"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, October 1, 2012

Affirmative Action–The Supreme Court Tries Again

The Supreme Court will once again revisit the issue of affirmative action when it considers Fisher vs.The University of Texas.  Although previous Court decisions made it clear that race was not to be used as a determining factor for admissions, many schools disregarded the opinion and continued to go their own way.  The Court feels that it is time to close whatever loopholes may have contributed to persistent racial preferences in academia.  Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr. have recently published a book entitled Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It and summarize the findings in an article in the Washington Post (10.1.12).

Our analysis of its 2006 undergraduate admissions patterns at the University of Michigan found that racial preferences were clearly much larger than before Grutter, and race was more often the “defining feature” of an application. If we compare Asian and black students with similar test scores and grades, for example, blacks had a 96 percent chance of admission in 2006, compared with 11 percent for Asians. The college used more racial categories in evaluating applicants after Grutter and paid less attention to socioeconomic background.

Our analysis of a sample of public law schools before and after Grutter shows much the same pattern: The effective weight given to black applicants based on their race went up at schools around the country, and the room left for consideration of non-racial forms of diversity went down. Post-Grutter, many law schools have automatically admitted every black applicant whose LSAT scores and college grades meet some minimal threshold, while turning down 90 percent of white applicants with the same qualifications.

There is no reason why affirmative action programs should continue in higher education.   Many colleges and universities base their admissions policies on the assumption that racial diversity per se is important – that the more the institution reflects the real racial world, the richer the university environment will be.  There are two basic fallacies to this argument: First, of all the possible ways to represent diversity, race is the least advantageous.  Certainly students selected because of talent in mathematics, science, dance, or the visual arts create a richer learning environment than one in which color alone is the basis for acceptance.  Universities define ‘diversity’ uniquely in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation because of a socio-political agenda left over from the Sixties.  Forcing or engineering diversity on these grounds, they say, will help to create a more just and equitable society.

However, affirmative action programs tend to increase racial intolerance, not decrease it.  Since racial preferences lower the bar for admission, white students see only underperforming minorities.   Their prejudices are then confirmed – these students must be dumber and must come from dysfunctional environments.  Moreover, this reconfirmation of prejudice is compounded by resentment.  These under-qualified students have been admitted when many more qualified non-minority applicants have not.

Affirmative action programs also do few favors for minorities who struggle to keep up, and drop out at rates much higher than whites or Asians:

Completion rates for first-time, full-time students who sought a bachelor's degree in fall 2004 also varied by race/ ethnicity. Asian/Pacific Islander students had the highest 6-year graduation rate (69 percent), followed by White students (62 percent), Hispanic students (50 percent), and Black and American Indian/Alaska Native students (39 percent each. (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 2012).

Many observers have noted that affirmative action negatively affects minority performance. Racial and sexual discrimination tend to rob their victims of self-confidence and self-esteem, and to sap the motivation of those who suffer them. Certainly qualities such as self-confidence, self-esteem, and a high level of motivation are relevant to one’s ability to compete.

The greatest damage [of affirmative action] might be to blacks’ self-esteem and sense of their own potential, already battered by a culture of poverty.  The direct message of race-norming to blacks is ‘You don’t quite measure up, so we’re going to lower the standard for you’ (Helen Lipson, Talking Affirmative Action)

Social justice is usually the reason given for most affirmative action programs – that is, they give minority students a chance they might not otherwise have had; and as importantly they expose white students to a racial diversity they might never have had. The real and legitimate goal of any program designed to reduce inequality – to increase educational and economic opportunity – is overlooked in this atmosphere of social engineering. 

Many state school systems have various tiers – not only are there the premier flagship universities, but a range of two-year colleges, community colleges, and technical schools.  These schools have far lower academic standards – for all applicants – than do the flagships; and lower-performing students can compete with their peers and get an education.  If it turns out that an individual’s abilities were not shown in admissions test scores, and he/she excels at the community college, then advancement and transfer to a more prestigious four-year college is possible with financial aid.

Affirmative action was once a legitimate instrument from breaking the all-white stranglehold of certain professions; and there is little doubt that police and fire departments, the construction industry, the teamsters, etc. would never have voluntarily hired minorities if there had not been laws which insisted on racial diversity.  However, this phase of breaking up white hiring cabals is over.  It is now common practice everywhere to hire, recruit, and fire without racial preference or prejudice.

Affirmative action programs to promote the much more vague goal of ‘diversity’ go way beyond this original and legitimate intent. 

The real way to racial equality in this country is through equalizing performance, and education is clearly the first step.  The entire public education system needs to be reformed so that minority students from poor neighborhoods have the opportunity to select the schools most appropriate for them.  School choice should be encouraged through voucher programs in younger grades, exam-based competitive secondary schools, and strengthened multi-tiered systems of higher education.  As in all aspects of American life, not everyone is equal; but everyone should have equal opportunity.

The Supreme Court should once and for all abolish affirmative action in higher education.

1 comment:

  1. There are many complexities associated with affirmative action programs and policies. However, one issue which we continually ignore, as is the case with most government related programs and initiatives, is whether it is effective in addressing past wrongs. Think about this: How many beneficiaries of affirmative action programs have actually shared their good fortune with other members of their particular ethnic group, as opposed to using their increased opportunities and wealth to distance themselves from the masses of minority citizens? http://tinyurl.com/3gw6lkp

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