Thursday, February 28, 2013

You can't win

Oxford University accused of bias against ethnic minority applicants  -- based on High School exam results of applicants.  But it is  precisely selection based on exam results alone that Leftists normally criticize.  Oxford has always based admission on a personal interview with a tutor,  who takes a whole variety of factors into account  -- not least of which is apparent motivation, which is in turn a major factor determining success at  university studies.  The Oxford assessment procedure for admission could in fact be pretty well encapsulated by that much favored  word of the Left:  "holistic".

And given the dubious nature of today's British High school qualifications, any reliance on what such qualifications  tell us is incautious.  Hence the growing use of aptitude tests, on which some minorities will score poorly

And the elephant in the room is of course minorities being given good grades simply because they are minorities

Oxford University has been accused of "institutional bias" against black and minority ethnic students after figures revealed that white applicants to some of the most competitive courses are up to twice as likely to get a place as others, even when they get the same A-level grades.

Figures for applications to the university in 2010 and 2011, obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that 25.7% of white applicants received an offer to attend the university, compared with 17.2% of students from ethnic minorities.

White applicants to medicine, one of the most prestigious courses, were twice as likely to get a place as minority ethnic candidates, even when they had the same triple A* grade A-level scores.

Older figures for Cambridge university suggested a similar pattern.

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, who has been a vocal critic of the university application system, said the figures suggested "institutional bias" and proved institutional failure.

Both Oxford and Cambridge, the country's most prestigious universities, have faced questions over the varying success rates of applicants from different ethnic groups. The gap has often been explained as being due in large part to the fact that students from ethnic minorities are more likely to apply for the most competitive courses, such as medicine.

But the latest figures, which for the first time break down success rates by both ethnicity and grades for some of Oxford's most competitive subjects, cast significant doubt on these long-running explanations.

They show that white students were more than twice as likely to receive an offer to study medicine as those from ethnic minorities. The disparity persisted for the most able students: 43% of white students who went on to receive three or more A* grades at A-level got offers, compared with 22.1% of minority students.

For economics and management, the university's most competitive course, 19.1% of white applicants received offers, compared with 9.3% for ethnic minorities. Among the most able, these success rates rose to 44.4% and 29.5% respectively.

There was, however, no statistically significant difference in success rates between white and non-white students when applying to study law at the university.

The issue of race at Oxbridge has regularly hit the headlines, particularly since 2010, when data obtained by Lammy showed, among other disparities, that just one British black Caribbean undergraduate was admitted to Oxford in 2009, a figure later cited by David Cameron.

"When I first raised these issues in 2010, Oxford explained that the figures were due to the prevalence of black and minority ethnic [BME] candidates applying to the most competitive courses," Lammy said. "This new evidence blows that apart. We now know BME students get fewer offers even with the same grades. Where there are interviews and quite large hurdles at the application stage, as with Oxbridge, it is for the universities to demonstrate there is not institutional bias. These figures suggest institutional bias, and certainly show sustained institutional failure."

He acknowledged that in the last couple of years the two universities had made renewed efforts to recruit BME candidates. "That should be welcomed, but what we need is a step change, and that hasn't happened yet."

Admissions tutors don't necessarily know the ethnicity of candidates who don't make it to the interview process, although they do see their full name and details of their schooling, a spokeswoman confirmed. Admissions statistics do show that students from ethnic minorities apply disproportionately to competitive subjects, but that doesn't account for the discrepancies within subjects demonstrated by the figures.

The University of Cambridge refused an FoI request for the same detailed breakdowns by subject and grade, saying it was too costly to be handled under the act. However, it did provide some older figures dating from 2007-09, before the A* grade was introduced for A-levels, which show similar patterns to Oxford.

These figures show the ratio of offers to study medicine at the university to applicants who achieved at least three A grades at A-level was 35% for white students compared with 24% for minority ethnic students, while for law the figures were 38% and 32% respectively.

Both universities rejected any suggestion that discrepancies in application success rates for different ethnic groups were a result of discrimination.

Oxford said it was closely examining the phenomenon. "Oxford University is committed to selecting the very best students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or any other factor," a spokeswoman said. "This is not only the right thing to do but it is in our own interests. Differences in success rates between ethnic groups are therefore something we are continuing to examine carefully for possible explanations. We do know that a tendency by students from certain ethnic groups to apply disproportionately for the most competitive subjects reduces the success rate of those ethnic groups overall. However, we have never claimed this was the only factor in success rate disparities between students with similar exam grades.

"We do not know students' A-level grades when selecting, as they have not yet taken their exams. Aptitude tests, GCSEs and interviews, which are used in our selection process, have not been explored in this analysis and are important in reaching reliable conclusions."

A spokeswoman for Cambridge said the analysis of the FoI figures was superficial and "ignored a significant number of relevant variables", such as subject mix, and performance in entry tests and interviews. "Admissions decisions are based on students' ability, commitment and potential to achieve," she said. "Our commitment to improving access to the university is longstanding and unwavering … We aim to ensure that anyone with the ability, passion and commitment to apply to Cambridge receives all the support necessary for them to best demonstrate their potential."

Rachel Wenstone, vice-president of higher education at the National Union of Students said: "My initial response to these figures was shock – this is quite frightening. Quite clearly, there appears to be some structural discrimination in some departments at Oxford, and the university needs to deal with it immediately.


The humanities and social sciences are in (long overdue) trouble

Graduate students who receive funding from their universities are very fortunate ( 17). To their universities, they are very expensive. Of course, grad students and adjuncts are cheaper to employ than professors, but universities are moving away from relying on tenured and tenure-track faculty to meet their instructional needs. More than three quarters of college teaching appointments are now held by graduate-student, part-time, and non-tenure-track instructors ( 14). As a result, universities have come to regard graduate-student labor not as a bargain but as the norm, and they are beginning to identify which graduate students are the most cost-effective to keep on campus. Those in the humanities and social sciences are used to thinking of themselves as being inexpensive compared to their colleagues in the hard sciences, but when it comes to graduate students, it turns out that that is not the case at all.

In August 2011, Yale University released the results of a remarkable study of its own graduate school. Among other things, it found that even at Yale only 68% of those who had begun a PhD program in the humanities between 1996 and 2003 had earned a PhD by 2010 ( 46). But most striking was a calculation of how much, on average, each Yale graduate student had cost the graduate school over a six-year period: $17,421 in the natural sciences, $126,339 in the social sciences, and $143,170 in the humanities. Graduate students in classics cost the university more than twenty times as much as graduate students in physics ($155,392 vs. $7,401). The numbers do not bode well for the social sciences and humanities. Disciplines that do not attract investment ( 22) are looking more and more like unbearable financial burdens to the administrators of the modern university.

The terrible job market facing graduate students ( 8) has never sufficed to convince universities to reduce the size of their graduate programs, but their own bottom line probably will. In the long run, the study may result in positive change if smaller graduate programs relieve pressure on the job market. For those already in the graduate-school pipeline, however, program cuts will only worsen the funding and employment situation. In its report on the study, the Yale Daily News quoted English Professor Mark Bauerlein of Emory University: “It just doesn’t make sense for people to go to school in the humanities.”


Canadian high school in flap over Confederate flag

A York Region high school has banned students from wearing anything that displays the Confederate flag, which is often seen as being synonymous with racism.

A high school in York Region has banned a controversial flag long synonymous with America’s Deep South, but also with prejudice and racism.

The Confederate flag became popular at Sutton District High School in the last two years, said principal Dawn Laliberté, emblazoned on bandanas, lighters, belt buckles, backpacks and pickup truck windows.

After explaining the flag’s symbolism to students this week, the school implemented a ban.

“Our first step is always to educate. We are only dealing with a handful of students who view it as a white pride kind of thing, so we thought now is the time to get the message out,” Laliberté said.

At the sprawling school parking lot, marked by pickup trucks and snowmobile tracks, most students were angry the administration was intervening in what they choose to wear or accessorize with.

Some students in the town on the east shore of Lake Simcoe said the display of the flag wasn’t widespread, and many debated its meaning.

“It’s more about the country values, we don’t think of it as racist,” said a Grade 10 student, who has T-shirts, belt buckles and hats with the symbol, and plans to keep wearing them.

“I didn’t even know it was racist,” said Grade 12 student Jess Pasco, as her friend agreed. “Then I Googled it.”

Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society, said the fact people are embracing the symbol “shows that not only is there a lack of black history awareness, but there is also a lack of regular history awareness.”

“The Confederate flag doesn’t represent heritage at all, it doesn’t represent white heritage, or country values or the American way for that matter,” she said. “What it represents is the interest of people in the Deep South to maintain a way of life that fervently and significantly was built upon and included an ongoing use of Africans as enslaved people. For that very reason alone, it is inappropriate and wrong.”

Sadlier said students who want to represent their rural roots should consider an old Ontario flag.

On Friday, officials with the school did not return calls, but the York Region District School Board emailed a statement saying the decision to ban the flag was in line with board policy about respectful workplace and learning environments.

“The board recognizes and respects the diversity of our people as a source of strength and does not tolerate any expression of prejudice,” the statement read in part.

In the United States, debates about the flag’s symbolism continue to make news, and one online petition says the flag is “tearing apart the very fabric of our society.”

A 2011 study in Political Psychology by psychologist Joyce Ehrlinger showed exposure to the Confederate flag resulted in “more negative judgments of black targets.”

In addition to its use by Confederate soldiers in the Civil War, the flag was also a popular emblem in 1950s among people opposed to the civil rights movement and school desegregation, and continues to be a symbol for white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, the study notes.

Ehrlinger’s study was undertaken using white college students at a “large state school.”  Students were invited to read a story about a black man and then answer questions. When each student came into the room, there was a folder on the desk. Some students saw a blank folder while others saw a folder with a Confederate flag sticker in the corner, which was explained away with, “Oh, someone must have left this.”

The students who saw the flag rated the black character more negatively than those who did not.

Standing on a big pile of snow in Sutton District High School’s smoking area, Grade 12 student Cody Ley said he sees “Southern pride” when he looks at his Confederate flag lighter. He said the rule is “pretty stupid” since people have freedom of speech.

“You can buy a f------ swastika if you want, it’s still racist,” said a student walking by.

When asked if he sees the flag as a symbol of racism, the student replied: “You’re either racist or you’re not,” before he walked away.  “Depends on the way you look at it,” Ley said.


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