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Race Preferences in Medical Schools By: John Perazzo
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 03, 2002

During the first several decades of the twentieth century, colleges and universities commonly denied admission to minority-group members whose high-school grades and standardized test scores surpassed those of whites who were offered an opportunity to enroll. Thanks to the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, such blatant discrimination became illegal. But since then, the pendulum has swung strongly in the opposite direction. Many colleges have created affirmative action programs designed to boost minority enrollments by granting preferences to blacks and Hispanics in the admissions process.


Defenders of preferences claim that these policies are little more than “tie-breakers,” designed merely to tip the scales in favor of a minority applicant over a white applicant of basically equivalent credentials. There is an ever-growing body of evidence, however, that preferential policies bear far less resemblance to “tie-breakers” than to the virtual abandonment of standards. A recent study by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), which examined the extent of preferences in several American medical schools, offers a most important addition to this body of evidence. The issue of preferences is especially vital with regard to medical schools, because what is at stake is not merely a theoretical construct, but rather the quality of our doctors – which can literally be a matter of life and death.


The CEO study focused on admissions to the medical schools at Michigan State University, SUNY Brooklyn, the University of Washington, and the Medical College of Georgia during the late 1990s. The median undergraduate grade-point-averages (GPAs) of white students admitted to the aforementioned schools during those years was 3.64. The corresponding median for blacks was 3.23, for Hispanics 3.30, and for Asians 3.63. On the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), the median score for whites was 37, for blacks 31, for Hispanics about 34, and for Asians 38. In short, Asian and white students had the highest academic qualifications, followed by Hispanics and blacks, respectively. 


The CEO study explains that in order for schools to admit a higher proportion of students from a demographic group that under-performs in comparison to other groups, “admission officers must essentially reach down into the applicant pool and pull up certain students, a practice that results in at least some students with better credentials than [others] being rejected . . . despite their superior qualifications.” The extent of these preferences is nothing short of shocking. In 1996, for instance, black applicants were 19 times likelier than similarly qualified whites to be admitted to Georgia Medical College. That same year blacks were 23 times likelier than academically equivalent whites to be admitted to SUNY Brooklyn, and a year later blacks were 30 times likelier than comparable whites to be admitted to the University of Washington. In some years at each school, the disproportions were not quite so extreme. But in general, black students were still between 4 and 14 times likelier to be admitted to a given medical school than were their white counterparts. Hispanic students were usually between 3 and 7 times likelier to be admitted than similarly qualified whites. Notably, Asians were consistently less likely to be admitted than were whites of equivalent credentials.


The CEO researchers also calculated – in terms of absolute percentages – the likelihood of admission for black, white, Hispanic, and Asian applicants with the same test scores and grades. Again, the results were startling. For example, consider those students with MCAT scores of 30 and GPAs of 3.25. At the Medical College of Georgia in 1996, black applicants with such credentials had a 51 percent chance of admission. For Hispanics, whites, and Asians, the corresponding figures were 14 percent, 5 percent, and 2 percent. At Michigan State College of Human Medicine in 1999, black applicants with the aforementioned credentials had a 43 percent chance of admission. The corresponding numbers for other groups were: 26 percent for Hispanics, 5 percent for whites, and 3 percent for Asians. For similarly qualified applicants to SUNY Brooklyn in 1999, the likelihood of admission was 25 percent for blacks, 13 percent for Hispanics, 3 percent for whites, and 3 percent for Asians. At the University of Washington in 1997, the numbers were 61 percent for blacks, 20 percent for Hispanics, 5 percent for whites, and 4 percent for Asians.


These numbers raise some serious questions, both ethical and practical. Do we want to create a society that applies different standards to different demographic groups? Is it appropriate to “redress” one set of historical wrongs by replacing it with another? With regard to physicians, who play a vital role in determining how healthy we are as a people, are we willing to exchange some degree of quality for a greater diversity of skin tones? Is it wise to form social policy in compliance with former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s assessment of affirmative action’s propriety: “You [white] guys have been practicing discrimination for years. Now it’s our turn”?

John Perazzo is the Managing Editor of DiscoverTheNetworks and is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations. For more information on his book, click here. E-mail him at WorldStudiesBooks@gmail.com

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