A Call For Evidence

Student protests around the country and here at Emory revolve around claims that institutions of higher education engage in discrimination, especially against black Americans. In Emory’s case, we currently lack some important evidence needed to assess those claims. Before the administration responds to protester demands, it should collect and produce that evidence.

At the undergraduate level, we lack evidence in at least two key areas that might involve discrimination, namely admissions and financial aid. I call on the Office of Admission and the Office of Financial Aid to collect and produce all relevant data that would enable us to compare the experience of black applicants with other applicants. The work of Princeton University sociologist Thomas Espenshade — who found that, at selective institutions, Asian applicants typically need to meet higher standards than blacks and whites — suggests the hypothesis that Emory data will show no disadvantage to black students.

In their recent list of demands, black students claim that, “not all Black students are adequately prepared for the rigor of Emory University” and that they are at a disadvantage due to “ill preparation.” Since I have taught many talented black students who were well prepared for their studies here, I do not accept the point at face value. However, it fits UCLA law professor Richard Sander’s disputed “mismatch” hypothesis, which holds that the admission policies of selective institutions cause minority students there to be relatively less skilled than their peers. To test the hypothesis that such a mismatch exists at Emory, I call on Emory College to collect and produce all relevant data that will enable us to compare the performance and well-being of black students and other subgroups.

Protesters here and elsewhere have also called for new diversity requirements. As a contributor to the Voluntary Core Curriculum, I have reservations about any involuntary core courses on diversity. But in order to proceed on the basis of evidence, I propose that any such new mandate be implemented in experimental fashion, first applying a new requirement only to a randomly selected treatment group of students and then comparing outcomes with those of a control group. My hypothesis would be that, whatever form a diversity mandate may take, the comparison will not show any academically significant gains in the treatment group but may show adverse reactions similar to those provoked by administratively driven requirements.

Finally, protesters have called for higher compensation for minority faculty. Since conditions in the current academic market, with many institutions pursuing “opportunity hires” and “diversity initiatives,” appear to favor minority scholars, I would expect empirical analysis to show no under-compensation for them at Emory. I call on the University administration to collect and produce all relevant data, taking into account academic control variables, to test that hypothesis.

In response to recent protests, some other institutions appear to proceed without much evidence regarding the issues at hand. At Emory, we can do better. It would be unfortunate if at an institution “where courageous inquiry leads,” with a College focused on “the nature of evidence,” we fail to consider the best evidence we can gather.

Frank Lechner is a Professor of Sociology at Emory University.

35 comments

  1. Avatar
    KT 3 years ago

    Frank Lechner: What does “admissions and financial aid” have to do with the daily experiences of micro- and macro-aggressions that we have faced and will continue to face (especially with articles such as this by an Emory professor) on this campus?

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      jon stor 3 years ago

      Because the BSA specifically said that admissions and financial aid discrimminates against black students.

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        anon 3 years ago

        For summer financial aid, I would argue disparate impact of lower socioeconomic status students as the summer offers are diminished versus packages during the normal school year. This is quite interesting given my general observation that many summer courses are actually easier (if not significantly-often non-Emory faculty or post-docs teach such classes or normal faculty relax their standards due to time constraints) than the normal academic year. This is especially the case in STEM courses for a large part. STEM students can essentially buy higher STEM GPAs by taking the course during the summer.

    2. Avatar
      KT 3 years ago

      Actually, I’m really happy this is the Opinion section because you can really show the Emory community where you stand in the struggle to end discrimination and racism that plagues this community. Thank you, Professor Lechner.

      1. Avatar
        jon stor 3 years ago

        Studies show that blacks have a lower standard for admissions to college than Asians and whites.

        Are you saying you want to lower the standards even more?

        “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” -MLK Jr.

        Based on the empirical evidence, you just implied you want to judge applicants by their skin color. Isn’t that racism? Thank you for showing the Emory community where you stand.

        1. Avatar
          KT 3 years ago

          I’m sorry, I didn’t imply any of these claims you are making. I asked a question and followed it up with my opinion on the author of this article. So what’s your argument again?

          1. Avatar
            jon stor 3 years ago

            What is your argument?

            My argument is, let us see your evidence that blacks are discriminated against.

          2. Avatar
            KT 3 years ago

            I didn’t have an argument, I posed a question, because I don’t waste my energy arguing with individuals who approach an issue with the idea that “because I have not experienced what you claim, I have to disagree with you and believe that your claims lack facts and therefore cannot be real”. I will not waste my time with you either because you are doing the exact thing as the author of this vile article with the mere statement “let us see your evidence that blacks are discriminated against”?

          3. Avatar
            jon stor 3 years ago

            If there is no evidence that blacks are discriminated against, why should the administration concede to BSA’s demands.

            You don’t want equality. You want privilege.

          4. Avatar
            KT 3 years ago

            You’re assuming that there isn’t any evidence, that evidence isn’t being gathered to further justify demands, and that evidence of past discrimination can actually be quantified. Three assumptions that make your comments misguided.

          5. Avatar
            jon stor 3 years ago

            If there is evidence, show it. That is all the author wants.

            No evidence presented means no evidence exist.

          6. Avatar
            KT 3 years ago

            If this professor, or you for that matter, wants to “see” the evidence you will have to be apart of the institution’s team looking to invoke change in the racial climate. Otherwise, just because you ask for evidence does not mean you’ll get it. That is something that this professor’s privilege has made him comfortable doing: getting what he want when he wants it. When there is substantial evidence gathered (because data collection doesn’t occur in a short time frame) I hope that you and this professor will both accept that we black students, faculty, and staff experience an entirely different Emory than our white counterparts. Hence, why this professor and you want evidence because you don’t have the experiences to support these claims of discrimination. I also hope that both of you actually care to change your views and opinions afterwards, but that is a long shot based off of this article and your commentary above.

          7. Avatar
            jon stor 3 years ago

            Give proof.

            No proof, no argument.

            The evidence shows blacks have lower standards for college admissions, medical school admissions, law admissions, etc…All you have to do is look at the scores/gpa of each ethnic group.

          8. Avatar
            KT 3 years ago

            You successfully managed to not address anything I just said. I think we’re done here.

          9. Avatar
            John Nolan 3 years ago

            “Jon Stor” is clearly a casual racist troll with a childish understanding of the concept of racism. I’m guessing he’s the “Al Sharpton making me uncomfortable is actually worse than centuries of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration/ It doesn’t happen to me, so it must not exist” type of person who thinks that activism is “racebaiting.” Basically a cranky, ignorant reactionary who thinks people of color are just making it everything up. I hope he’s not involved with Emory. That would be embarrassing.

          10. Avatar
            AB 3 years ago

            John, this is literally the definition of an ad hominem argument. You should focus on the issue at hand instead of making personal attacks to dismiss someone’s views.

          11. Avatar
            jon stor 3 years ago

            John Nolan is clearly a ignorant misinformed troll with a less than childish understanding of logical reasoning.

            Since you brought in Al Sharpton, he did make anti Semitic remarks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MlUtZ5F_Mk

            This “John Nolan” is clearly an ignorant dismissive troll who thinks that black people should get preferential treatment just because they are black. The empirical evidence already shows that blacks get preferential treatment in the job hiring process and college admissions. Isn’t that racism?

            Now show me your evidence.

            Here is my evidence. This is a Princeton study.

            https://www.princeton.edu/~tje/files/webOpportunity%20Cost%20of%20Admission%20Preferences%20Espenshade%20Chung%20June%202005.pdf

            I hope he is not involved with Emory. That would be why Emory is top 21.

          12. Avatar
            anon 3 years ago

            Or access to evidence is prevented or difficult. As I mentioned above. Emory no longer even makes its Common Data Set available through its institutional research website and that is the most common thing to give access to. Instead you get these watered down “academic profiles” which provide some useful information…..I guess.

          13. Avatar
            KT 3 years ago

            I just want to point out here too that we don’t want privilege, we want equality. We see what privilege does to a people, and you’re reinforcing what privilege looks like.

          14. Avatar
            anon 3 years ago

            jon stor,

            Be careful here. You cannot assume that because URMs are advantaged in admissions processes, that discrimination does not exist. You are going the whole Affirmative Action route which severely limits a discussion of discrimination to a very small sphere of topics, if not a singular one. Also, AA discussions require much more nuance than is usually displayed…..like, I’m surprised when a poor person tends to get in with a lower score and I imagine many URMs are more likely to fall in lower income brackets than their non-minority counterparts. There are some that can do ultra-well like you, but the fact is, if you are less in lower SE brackets, chances of even decent success levels on standardized tests are diminished…..as an anecdote.

            I am black and am in a lower SE bracket and one Vietnamese acquaintance of mines (same middle school) who went to Emory, same grad. class…had much lower scores than I did and his family would be considered poor. We both got in. There is likely even nuanced admissions at many schools when it even comes to Asians. Context matters. If he had been wealthier and had a lower score, I am sure he would have been denied.

            In addition, citing an almost purely multiple choice (other than the fill in the blank maths and the poorly put together writing section) test as a “qualification”. I mean, for all we know, the student could have scored well on subject specific standardized tests like AP’s, but colleges do not publish and monitor that data. It would be interesting to see how many URMs at elites got 4/5 on any of their AP exams, especially in lieu of their HS quality and SE context. If they managed to do so, their “qualifications” are likely more than can be indicated by the SAT/ACT which isn’t subject specific. The fact is, you get to college and find an academic major, so GPA and AP scores (APs at least have a much more sizeable free response section which is more aligned with college level examinations) when available are often more useful metrics. There is a reason why European countries and countries that have a European like University system of education just use A-Level scores. There isn’t some equivalent to the SAT really. They just look at how well you do in the subject area you claim an interest in.

            Either way, going in this direction is equivalent to pivoting during a debate (though it was fun to address it). The fact is that institutional racism (and/or its remnants) are still an issue and that not even easing the access to higher education has made access and comfort within other spheres of life easier for many URMs. Access to certain types of high paying sectors is still a barrier. It is easy to find data supporting this sort of thing. Even many insiders to certain job sectors would admit that the “there are not enough qualified X people” claim is myth. It is also difficult to find actual data on discrimination against students or faculty on college campuses (although things like pay grade and promotion and tenure can be documented). You do indeed have to resort to a conglomerate of anecdotal evidence (like interviews). I once found these videos on MIT’s techtv website with several African Americans discussing with themselves and non-minorities some of the interesting things they’ve encountered at MIT. Sadly, I found some, if not all of it believable (there were things like faculty and TA’s just assuming that URMs would perform poorly so they would refuse to regrade assignments if the student passed with a C even if they had tallied the points incorrectly….this was in the early 90’s I believe, where there was also a lot of activity at Emory). What was described in the video are what I call true microagressions.

            In the midst of all these debates, I thought it was worth noting and tried to find it again, but could not unfortunately. But the idea is that some things are somewhat subtle or noticeable. Often there is this undertone by even other students who don’t even know you that just assumes that “you shouldn’t be here, you didn’t earn it”….in my case, little did they know, I actually performed as well or outperformed them.

  2. Avatar
    Renee 3 years ago

    I call on Frank Lechner to resign immediately. How irresponsible and dismissive. This is incredibly offensive.

    1. Avatar
      Kevin 3 years ago

      Yes, he’s being dismissive, but only for the points he is talking about in the article. He’s doing it because there is no data from the university to support some of the claims of the BSA.

      You, and many of the others that seem to be angry about this, are making assumptions that he doesn’t think micro/macro aggressions don’t exist. Does the lack of him not mentioning this imply anything? I don’t think it should.

      Every single introductory sociology course presents data on institutional racism, so I am confident that this professor is not blind to the racist backbone of our society.

    2. Avatar
      jon stor 3 years ago

      You call on him to resign because he proves your claims are false and racist?

      1. Avatar
        John Nolan 3 years ago

        How on earth is claiming to experience racial discrimination as a person of color “racist?” Do you realize how ridiculous you sound? Would kind of grade school level of understanding of racism do you have? Discussing the realities of systemic racism is “racist?”

        1. Avatar
          jon stor 3 years ago

          How is calling on a professor to resign because he asked for evidence a compelling argument?

          Do you realize how ridiculous you sound?

          What kind of grade school level of understanding of academics do you understand.

          Asking for evidence is dismissive?

          If you go to Emory, you are part of the reason why we are top 21.

    3. Avatar
      anon 3 years ago

      Please…..stop. It is dismissive, but irresponsible and resignation worthy…..nope! If anything it leaves several questions such as “what does the data say and can we see it”? Emory and private schools (as mentioned by another poster) are notorious for selectively presenting data or just making it inaccessible to the public. Emory is running so scared after its SAT scandal that its Common Data Set can no longer by access by us regular folks who aren’t education administrators or part of university faculty or staff.

  3. Avatar
    CHEEJOEKAY 3 years ago

    He approached these issues the way that any sociologist (and every college student and graduate student) should. We cant expect campus wide policies to be made based off of personal anecdotes alone. There has to be empirical data to back them up. Basing policies off of evidence and not just activist pressure is how sound policies are made.

    That doesnt negate anyone’s personal experience and it doesnt ignore micro-aggressions. Dr. Lechner in his article addresses specific demands from the activists letter and how they are not grounded in empirical evidence.

    What is wrong with that? You cant just call for the resignation when they dont agree with you.

    1. Avatar
      KT 3 years ago

      I agree with most of what you are saying, however, it IS that “activist pressure” that fuels policy change. That is what lobbyist do to influence changes in policy. Activism isn’t the end-all-be-all, but without it, policies would stay the same.

      1. Avatar
        jon stor 3 years ago

        You claim racism/discrimination without providing any proof.

        1. Avatar
          KT 3 years ago

          Have you watched the news lately? Looked on social media? Stepped out of your bubble of privilege that blinds you from seeing what is right in front of you? That’s where the proof is, I don’t need to give you any more proof than that. You think all of this stuff is lies created to seek privilege for Black people? NO! The Black community sees privilege as something that makes you lose sight of the injustices happening around you. We don’t want that, we want to end the status quo that privilege creates and have equal opportunities for all. The Black community is targeted in more ways than your small mind can fathom, unless you could experience it firsthand, which you can’t and believe me you don’t want to. You’re too weak-minded to handle it. You keep asking for evidence just as the author does, but from the “safe place” behind your computer screen. I am confident in believing that you would NEVER announce/boast any of these views publicly in the presence of those affected most negatively (i.e. Black students and people in general). You would probably rather share your views publicly with someone who’s going to agree with you, right? Trying to prove that racism/discrimination exists is like trying to prove that your goldfish lives in water; it’s right in your face.

    2. Avatar
      Peter Witzig 3 years ago

      Just to clarify, Lechner’s essay is not “pure” empirical evidence. He does use at least one personal anecdote: ” Since I have taught many talented black students who were well prepared for their studies here…”

  4. Avatar
    Peter Witzig 3 years ago

    First of all, I don’t believe that delivering justice is a matter of
    evidence and one need only to look at the American penal system to see that.
    That being said, I am going to try and engage with the editorial on its own
    terms.

    This article, while touting the scientific method, has lost sight of another
    academic principle that, as a humanities student, I have learned well: look
    beyond the situation directly in front of you. Think broadly, look for
    patterns.

    Since Ferguson, we have seen a string of student agitation across the nation, led by
    black students, and with parallels to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Mizzou,
    Yale, Claremont McKenna, Brandeis, Emory, and more. As U.S. students we all
    know it, being connected through Facebook, Twitter, study abroad programs, etc.

    All that aside, I think Lechner’s basic request for more access to information is a good
    thing for student activists. From my point of view, administrations, especially
    at private elite schools like Emory, depend on their ability to control
    information like the data Lechner requests in order to shape rankings or manage
    an image (SAT score scandal, anyone?
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/emory-university-sent-fal_n_1810287.html)

    This non-transparency is also useful to quell student demands. If students don’t
    know what is happening, they won’t complain or can’t organize. Those who do
    will soon be swept away by the “activist turnover” that occurs every
    May at graduation. It’s a neat system, really. So Lechner is right to ask for
    more transparency.

    However, I find it hard to believe that requesting information was his only motive for
    writing such an article. If it were, wouldn’t that goal be better served by
    writing his request up as a petition, soliciting student signatures, and
    lobbying the administration? On the contrary, I don’t think we’ll see Lechner
    anywhere near the front lines of student activism anytime soon because we can
    read between the lines of this essay.

    Whether he intended to or not, Lechner just placed himself in a growing camp of mostly
    white, male faculty, administrators, and columnists across the country who have
    decided to dismiss a rising wave of student activism with a take-your-pick
    lofty principle – in this case “evidence-based-ness.” (for more on
    this see:
    https://medium.com/@juliaserano/how-to-write-a-political-correctness-run-amok-article-9b828d443018#.8b7fv1hwv)

    With all the other responsibilities Lechner must be juggling at the end of this
    semester, it does fascinate me that he took the time to write this particular
    article. In its self-righteousness, especially in its concluding lines, it
    reminds me a bit of the white, male professor we read about at Mizzou who, on
    the supposed basis of principle, refused to cancel class when white students
    threatened to murder black students on campus.
    (http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/u-of-missouri-professor-offers-to-resign-after-declining-to-cancel-class/106597)

    The next thing we read is that he quit, in what seemed to be quite an emotional,
    unprincipled decision. I don’t pretend to know the private details of that
    situation, but from a distance it sure appears like there might be some double
    standards or at least some complexes about race, authority, and academia out
    there.

    Wait a second, what were black student activists protesting again? Bingo.

  5. Avatar
    Curious Wavefunction 3 years ago

    As an Emory alumnus, I applaud Prof. Lechner and the Emory Wheel for taking this rational stand. Students’ protests need to be addressed, but it’s incumbent on both the students and the university to make sure that there is objective evidence which supports the assertions made in the protests.

  6. Avatar
    anon 3 years ago

    Alum here (black alum at that) that hadn’t looked at the demands but
    read this article. I am concerned about the one that refers to lack of
    academic preparation: What exactly is the solution to this if any? I
    mean, Emory is much more generous in academic resources than many peer
    institutions. Is remediation being suggested? Because I don’t know if
    that will help as it will certainly be stigmatized (simply by virtue of
    the fact that we supposedly “earned” our way into an academically elite
    school so should manage to use the resources so that we can perform well
    assuming that we are trying). There is evidence that certain modes of
    teaching, especially in STEM are perhaps linked to closing achievement
    gaps between that of Asian/white males and women/under-represented
    minorities. Namely, supposedly active learning strategies as opposed to
    large lecture are supposed to facilitate closing of the gap and honest,
    Emory tries far harder than most private (including peers) schools in
    doing this especially if one looks at STEM. I believe general chemistry
    has been flipped this year for example, and you don’t see basically any
    instructors doing this for a large service introductory course at
    similarly ranked (between 15 and 25) universities. The general biology
    instructors here also gear more toward active learning which again, is
    uncommon at comparable institutions. I mean, maybe it isn’t enough, but
    based on the evidence about learning, Emory deserves credit where it is
    due. The learning support, teaching, and advising programs
    specifically geared toward helping those who may be unprepared (which,
    by the way, is much more than just URM students….others from weaker
    high schools will also have a more challenging transition) seem more
    robus than many peer institutions.

    I also have a critique on
    Professor Lechner’s methodology for measuring the success of one group
    versus another: You must be careful when comparing performance as
    things such as grading practices per department can result in large
    differences. In addition, a lot of grading and level of intensity, even
    per course, especially when it comes to multi-section courses, can have
    very large variability. It is quite easy for many students to simply
    choose every easy or less rigorous instructor when they have the chance.
    Others may opt for a more balanced schedule and opt to challenge
    themselves or receive challenging instruction in one course. Unless
    this sort of nuance is taken into account, then one cannot do such a
    comparison. Simply comparing GPAs, (kind of used in professional school
    admissions) will result in too superficial of an analysis. Perhaps
    what could be an interesting study could be to identify the more
    rigorous instructors (this requires honesty in recognizing that some
    instructors are indeed far more rigorous than others teaching the same
    course or within the same department) in each division (social science,
    humanities, natural, computational, and physical sciences) and using
    those to measure and compare performance. This would reveal how
    students perform when faced with challenging coursework (as in courses
    that reflect what one expects to be dominant at elite institutions but
    really isn’t that dominant).

    What could also be informative is a
    study on which departments minorities end up in over time. Often the
    STEM enrollment can be telling. It would be interesting to see
    enrollment patterns and attrition levels over say, a decade in
    comparison to other groups. If URM’s still fall far short, then it is
    worthwhile to investigate what could be done to improve it outside of
    recruitment changes. Also, a negative or flat trend should perhaps lead
    to questioning of recruitment attempts, which one would expect to
    improve over time I suppose.

    -I do see where this professor is
    coming from in a sense though. If the demands spurred or were presented
    as a series of investigations to be done, it would have more
    intellectual weight. The current presentation suggests that Emory just
    doesn’t care at all. However, strategic planning documents and various
    articles suggest that Emory is well-aware of its weaknesses in terms of
    things such as diversity and inclusion and indeed has been attempting to
    improve it. It isn’t where it needs to be yet, but self-awareness is
    always a start.

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