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Monday, June 24, 2013

David Brooks, "Speed of Ascent": Is Obama Black or White?


"It was bright and sunny in Washington on Saturday as President Obama stepped out of the White House in flip-flops and khaki shorts to hit the golf course with his buddies."

- The Washington Post, "Obama’s hands-off approach to extraditing Snowden draws criticism" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obamas-hands-off-approach-to-extraditing-snowden-draws-criticism/2013/06/24/9b1d900a-dcdc-11e2-9218-bc2ac7cd44e2_story.html)

With domestic scandals swirling around him and the human tragedy in Syria highlighting his irresolution, I had begun to worry what had happened to our incredible shrinking president (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/the-incredible-shrinking-president-he.html). Yet there was never cause for worry, and he turned up on the links.

Which brings me to my next inane question: Is the President black or white? I suppose you might observe that today it matters less than ever. Consider the ethnic backgrounds of: Vin Diesel, Vanessa Hudgens, Halle Berry, Beyoncé Knowles, Tiger Woods, Will Smith, Lenny Kravitz and a host of other remarkably talented celebrities (see: http://www.imdb.com/list/SmPQhHBlI0g/).

I am leaving would-be Native American Senator Elizabeth Warren off the list, but it should nevertheless be apparent that America is growing more integrated and more tolerant with the passing of  the years.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Speed of Ascent" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/opinion/brooks-speed-of-ascent.html?_r=0), David Brooks explores the status of affirmative action programs, following the Supreme Court's decision not to decide the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin on Monday. Brooks concludes his opinion piece by observing:

"What are we looking for when we admit a student into a university? We’re looking for speed of ascent, not academic attainment at one moment in time. A student who’s risen from an economic catastrophe to achieve a B-plus average has more speed of ascent than the child of law professors who has an A average. The first student may be more expensive to teach. She may not write as many big alumni checks. But she’ll reflect more credit on her school and society.

We now have the means to measure speed of ascent in a fairer and better way. Explicit, raced-based affirmative action programs weren’t wrong for their time, but they are being replaced."

I would go a step further than Brooks: Explicit, raced-based affirmative action programs were right for their time.

But I would also ask, what is the future of universities? In another decade, more advanced learning will occur remotely, i.e. online.

Law school and medical school today? Do kids still want to be lawyers and doctors? I would counsel anyone considering a career in law to find a different profession.

A corollary question: Should children and their families go deep into debt to finance what could well prove a worthless degree?

And now for the politically incorrect kicker: Can computer science programs brook affirmative action programs? Regarding computer science, you either have the talent or you don't (I don't). Moreover, even if you graduate such a program, mediocrity is not being sought in the upper end of this job market.

Universities and affirmative action programs will need to adapt. Universities as we know them today might not even survive.

Welcome to our brave new world.


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