, Stanford, etc.) practicing affirmative action admit just as qualified students as Cal Tech, not worse ones. So to come out swinging with an argument that affirmative action is somehow harming scholarship or impeding human progress by prioritizing “jargon and happy-talk” over “traditional notions of academic rigor” is grossly inaccurate.
I also want to tie in this story over at the Upshot about how 80 percent of high-achieving students get into elite colleges. I think it’s important to remember that, while Asian-American students may be “underrepresented” at Harvard, they are not underrepresented in the college-educated population. In fact, the majority of adult Asians have college degrees. So it isn’t as though Asians are systematically being denied higher education in this country – they are in fact achieving it at a greater pace than the rest of us. To abolish affirmative action, aimed to help under-represented minorities in the entire education system, under the guise of helping the group that is honestly exceeding everyone else, seems wrong to me.