What Scalia said
Scalia said the following at a recent oral argument for an affirmative action case:
There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less — a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.
I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer. Maybe it ought to have fewer. And maybe some — you know, when you take more, the number of blacks, really competent blacks, admitted to lesser schools, turns out to be less.
This created a lot of media coverage, mostly hateful of Scalia, and even Donald Trump didn’t have any praise for what Scalia said (although neither did Trump say anything especially specific).
But what about the crux of the question: are blacks better off going to a more elite school where the average student has an SAT score 200 points higher than them? My answer to the question is yes, absolutely, as long as they aren’t going to be majoring in math or engineering, which are very difficult programs at top schools and the courses have a cognitive floor that will prevent underqualified students from passing.
But if they are going to major in softer subjects, then even though they won’t be able to get a 4.0 gpa, they should still be able to pass the classes because professors will always pass students who have demonstrated that they did all of the reading assignments.
Affirmative action is extremely beneficial to blacks, economically speaking. It follows them throughout their career, where they get into elite colleges they otherwise would not have been able to get into, then get hired for jobs they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get because of corporate America’s diversity initiatives. It’s really great to be black in America.
The only downside here is that no one is honestly telling black students a bitter truth that would help them a lot at college. “You’re not as smart as the other students here, that means you will have to work harder in order to get lower grades. If you are prepared for that, then great, you will benefit from the elite degree. But if you are lazy, you should go to a lesser college.” However, we insist on pretending that the only reason that black students have lower SAT scores is not because they are less intelligent, but because the SATs are biased against black students and is not measuring their true ability. (Which, of course, is completely false, the SATs are accurately measuring lower ability on the part of black test-takers).