Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A 1962 Field Experiment at the University of Chicago Tested for Housing Discrimination

Several University of Chicago economists are running high quality field experiments.  In skimming the College Magazine, I read this piece about a 1962 field experiment run by the undergrads without faculty involvement!  Here is the key quote (for lazy readers jump to the 2nd paragraph):

"During the 1961–62 school year, they did. The previous year, a Maroon staffer doing clerical work in an administrative office saw a copy of the University budget, and "we discovered that the University owned a lot of segregated apartment buildings," recalls Ruder, who served as production editor and managing editor. "It was really bizarre because our student population at that point was largely white, but there was no segregation," she says. "There weren’t separate dorms for African American students—if someone had suggested that, people would have been appalled."
Concerned that administrators would connect their staffer with the leaked information, the editors decided against immediately reporting the story. Instead, they gave the apartment addresses to Student Government, which teamed with representatives of the UChicago chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to conduct six test cases in which African American students attempted unsuccessfully to secure apartments in the identified buildings. Student Government and CORE confronted President George Beadle with their findings and demanded that the buildings promptly be desegregated. The Maroon broke the story on the January 17, 1962, front page with the headline, "UC Admits Housing Segregation."
In an article the following week, Beadle agreed with the students’ concerns, stressing the University’s nondiscrimination policy and the difference between on-campus housing, which was open to all, and commercial residential properties acquired by the University, many of which had existing segregation policies. "The only issue on which there is arguable difference of opinion," he said, "is the rate at which it is possible to move toward the agreed objective without losing more than is gained."
Unsatisfied with Beadle’s call for "planned, stable integration," protesters conducted pickets and a series of sit-ins drawing about 30 people outside the president’s office in the Admin Building; theMaroon printed front-page updates until February 6, when protesters agreed to halt the sit-ins and work with the president to find a solution. The next fall, the paper reported that Beadle had accepted a faculty committee recommendation to immediately desegregate all University-owned apartments. The Maroon’s role in discovering and sharing the information, says Ruder, was never discovered."

Note the tight link between the experiments' findings (that there was discrimination against blacks) and when the University President learned this information (or at least learned that it was now common knowledge) he changed the policy and desegregated the university owned apartments.  Have recent field experiments been as successful in influencing policy or corporate decisions?  I hope some have.