How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It


By Richard Sander

By Stuart Taylor

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The debate over affirmative action has raged for over four decades, with little give on either side. Most agree that it began as noble effort to jump-start racial integration; many believe it devolved into a patently unfair system of quotas and concealment. Now, with the Supreme Court set to rule on a case that could sharply curtail the use of racial preferences in American universities, law professor Richard Sander and legal journalist Stuart Taylor offer a definitive account of what affirmative action has become, showing that while the objective is laudable, the effects have been anything but.

Sander and Taylor have long admired affirmative action’s original goals, but after many years of studying racial preferences, they have reached a controversial but undeniable conclusion: that preferences hurt underrepresented minorities far more than they help them. At the heart of affirmative action’s failure is a simple phenomenon called mismatch. Using dramatic new data and numerous interviews with affected former students and university officials of color, the authors show how racial preferences often put students in competition with far better-prepared classmates, dooming many to fall so far behind that they can never catch up. Mismatch largely explains why, even though black applicants are more likely to enter college than whites with similar backgrounds, they are far less likely to finish; why there are so few black and Hispanic professionals with science and engineering degrees and doctorates; why black law graduates fail bar exams at four times the rate of whites; and why universities accept relatively affluent minorities over working class and poor people of all races.

Sander and Taylor believe it is possible to achieve the goal of racial equality in higher education, but they argue that alternative policies — such as full public disclosure of all preferential admission policies, a focused commitment to improving socioeconomic diversity on campuses, outreach to minority communities, and a renewed focus on K-12 schooling — will go farther in achieving that goal than preferences, while also allowing applicants to make informed decisions. Bold, controversial, and deeply researched, Mismatch calls for a renewed examination of this most divisive of social programs — and for reforms that will help realize the ultimate goal of racial equality.


Table of Figures
FIGURE 2.1 . The Cascade Effect
FIGURE 3.1 . The Importance of Relative Position
FIGURE 3.2 . Preferences Can Hide Black Achievement
FIGURE 4.1 . Grades and Bar Passage
FIGURE 4.2 . Many Roads to Success
FIGURE 5.1 . First Choice, Second Choice
FIGURE 5.2 . A Natural Experiment for Law School Mismatch?
FIGURE 6.1 . People with Good Law School Grades Succeed as Lawyers
FIGURE 8.1 . The Warming Effect
FIGURE 10.1 . Minority Enrollment Falls While Graduation Numbers Hold Steady
FIGURE 13.1 . Unchastened: Admissions at the University of Michigan Before and After Gratz v. Bollinger
FIGURE 14.1 . The Fall and Rise of Preferences at GMU Law
FIGURE 16.1 . Drift Toward Affluence
FIGURE 16.2 . Not-So-Diverse
FIGURE 16.3 . Untapped Potential

From Richard Sander:
To Fiona, with all my love
From Stuart Taylor Jr.:
To Gwennie, Rodger, Clare, and Jack,
with much love

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION is one of those issues that, like abortion and prayer in schools, divides people so deeply that dialogue across the chasm often seems impossible.
This book attempts to bridge the chasm.
We see merits on both sides of the moral issues raised by affirmative action. But moral arguments have dominated our national dialogue on the issue for decades, and they have neglected a more fundamental question: Does it work?
When the focus shifts from "Is it right?" to "Does it work?" a whole series of important real-world questions open up. And ideology becomes less important. Although people profoundly disagree on whether racial preferences are a legitimate way of expanding opportunity, almost everyone agrees on the underlying goal—expanding opportunity. And we hope that almost everyone would agree that if current programs are actually leading many or most preferred-minority students into academic distress and self-doubt as well as damaging their long-term success, something has to change.
This book demonstrates in detail how racial admissions preferences often undermine the success of the people they are intended to help. As if that were not bad enough, the pervasive secrecy that veils the operation and effects of racial preferences even from most academics has led to deception, ostracism of truth-tellers, lack of accountability, and an unwillingness to face awkward facts and undertake needed reforms. This book takes you on a tour of this largely hidden world.
We reveal much that is shocking, but we also see reason for hope. We find that neither tinkering by the Supreme Court nor the outright bans adopted by six states have effectively addressed the core problems. We think some moderate but dramatic reforms—limiting some particular abuses, improving the focus of preferences on the nonaffluent of all races, and making higher education admissions and outcome highly transparent—can go a long way toward correcting the worst abuses and could set in motion a cycle of virtuous self-reform that could turn a dysfunctional system into a highly effective, genuinely helpful one.
Given the emotional nature of this issue, we thought it would make sense to introduce ourselves and explain why we decided to write this book.


I am white, and I grew up in a conservative rural town in the Midwest. But by the time I finished college I knew that what I most wanted to do was work on issues of racial justice, especially those played out in our largest cities, which at the time (the end of the 1970s) were reeling. I became a community organizer in a nearly all-black neighborhood on Chicago's South Side and then worked for other groups that dealt with issues of race and urban revitalization. I was part of a network of young progressives who were tremendously energized by the 1983 campaign of Harold Washington to become Chicago's first black mayor, and when he shocked everyone by actually winning, I worked on his transition team to formulate housing and tenant law reforms. Some reforms passed, but most got mired in gridlock.
Around this time I developed the mantra that has guided my professional life ever since: Opportunities for real reform are rare and should be seized. When they come, it is incredibly important for reformers to get it right. Political capital should not be spent on programs that do not work or that produce harmful, unintended side effects. This, in turn, implies that those who really believe in reforms must also be their most demanding critics; they must seek out data to evaluate what works and what does not, and above all they must follow the facts where they lead.
I returned to school to study economics and law, and I became very interested in the problem of housing segregation. Despite the passage of fair housing laws, black-white segregation remained very high in the cities, and many liberals concluded that the laws were simply ignored. But there was some impressive, overlooked evidence that actual discrimination rates had fallen sharply since the 1960s. I developed and tested explanations of segregation that could reconcile these facts and that pointed toward different and more effective ways of tackling segregation directly. As I became closely involved in civil rights work, I was struck again and again by the way strongly held beliefs about public policy could blind people on all sides of important issues to the actual state of affairs. Otherwise smart and honest people often screened out inconvenient facts or felt that acknowledging weaknesses in their position only gave aid and comfort to their opponents. I saw this while serving as board president of a large fair housing organization, when some of my colleagues were reluctant to confront and address obvious cases of corruption or incompetence because to do so would embarrass "the movement."
As I recount in Chapter Four, I started to examine the operation and effects of affirmative action when, as a young law professor at UCLA in the mid-1990s, I became involved in efforts to improve the quality of academic support for struggling law students, many of whom had been admitted with large racial preferences. It soon became clear that these preferences were undermining rather than helping the students they were intended to aid. When California voters passed a ban on the use of racial preferences in 1996 (known as Proposition 209), I worked with colleagues at the law school to develop a race-neutral system of smaller, socioeconomic preferences that would expand opportunity while also improving academic performance. The class that we admitted in 1997 was not only (by economic measures) the most diverse we had ever seen; it also went on to have the highest bar-passage rate in the school's history.
Within a few years, however, efforts to evade Proposition 209 and bring race back into admissions decisions got under way in various parts of the University of California, including some of its law schools. At around the same time I found better data that would let me test my hypotheses about the effects of large racial preferences. In January 2005 I published an article that laid out for the first time the detailed operation of preferences in a sector of higher education and presented an array of evidence suggesting that the current system generally made black students worse off, both individually and collectively. This article generated enormous interest and debate; there was clearly a hunger in the legal academic community in general—and in particular from black students—for information on the largely hidden system of racial preferences.
That was the good news, but on the bad side were all the unhappy problems I had encountered in other areas of social policy, especially those touching on race. Those who believed in affirmative action—including some close and wise friends—were upset to see its inner workings revealed and critically examined; they saw this as simply providing aid and comfort to opponents who wished to abolish all racial preferences. Other prominent friends privately cheered my article as a necessary step toward reform but felt they must remain silent about their views for fear of stepping into the withering ideological crossfire between partisans on either side. And the leading institutions of legal education not only refused to take up the issue of reform but also took steps to make it more difficult for anyone to continue any evaluation of law school preference programs.
I took three lessons from the reception to my article. First, I needed to figure out a way to talk about racial preferences that didn't cause people to shut down. I sought out and interviewed dozens of people who, as students, had received racial preferences, and I developed a deeper sense of how it was experienced, how its benefits and harms were perceived, and more nuanced ways of discussing these. Second, I realized that a phenomenon as interesting and difficult as affirmative action itself is the culture of secrecy and doubletalk that surrounds it. That needed to be excavated. Third, it seemed important to bring more careful, dispassionate empiricists into the discussion about racial preferences; I worked with other scholars and foundations to find and make available databases and funding mechanisms that fostered neutral, careful empirical research on the operation and effects of racial preferences in higher education. Coincidentally, other scholars were getting interested in this subject as well, and over the past few years a rich mosaic of important research—still largely unknown to the public—has materialized. It is now fair to talk about an emerging consensus on many issues.
I had been deeply impressed by the work of my friend Stuart Taylor in exposing doubletalk and malfeasance in a variety of American institutions, and in November 2010 I suggested to him that there was a real need for an analytic but accessible book on racial preferences that would call universities to account while also reporting on the new wave of research and suggesting paths toward sensible reforms that cut across hardened ideological lines. Events since we started work on the project have propelled the issue of racial preferences into public discussion, and there are some signs of a healthier debate. Colleagues have told me for years that someday—but not quite yet—a time would arrive when there could be honest public discussion about the problems of affirmative action and some degree of consensus among liberals and conservatives about a constructive path forward. Stuart and I hope that this day has come.


As a journalist, I have been consistently drawn to investigate and write about situations in which influential people and institutions dodge the truth and engage in cover-ups. I am even more motivated to jump in when I sense that groupthink and moral cowardice have made the truth taboo—and as this book shows, these have been endemic features of much public discussion on racial preferences.
In the political world I have made it something of a specialty to expose abuses by powerful politicians of both parties while taking on and proving wrong the journalistic conventional wisdom. I have done this in major controversies including the phony "House Bank" scandal of 1992, when I roasted the first Bush administration and sensationalistic journalists for politically driven smears of House Democrats; the much bigger and even more phony "Iraqgate" scandal, also of 1992, when House Democrats and major news organizations polluted a presidential campaign with bogus allegations of high-level criminality by the same Bush administration; the widely ridiculed sexual harassment claim of Paula Jones against President Clinton, which led to a 1997 Supreme Court ruling against him; the related Monica Lewinsky affair, which led to his 1998 impeachment; and the Duke lacrosse rape fraud of 2006–2007, which led to the disbarment of rogue prosecutor Mike Nifong. My book on that fraud, Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, coauthored by K. C. Johnson, also showed how scores of Duke professors, leaders, and the news media en masse joined in a disgraceful mob rush to judgment against white Duke students falsely accused by a black stripper. The race-driven campus and media pathologies explored in that book closely relate to those explored in this one.
I have also written scores of news stories and commentaries about racial preferences as a reporter and Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times and writer for the American Lawyer, Legal Times, and National Journal. Over those same years I have evolved from an affirmative action supporter to an increasingly skeptical critic of the enormous, pervasive, and carefully concealed system of racial preferences into which it has morphed. My concerns have been fueled by in-depth reporting of facts, evidence, and impact on real people of all races, ranging from firefighters in Alabama, Ohio, and Connecticut, to students and teachers around the country. My major essay on racial preferences in 2004—"The Affirmative Action Cases," a chapter in a book entitled A Year at the Supreme Court—detailed how large racial preferences harm black students, including academic mismatch, fueling stereotypes of black inferiority, stigma, disincentives to study, papering over the ruinously bad educations of many blacks from birth to age eighteen, and the need for radical reform of our K-12 schools.
I have been privileged to discuss affirmative action privately with the only two African Americans ever to sit on the Supreme Court, the late, great liberal Thurgood Marshall, a passionate devotee, and the arch-conservative Clarence Thomas, a passionate critic. I used to visit Marshall's chambers occasionally, savoring every minute I could spend with this singularly unpretentious living legend. He loved to tell stories about his years of dangerous duty representing black murder defendants in racist southern towns, tangling with General Douglas MacArthur over mistreatment of black soldiers in Korea, and much more. The stories usually had a humorous twist. But once, when I wondered aloud whether the time was coming to wind down racial preference, Marshall turned grave. "I think we need it," he said, fixing me with a steady gaze. "Can you tell me you never got any advantage from being white?" I said no. "Well," Marshall continued, "you owe something."
I wonder what Justice Marshall would think now of large racial preferences were he alive and aware of the evidence in this book, which is quite consistent with Justice Thomas's forceful depictions of mismatch and other grievous harms to his fellow blacks. I loved Marshall. I like Thomas very much. I have learned from both.
I became acquainted with Rick Sander after writing admiring commentaries about his work. Rick asked me in late 2010 to coauthor a book that would seek a broader audience and would at the same time show how mismatch harms intended beneficiaries at undergraduate colleges as well as at law schools. I was aware that university leaders and the California State Bar had blocked Rick and other scholars from accessing databases that could go a long way toward proving—or disproving—his mismatch thesis. It struck me as a classic example of entrenched interests attacking a truth-teller.
I agreed to be coauthor subject to studying more closely the many critiques of Rick's statistical analyses by prominent scholars. My nonexpert conclusion was that Rick had much the better of the arguments with each of his critics. This reinforced my sense that his interpretations of the data were far more plausible. In addition, some critics had stooped not only to the usual dodging and distorting of data but also to ugly personal vilification. There they go again. I was in.
To hold this book to a reasonable length and to keep it accessible to a wide audience, we have kept out technical or elaborating material that many readers might value. Those readers should visit the book's website, http://www.mismatchthebook.com, which has an array of supplemental materials.

Much of this book is about the consequences of racial admissions preferences on student learning in American higher education. Most public discussions of this issue (and related issues) use terms that have multiple or ambiguous meanings, so this note explains and defines a few key ideas and introduces usages we use henceforth.
Affirmative action is a particularly confusing (and often political) term. In this book we generally distinguish between affirmative action and racial preferences . We use affirmative action to refer to proactive efforts to prevent discrimination against minorities and promote genuinely equal opportunity by ensuring that selection procedures are fair and by using outreach and recruiting to correct past patterns of exclusion. Racial preferences, in contrast, describe programs that allocate college admissions or other opportunities based partly on the race of a candidate.
In common parlance "affirmative action" usually refers both to the pool-expanding efforts we note above as well as racial preferences. Advocates of racial preferences often use this broad sense of affirmative action because there is—as hundreds of polls confirm—much more public support for affirmative action in some form than there is for racial preferences. We sometimes use "affirmative action" in this broad sense when we refer to general usage, as in "the affirmative action debate."
By higher education we mean all postsecondary schooling in the United States. We often refer to "colleges and universities" similarly to refer to higher education, and sometimes we use college alone to refer to undergraduate education and universities to refer to institutions that confer both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
We use an academic index to roughly quantify and compare the academic preparation of people applying for admission to a college or graduate program and to make discussions of things like racial preferences more concrete. When expressed as a number, the academic index runs from 0 to 1,000; applicants may receive up to 600 points based on their score on a standardized admissions test taken for a particular program (e.g., the SAT I for college applicants, the GRE for applicants to doctoral programs, the LSAT for law school applicants, etc.), and up to 400 points based on their GPA in whatever academic program they have most recently completed (e.g., high school for college applicants, college for graduate school applicants). Thus, for example, a high school senior who received an 1800 on the SAT I and had a 3.5 high school GPA would have an academic index of 750 (400 points for the SAT I score, because the student got two-thirds of the possible points on it, and 350 points for the HSGPA, because the student got seven-eighths of the possible points for that). Many higher education programs use some variation on this academic index, though they have many different methods of giving weight to test scores and grades. But however an academic index is defined, it is generally a strong predictor of whether a student will be admitted. At most law schools, for example, one can predict over 80 percent of the applicants who will be offered admission simply by knowing each applicant's academic index.
Sometimes, with academic indices and other measures of academic preparation, we will use percentiles to compare students or applicants. If Student Jones has an academic index at the 90th percentile of applicants to a particular school, that means that 90 percent of the other applicants have lower academic indices than Jones does. If Student Lee is at the 20th percentile, that means that 20 percent of the other applicants have lower academic indices than Lee does. Similarly, a decile refers to tenths of a distribution. A student in the top decile of her class is in the top tenth and is at the 90th percentile or above.
The concept of the academic index can help us distinguish between large and small admissions preferences. These are obviously subjective terms, but when we refer to a large admissions preference—whether it be based on race, alumni connections, or athletic ability—we generally mean a preference that is equivalent to adding 80 or more points to the academic index of a an applicant. This would be equivalent to a 240-point upward adjustment to an applicant's modern SAT I score. We discuss these ideas in more depth in Chapter Two.
We use black as a shorthand reference for African American, white as shorthand for Caucasian Americans, Hispanic as shorthand for Hispanic Americans (which subsumes the terms Latino, Chicano, Cuban American, Mexican American, etc.); we use Asian as shorthand for Asian Americans, including all American residents whose ethnic origins are in Asia; we use American Indian as shorthand for anyone who traces ancestry to one or more of the native tribes indigenous to the territory of the United States. We generally eschew the term minority, but when we do use it we are referring to all nonwhite groups. Racial preference programs often focus on underrepresented minorities, a term that includes any ethnic group that would be accepted at a lower-than-average rate under a race-neutral admissions program. Depending on the program and the context, Filipino Americans, Cambodian Americans, Cuban Americans, and many other ethnic groups might or might not be included. Because this can be a confusing term and is not widely used in common discourse, we generally avoid it. Moreover, in much of the book we do not specifically mention American Indians as the beneficiaries of admissions preferences, partly to simplify the discussion but more often because the relevant numbers are so small that we cannot make confident generalizations.


AFFIRMATIVE ACTION in university admissions started in the late 1960s as a noble effort to jump-start racial integration and foster equal opportunity. But somewhere along the decades since, it has lost its way.
Over time it has become a political lightning rod and one of our most divisive social policies. It has evolved into a regime of racial preferences at almost all selective schools, preferences so strikingly large and politically unpopular that administrators work hard to conceal them. The largest, most aggressive preferences are usually conferred on upper-middle-class minorities on whom they often inflict significant academic harm, whereas more modest policies that could help working-class and poor people of all races are given short shrift. Academic leaders often find themselves flouting the law and acting in ways that aggravate the worst consequences of large preferences. They have become prisoners of a system that many privately deplore for its often perverse unintended effects but feel they cannot escape.
We document these claims in detail and show how to reform affirmative action in ways that would be good for students of all races. We explain the outpouring of scholarly research in recent years showing how large racial preferences backfire against many and, perhaps, most recipients, to the point that they learn less and are likely to be less self-confident than had they gone to less competitive but still quite good schools.
This is what we mean by "mismatch." Mismatch largely explains why, even though blacks are more likely to enter college than are whites with similar backgrounds, they will usually get much lower grades, rank toward the bottom of the class, and far more often drop out; why there are so few blacks and Hispanics with science and engineering degrees or with doctorates in any field; and why black law graduates fail bar exams at four times the white rate.
It is not lack of talent or innate ability that drives these students to drop out of school, flee rigorous courses, or abandon aspirations to be scientists or scholars; it is, rather, an unintended side effect of large racial preferences, which systematically put minority students in academic environments where they feel overwhelmed. Because of the mismatch effect as well as the related role of racial preferences in fueling pernicious stereotypes of black intellectual inferiority, we will argue that the biggest problem for minorities in higher education is no longer race but rather racial preferences.
The mismatch effect happens when a school extends to a student such a large admissions preference—usually, but not always, because of the student's race—that the student finds herself in a class where she has weaker academic preparation than nearly all of her classmates. The student who would flourish at, say, Wake Forest or the University of Richmond, instead finds herself at Duke, where the professors are not teaching at a pace designed for her—they are teaching to the "middle" of the class, introducing terms and concepts at a speed that is challenging even to the best-prepared student. The student who is underprepared relative to others in that class falls behind from the start and becomes increasingly lost as the professor and her classmates race ahead. Her grades on her first exams or papers put her at the bottom of the class. Worse, the experience may well induce panic and self-doubt, making learning even harder.


  • “An influential book.”
    —Michael Kinsley, Bloomberg View

    “[A] wealth of information.... Dr. Sander and Mr. Taylor present an excellent explanation of what is currently meant by affirmative action and demonstrate how it has been abused.”
    New York Journal of Books

    “[A] remarkable new book. [Sander and Taylor] have shifted the focus of the entire debate. Bypassing the standard arguments about core principles, their extensive research focuses on the actual effects of racial preferences on the students they were intended to benefit. Drawing upon data never before available to independent-minded scholars, they find, to their dismay, that such policies actually do more harm than good to black and Hispanic students. From now on, it will be impossible to have a serious debate on this subject without extensive reference to the evidence provided in this volume.”
    National Review
  • “In the real world, there is little doubt that racial preferences are a failure. In their judicious book Mismatch, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. catalog the twisted effect of preferences on schools beholden to them.”
    —Rich Lowry, National Review Online

    “[Stuart Taylor's] book is wonderful.... [It's] the most thoughtful account of the possible policy disadvantages of affirmative action in putting students who are mismatched...at universities where they're not prepared.”
    —Jeffrey Rosen, on NPR's Diane Rehm Show

    “In their outstanding book, Mismatch, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. document the paradoxical results of giving large preferences to racial and other minorities. Sander and Taylor argue persuasively that the trouble with preferences is not the injustice done to people like Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to the University of Texas while less qualified black and Hispanic applicants were accepted — though that is unfair — but also the harm it does to those to whom such preferences are extended.”
    —Mona Charen, Creators Syndicate
  • “The devastating new book Mismatch…has so much overwhelming evidence on the harm done to students who are black, Hispanic, or from other ‘under-represented' minorities, that it will be hard for anyone with pretensions of honesty to be able to deny that painful fact.... Sander and Taylor have written an outstanding book that deserves to be read and pondered in many places for many years. They have performed a major service for all those who have an open mind on affirmative action.”
    —Thomas Sowell, Claremont Review of Books

    “[An] eye-opening new book.... The argument Sander and Taylor make is unpopular among academic administrators, and, they illustrate, it has been systematically suppressed. But the evidence that they present makes obvious that the solution to educational inequity is not to be found in continuing to mask it with racial admissions preferences that harm students.”
    Science Careers

    “Anyone who wants an honest look at the hard facts about racial preferences in admissions to colleges and universities will find it — perhaps for the first time — in a book titled Mismatch by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr.... The careful analysis of documented facts makes Mismatch a rare and valuable book for people who want to think.”
    —Thomas Sowell, Creators Syndicate
  • “The evidence on [the wrongs perpetrated by affirmative action programs] is hotly disputed, but Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. make a compelling case in their book Mismatch.”
    —David Brooks, New York Times

    “The best argument against affirmative action is presented in Mismatch, by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor. The subtitle says it all: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students Its Intended to Help and Why Universities Won't Admit It.... If Sander and Taylor are right, affirmative action may be a policy that hurts Asians and helps no one. But this is an uncomfortable thing to say. For one thing, we don't know that they're right — there is a hot debate over their thesis. But even if they are right, the remedy is bound to be very divisive..... It's worth noting that it should be relatively easy to tell whether Sander and Taylor are right, except that it's very hard to get the data. And it's hard to get the data because institutions fight like hell to keep it from being released. It's no surprise that we can't all agree on a remedy for historical racism. But it should be easy to agree to study the problem.”
    —Megan McArdle, The Daily Beast
  • “The highly anticipated Sander-Taylor book, Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It, was published Tuesday, on the eve of the oral argument in Fisher v. Texas. It is, in a word, magisterial. No matter what the Supremes decide, this work will be regarded as a major — perhaps the major — discussion of the use and abuse of race in American higher education, easily displacing Bowen and Bok's unduly influential The Shape of the River, which it respectfully but effectively eviscerates.... As someone who has attempted to follow racial issues closely, I can assure you that you will learn, as I did, a great deal that you didn't know and be impressed by the wealth of social science evidence ably and judiciously presented to support and extend the mismatch theory.... Mismatch, in short, is a major contribution to the debate over affirmative action, a model of vigorous but fair and balanced argument and analysis.”
    —John S. Rosenberg, Minding the Campus
  • “This book probably will make constitutional history. Written at the intersection of social science and law, its data conclusively demonstrate the damage that has been done to intended beneficiaries by courts' decisions that have made racial preferences in college admissions an exception to the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws.”
    —George F. Will

    “As a longtime defender of affirmative action, I used to think the so-called mismatch problem was an overhyped myth. But Sander and Taylor make a convincing case and, more important, good recommendations to keep affirmative action alive — without preferences.”
    —Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune

    “[Sander and Taylor] are intelligent critics who support the modest use of race in admissions but think very large preferences have harmful effects.... [T]his book is at its best when it skewers college and university officials — who feel morally superior for defending affirmative action — for in fact pursuing what Yale Law professor Stephen Carter has called ‘racial justice on the cheap.'”
    —Richard Kahlenberg, The New Republic
  • “This lucid, data-rich book is simply the best researched and most convincing analysis ever done of affirmative action in higher education, a work at once impeccably scholarly and entirely accessible to anyone interested in the social and legal ramifications of well-intentioned policies that, as the authors show, have a boomerang effect on the intended beneficiaries.”
    —Judge Richard A. Posner

    “As a high-profile defender of affirmative action, I used to think the so-called ‘mismatch' problem was a bit overblown. Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor have caused me to think again. How many bright and promising minority students, we must ask, have failed because they were steered—with the best intentions, of course — into elite schools for which they were less prepared academically than most of their classmates? What better ways can we devise to boost academic achievement and expand the pool of qualified students of all races? We don't do future generations of students any favors by trying to ignore this issue or pretend it doesn't exist. If common-sense moderates don't step up and engage this debate, we only allow extremists to take control of it.”
    —Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune
  • “[A] powerful new book that explains the nefarious consequences of [undergraduate and graduate admissions programs] for the supposed beneficiaries of racial preferences. The dirty secret — not a dirty little secret, but a dirty huge secret — is how massive in size their racial preferences are.”
    —Ed Whelan, National Review Online, Bench Memos

    “The authors offer extensive data in support of their conclusions that the present system is not serving those students well.... This information will be argued over all the same, but the authors' evenhanded suggestion that what might be a better strategy is to raise educational attainment by investing more in elementary and secondary education for lower-income students — ‘targeting economic need before racial identity,' as they put it — seems unobjectionable on the face. The subject may be hard to talk about, but it must be, and this is a valuable contribution to opening that needed discussion.”
    Kirkus Reviews

    Mismatch is a story of good intentions gone terribly awry. Sander and Taylor document beyond disagreement how university admissions offices' racial quotas and preferences systematically put black and Hispanic students in schools where they are far less well-prepared than others.”
    —Michael Barone, Washington Examiner
  • “[W]hat Mr. Sander and Mr. Taylor have accomplished here is incredibly impressive. The authors have done an excellent job of pulling together the available research, and Mr. Sander in particular has been dogged in his pursuit of fresh numbers…].... Mr. Sander and Mr. Taylor, of course, have their share of critics, and Mismatch will not be the last word on this subject. But they have put the nation's universities in a put-up-or-shut-up situation: They can either admit that preferences do harm, or they can release the data that prove otherwise.”
    Washington Times

    “Sander and Taylor have marshaled a formidable amount of evidence to substantiate the mismatch theory, and...the payoff is persuasiveness.... Mismatch is very much in the tradition of the muckraking that Lincoln Steffens did a century ago when he took on the corruption in American cities; indeed, the book could be titled ‘The Shame of the Colleges.'”
    Wall Street Journal

    “[A] sober, reasoned, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger critique of affirmative action.... One of the virtues of this book is that it is based on a rigorous, dispassionate examination of the facts. It is packed with easy-to-follow graphics and statistical analysis, as well as extensive case evidence based on interviews.”
    The American Spectator
  • “Racial discrimination is unlawful and has been rightly repudiated by the American people. The corrupt silence concerning such discrimination in college and university admissions suggests that at some level these people know they are doing something for which they should be ashamed. Unfortunately they are doing their intended beneficiaries no favors. That's proved beyond demur by Sander and Taylor's Mismatch.”
    —Michael Barone, Creators Syndicate

    “[Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It is] a fine book, and the evidence gathered under the first part of the subtitle is convincing.... I was even more intrigued by the second part — about the reluctance of the universities and respectable opinion in general to recognize the defects of the policy. It's a subject that cannot be discussed, least of all in the precincts of American institutions dedicated to fearless free inquiry.”
    —Clive Crook, Bloomberg View

    “Sander and Taylor attack affirmative action programs in a bold and comprehensive way.... General readers will learn much from this work, though it is recommended more for graduate students in public policy as well as students and faculty at law schools.”

On Sale
Oct 9, 2012
Page Count
368 pages
Basic Books

Richard Sander

About the Author

Richard H. Sander is a law professor and economist at UCLA who worked as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, a civil rights activist in Los Angeles, and is a well-known scholar on race and higher education. He lives in Los Angeles.

Stuart Taylor, Jr., a former New York Times Supreme Court reporter and co-author of the critically acclaimed Until Proven Innocent, is a National Journal contributor and Brookings fellow. He has long been one of the nation’s leading legal journalists. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Learn more about this author