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5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Piece of Writing on an Important Subject, August 8, 2007
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This review is from: The Case for Affirmative Action in University Admissions (Hardcover)
In the interest of full disclosure, I should indicate that I know Bob Laird personally. He was my English teacher for the spring semester of my junior year in high school back in the late 1970s, and even though I studied with him for only a short time, I consider him among the best teachers I ever had at any level. After he left teaching to join UC Berkeley's Office of Relations with Schools, we still kept in touch and remained good friends during the past 30 years.

Normally I wouldn't review a friend's book, but the reviewer below known as "Smile of Reason" (hereafter SOR) unfairly slandered Bob and gave his book a ridiculously low rating, so I felt compelled to stand up in Bob's defense.

SOR claims that Bob routinely admitted unqualified minority students who had no hope of ever graduating, but this is factually wrong. In 1997, the last year of affirmative action at UC Berkeley, African-American and Latino freshmen had a 1-year retention rate of 97.1% while the white freshmen that year had a 1-year retention rate of 97.0%. Clearly the admissions office that Bob led was bringing in qualified minority candidates.

SOR also claims Bob believes "... that blacks, Hispanics and Indians [sic] are intellectually inferior to whites and Asians." This, not to put too fine a point on it, is pure fantasy. I can state categorically that Bob neither said nor implied this in his book nor does he privately espouse such a foolhardy notion. To the contrary, Bob believes that minority students have just as much intellectual capacity as their non-minority
counterparts, but minority students often face obstacles that any fair admissions process should take into account. SOR is simply an ideologue who distorts the facts to support his preconceived ideology.

Having dispensed with SOR let me now turn to the book itself. Bob presents the history of affirmative action and explains the complex legal arguments in clear, concise expository prose accessible to non-specialists. He also has a real talent for narrative prose displayed wonderfully in chapters 6 and 7 about the anti-affirmative action directives in California (SP 1 and proposition 209) and their aftermath. Drawing upon his first hand knowledge, Bob presents lively vignettes of what transpired and interesting mini-profiles of the people involved. He not only offers penetrating insights, he also tells the story well, which one would expect from a former English teacher.

I have only two criticisms of the book. First, instead of presenting statistical data in prose alone, I think he should have used tables and simply referred to those tables in the text proper. Second, I think he should have added a chapter in which he profiled half a dozen or so underprivileged minority students who had modest test scores and grade point averages because of the many hurdles they had to overcome but nevertheless succeeded fabulously at Berkeley once they were admitted. Bob's statistical analysis is impeccable, but to change some people's hearts about such an emotional subject, he needs to tell the stories of actual people lifted up by affirmative action who would otherwise have been left behind. Bob's facility with narrative prose would offer a powerful antidote to the screeds and downright lies of affirmative action opponents like SOR.

These are only minor criticisms, though. The book is insightful and well-written, and anyone interested in the subject of affirmative action for college admissions will find it a valuable resource. I recommend it heartily and unequivocally.
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