Quick question: Have you ever hired anyone based on their GPA?
Another quick question: Have you ever flipped through a massive pile of resumes trying to decide from the thin skeleton of facts arrayed there who you should call in for an interview, seen someone who went to your alma mater, and decided to bring them in?
Personally, I have never hired anyone based on a GPA—not an intern, not a fact-checker, not an editor, not a freelancer. I have never even asked anyone what their GPA was. (And we all know that only the freshly minted graduates who have nothing else to their credit include a GPA on their resume—with the exception of those snooty cum laudes who tend to let the superlatives linger a little longer on their CVs.) Even when I worked in academia where grades are the bread and butter (or carrot and cudgel) of the joint, and I served on hiring committees, no one ever asked the aspiring professor what her GPA was—though we certainly noted where she got her degrees.
This points to the tragic flaw in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's argument yesterday, mapped out in the New York Times and elsewhere today. At stake in the current affirmative action case is the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policy which the Times describes as "an affirmative action policy, which supplements the automatic admission of top-ranking students from all high schools across the state with the use of race as one factor in a 'holistic' approach to admissions."
Scalia says he's not persuaded that "it's a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible." He went on to say that most of the black scientists in the country don't come from schools like the University of Texas, the Times reports. "They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're—that they're being pushed ahead in—in classes that are too—too fast for them," Scalia said.
Many educator-activists interpret this as a diss to the historically black colleges and universities in the country and suggest Scalia is jumping on the bandwagon of something called "mismatch," a theory based on Richard Sander's 2012 book "Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It." The mismatch argument suggests black students who come from crummy public high schools will struggle and get poorer grades in good colleges than their white, middle-class contemporaries who excelled in their better-funded, academically rigorous high schools. If top-notch universities use affirmative action to enroll these less-prepared students, these scholars will limp along with marginal GPAs, so therefore they are better off at less rigorous schools, like HBCUs, that have lower standards—so they can get As.
In other words, it is better to graduate with an A average from a lesser university than a C average from a swanky college.
Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that this mismatch argument smacks of "separate but equal" in tonier dress (or fancy, obfuscating academic-ese). And let's leave aside, for the moment, the local angle where the legacy of "separate but equal" has Maryland's historically black colleges and universities currently engaged in a pitched legal battle for equitable funding with the traditionally white institutions in the state.
We all know that the old boys network is alive and well and bred and cultivated in such places as Harvard Yard and the Skull and Bone (yards) of Yale, and that the powerbrokers in our country came out of the elite institutions where they forged their bonds in youthful drunken revelry and late nights in the library and Thanksgiving breaks at each other's homes.
We know that all things being equal in that stack of 100 resumes on their desk, they will call in the candidate who went to their alma mater because then, geez, at least they can reminisce and the conversation won't lag, and their alma mater got them this far so it must be a damn good school and why not hire a recent grad? Few, I suspect, grill them: "Oh yeah, so you went to Yale, Smartypants, and what was your GPA?"