Your moment of Antonin Scalia

Dec 09 2015 Published by under Diversity in Science

In oral arguments over an affirmative action case involving undergraduate admissions to the University of Texas, Justice Antonin Scalia had the following to say:

Justice Scalia: There are — there are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to — to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well. One of — one of the briefs pointed out that — that most of the — most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas.
Mr. Garre: So this court —
Justice Scalia: They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re — that they’re being pushed ahead in — in classes that are too — too fast for them.

29 responses so far

  • LJK says:

    I like how most of the comments on the other post and the tweetstorm forget that whites and blacks aren't the only two races in the US.

    Imagine if AA get imposed in California (that's where you're based?): 5.4% Asian population (2014 in the state of CA) vs 36% Asian freshmen enrolled (2015 UC OP).

    I'm not sure what your opinion on the policy is. Should AA be a thing? Aren't white people already disadvantaged/underrepresented when it comes to college admissions? Asians, internationals, etc overachieving minorities would get completely wrecked.

    If college admissions is completely achievement -based would every top school be 50% Asian in a year?

  • becca says:

    He's right. Since the biggest factor in college completion is financial support, we ought to give full ride tuition + living expenses (including stipend) to any black student going to a public university. If we want to serve them well.

  • dsks says:

    Ah, and so we begin to see the effects of Trumpadelia on the Overton Window. That's right, Anton, you can let it all out now, the conversation has been re-calibrated. No need to hold anything back that is less bonkers than Donald Trump.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Do we get to argue about race and IQ again?

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm not sure what those anecdata/links are supposed to mean.

    The Espenshade study said being African-American is worth 230 SAT points (of 1600) in admission to elite universities, compared to whites. Being an athlete is worth 200 points, and a legacy worth 160 points. Being Asian is worth -50.

    I think it's silly to think that such a disparity would NOT affect academic performance compared with their classmates, especially in STEM fields.

  • AK says:

    If you have time read this story about UT and how they have closed the achievement gap. It really isn't about ability or intellect. It is mainly about self perception of ability and intellect.

  • drugmonkey says:

    That is an amazing story AK. Thanks for the link.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    Lots of interesting papers on stereotype threat (and boost).

  • Established PI says:

    In the spirit of recommending reading, here is a link to Malcolm Gladwell's excellent article on the history of Ivy League admissions:

  • Grumble says:

    You read the Times Magazine article in 13 min, DM? I'm impressed!

    Does being a racist ass constitute "good behaviour"?* If not, Scalia ought to be impeached.

    *Article III of the Constitution: "The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour..."

  • […] with the details of the Abigail Fisher (#StayMadAbby) case under consideration by SCOTUS (see Scalia) this week when I wrote that. I have learned a few […]

  • drugmonkey says:

    I think we need to stay the hell away from this "impeach Scalia" and "this proves why we shouldn't have lifetime Court appointments" nonsense.

    It isn't like we didn't know exactly who and what he was when he was appointed. The problem lies in the way the appointment process views the Court as just another political toy instead of focusing on the proper role of the Court as serving the rule of law a-politically.

  • qaz says:

    Reading that article, I am reminded of all the stories about how adding "grit" to our definition of student quality was going to solve everything because low-achieving students who were missing test score levels had this magical "grit" that would give them a boost over the highly trained students whose parents have been putting them through major tests all their lives.

    We need to open our doors to more students so that there is room for the students like Vanessa in the story to stumble and catch back up. And we need to provide support to those students so that stumbling is not the end of the world.

    What I've noticed (and really worry about) is that as budgets tighten, it becomes harder and harder to give leeway to people who stumble, because they are competing with people who are also smart, also talented, also have grit, but who were also lucky.

  • David says:

    AK - Thanks for that link on the UT program. Great read.

    It's only been recently (last year or so) that I've heard about impostor syndrome and started to read up on it. This has made me realize that I have not always provided great support to people struggling with this. I can clearly think of two examples where I just didn't understand. Reading that NY Times article was very helpful.

    I remember when I started my undergrad. The first week of school, it seemed that every person I met was the valedictorian of their HS or at least one of the top 5 people to graduate. And in some cases it was 5th out of thousands of students. I was something like 30th out of 200. It was intimidating. But after two or three weeks of interacting and studying with them, I realized that they were mostly idiots (relatively speaking). Apparently there was something that let me tread water long enough to feel like I intellectually fit. Granted, I already socially fit, which is apparently a huge advantage.

    I hope the UT program is a success and is copied by other universities. But as qaz mentions, I worry how programs like that will survive budget restrictions. Chemistry 301 isn't taught in a 500 person lecture hall because UT thinks it's the environment that is most conducive to learning.

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    DM:The problem lies in the way the appointment process views the Court as just another political toy instead of focusing on the proper role of the Court as serving the rule of law a-politically.

    There isn't any such role because "serving the rule of law a-politically" isn't something that can happen. Every court decision has a political component and it is naive to ignore it. It's why lesser judges are elected.

  • jmz4gtu says:

    "...who were missing test score levels had this magical "grit" that would give them a boost over the highly trained students whose parents have been putting them through major tests all their lives."
    Yeah, it's total BS. I went to a fantastic private school and a great SLAC college, but because I struggled to find a lab to work in, I flounced around at multiple off-target institutions (a cosmetics lab, a random Russian Lyme's disease testing facility, a DoD lab) in my summers and spare time. But when I showed up for my grad school interview, my interviewers all said they were impressed with my "grit"*, cause I had worked in non-traditional labs.

    *If they had said, "breadth of experience" that would have made sense. But they specifically said "grit". I think it was a buzzword back then.

  • qaz says:

    jmz4gtu - Grit is supposed to be the ability to struggle through adversity. It comes from the (very valid) observation that many of the kids who crash and burn in graduate school are the super-smart ones who got straight As while sleeping through high school and college. They hit a wall at graduate school and don't know what to do because they've never had to push through it or deal with adversity.

    I think in large part it was a response to the self-esteem movements that pervaded much of upper middle class schools in the 1980s and 1990s where "everyone got a trophy". The idea was that it was better to be a lower-class kid who had struggled than an upper-middle-class one who had everything given to them. The idea was that a lower-class kid who struggled (for whatever reason) would be better prepared to handle the difficulty when it hit. (Or perhaps it was that the lower class kids who had survived must have had grit because all the other ones were gone - like that point made by Neil Degrasse Tyson.) The problem is that lots of upper-middle-class kids have been actually trained to grit (through being given hard problems in school or being sent to college classes while in high school or whatever) and lots of lower-class kids react to the crash with a massive case of impostor syndrome.

    My point isn't that grit doesn't exist, but rather that it doesn't actually help solve the race/class problems that we have. There is no question in my mind that grit is a key to success. It is possible to train grit, but what you need is room to stumble. You have to learn that stumbling is not the end of the world, that even the best of us stumble, and that what matters is getting back up on the horse.

  • Grumble says:

    JB says: " 'serving the rule of law a-politically' isn't something that can happen."

    Exactly. A-political judges are a myth - a useful myth that most of us accept because most judges at least try to aspire to that ideal. That is precisely why we should not "stay the hell away from this 'impeach Scalia' ", as DM says. A whole mass of people calling for him to be impeached should make Scalia (and other justices) realize that it is not automatic that the public just accepts the myth of a-politicalness. Judicial behavior and opinions that stray too obviously far from the ideal undermine the court and its authority.

    That, by the way, is probably why Justice Roberts changed his mind about Obamacare and decided to uphold it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Hmm. You may have a point. But I've never known how to take Roberts' alleged concern over legitimacy given what has been going on (5-4 decisions reign) in his Court.

  • ucprof says:

    You missed Texas' attorney's response (Gregory Garre) to Scalia:
    “I don’t think the solution to the problems with student-body diversity can be to set up a system in which not only are minorities going to separate schools, they’re going to inferior schools.”

  • Grumble says:

    "But I've never known how to take Roberts' alleged concern over legitimacy given what has been going on (5-4 decisions reign) in his Court."

    It was the biggest, most-watched case of that year, with the possible exception of gay marriage (or was that the year after?). Liberal commentary at the time posited that Roberts realized he had to dial back the troglodyte conservatism when the court was under intense scrutiny - which he did because he knew that doing so would allow him to continue to hack away at liberal laws relatively unobserved from then on.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Yeah well that kind of positry is about as useful as speculating about what some rock and roller "really meant" by his song and/or lyrics. i.e., useless.

  • Grumble says:

    Yet here he is, hacking away.

  • Anonymous says:

    5-4 decisions reign?

    The data say otherwise, but don't let it spoil the narrative:

  • drugmonkey says:

    2/3? It should be up on 90%+ if they were really objective arbiters of law and fact.

  • The Other Dave says:

    I'll say it again: NIH will never fix the racial funding disparity until it removes 'pedigree' as a conscious or unconscious scoring criterion.

    You did a fine job there, boy. I jus' don't think that you're from a good family, is all...

  • Abc123 says:


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