White Views on Academic Merit Change with Competition

Scientific American

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How much do you think Grade Point Average should factor into university admission decisions? Depends on race, actually. At least that's what one survey suggests.

The University of California Survey Research Center randomly dialed nearly 600 white adults within the state. They asked half the respondents how important GPA should be in determining admissions to the UC system. They asked the other half the same question, but prefaced it with the fact that Asians make up nearly 40 percent of the UC student body—three times their share of the state's population.

Turns out the white group aware of the population Asian placed less importance on GPA—presumably, says sociologist Frank Samson, because they felt that that particular measure of merit was benefiting Asian students and not them. Samson presented the findings at a recent meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York. [Frank L. Samson, Multiple Group Threat and Malleable White Attitudes Towards Academic Merit, in Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race]

There's one twist: when respondents were asked to consider competition by blacks as well as Asians, they went back to upping the importance of GPA, possibly to exclude black students they presumed would score lower. All of which suggests our opinions about academic merit may be more biased than we'd like to admit.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

 

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