The University Record, March 18, 1997
Cohen's arguments flawed
Carl Cohen's analysis of admitting practices (Record, Feb. 25, 1997) is disturbingly superficial, and if pursued will lead us to a false and racist "justice" which will plague the University and the nation for the next century. The simple summary is that his method is flawed, his conclusions are overstated, and his remedy, left mostly implicit, is inadequate.
Most ethicists emphasize the separation of law and ethics. Arguments that I am immoral because I have violated the law (let alone possibly violated a law of stunning complexity) are false, per se. The Holocaust, which was in perfect compliance with existing German law, is usually noted as the outstanding example. But more importantly, the law becomes a cover for failing to examine the underlying problems carefully enough. It is not helpful to conflate the two concepts. I am not immoral because I tried to understand Bakke in the light of the total issue I see. (It is arguable that I am not even illegal.)
Prof. Cohen's use of statistics is glib and misleading. My department has sought and supported Black applicants for over 25 years, and I have frequently been part of that process. It has been a mixed success, but the trend is positive. Many of our Black students, whose undergraduate grades and graduate entrance exams rarely cross the median of the total applicant pool, have failed, here or later in life. A larger number have succeeded, becoming respected, promoted health care managers. Many have succeeded brilliantly, becoming leaders and role models in surprising corners of the nation. On the whole, their performance, buoyed by those who did exceptionally well, has exceeded that of white students with similar scores. The issue Prof. Cohen has forgotten is that grade point and test score statistics are seriously flawed measures, useful only as initial guides.
It comes down to this: the applications pool has three parts, those students who are clearly able, those who are clearly unprepared, and a large middle group for whom the quantitative data provide no substantial information. Within that group, I serve the University and the world best by using my judgment. I choose to look at industry, perseverance, achievement relative to that of others with similar backgrounds, leadership, clarity of purpose, and commitment to health as a value. None of these can be assessed easily, let alone quantified. But like the physician with the difficult diagnosis and the lawyer with the difficult defense, it is my job.
No, professor, I am not immoral, and I do not appreciate your calling me that. I started my adult life at a major East Coast medical center, telling Black patients there was no room for them, when I knew there was, on the white wards. That was immoral, and I'm not going back.
John Griffith, the Andrew Pattullo Professor of Health Management and Policy