Hirschman, Berrey, and Rose-Greenland: “Dequantifying Diversity”

After months of hard work, I am proud to announce the birth of a new working paper. The paper, written with co-authors Ellen Berrey (SUNY-Buffalo) and Fiona Rose-Greenland (Michigan), is titled “Dequantifying Diversity: Affirmative Action and Admissions at the University of Michigan.” It is available here (link opens a pdf). Here’s the abstract:

To refine existing theories of quantification, we examine a rare case in which the practice of quantification reverses: affirmative action in undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan. Michigan adopted a policy of holistically reviewing undergraduate applications in 2003, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional its points-based admissions policy. Using archival and ethnographic data, we examine the adoption, evolution, and undoing of Michigan’s quantified system of admissions decision-making between 1964 and 2004. We show that the University quantified admissions with the objectives of efficiency, selectivity, and increased racial minority representation. By the 1990s, the policy assigned a simple numeric weight to particular racial groups. Drawing on this transparency, the Court read the policy as a mechanical calculation that unlawfully gave a decisive advantage to applicants based solely on their race. Michigan’s new holistic policy did not completely abandon numbers, but rather dequantified race and thus ceased the treatment of racial categories as uniform for admissions purposes. Our theoretical analysis clarifies the process of quantification by identifying its components: categorization, classification, and valuation. Our empirical analysis suggests two conditions under which systems of quantification may be undone: when they are transparent to non-experts and when they quantify contested social statuses.

We think the paper will be of interest to scholars of organizations, affirmative action, and of course quantification. We would love your feedback. Feel free to distribute widely, but note that the paper is subject to changes both large and small as it moves through the review process, so let us know if you’d like to quote it.

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