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1. Race relations in general and affirmative action in particular have arguably been the most divisive and hotly contested issues in contemporary American politics. Many people feel that affirmative action is necessary to either counteract injustices or ensure the advancement of certain minorities. Affirmative action proponents generally point to four justifications. These are racism, poverty, diversity, and the problem of underrepresentation. Proponents point out that many blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans live in substandard housing, go to substandard schools, and live in neighborhoods where crime is rampant. They claim that they are victims of daily racism and that this hurts their chances for advancement. Proponents point to small numbers of these minorities in certain desirable jobs (i.e. CEOs of corporations and high elected office) as evidence of underrepresentation of minorities and a need for diversity both in the workplace and in higher education.
2. There are several different levels of affirmative action. They include: quotas, preferences, and outreach, in lessening order of severity. Quotas, also called “set asides”, deal with having a certain amount of jobs or college spots reserved for a particular group. For example, if a University admits 1000 students every year and sets aside 150 seats that are open to blacks only, this is an example of a quota. In the Supreme Court case Bakke v Regents of the University of California , the court ruled that these quotas could not be used by the system but that race could be considered a plus in admissions to the medical school. This brings us to preferences. Preferences are when persons from certain groups (usually groups that have been underrepresented or disadvantaged) are given a ‘boost' in admissions. An example of this would be the practice at the University of Michigan, which was recently overruled by a U.S. District Court. At the University of Michigan, applicants are graded on a 150-point scale. Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians get 20 points for their race, equal to raising their grade-point average a full point on a 4 -point scale (Focus on Affirmative…). This case has recently been appealed to the Supreme Court, casing new light on this decades old question. The third and least severe form of affirmative action occurs when no preferences are given, but when special efforts are made to recruit members of certain groups. This is called outreach. An example of this would be when a Hispanic student receives a letter from the minority recruitment office at a prestigious university urging him to apply (Ezorsky, 34).
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3. Currently, the Supreme Court is considering the case of the University of Michigan's admissions criteria. The type of affirmative action that Michigan uses is a preference system where minority applicants are given 20 extra points on a 150-point scale. While this is technically a preference, the relatively large weight given to minorities causes opponents (such as Bush) to argue that such a large advantage functions as a quota for all practical purposes by ensuring a certain yield of minorities (Kantrowitz, 33). In any event, this new case brings several controversial issues. Firstly, since it is 25 years since the last major affirmative action case, it is likely that all sides will be giving their interpretation of where racial equality is relative to where it was in 1978. Secondly, the history of affirmative action's operation will likely come into play, with proponents pointing to successes by minorities in recent decades and opponents pointing to the unremitting, or perhaps worsening problems in education today.
4. Before a discussion of the various perspectives of affirmative action as they relate to each other in America, a history of some important historical affirmative action cases and their impact on the current debate is relevant. The most important early Supreme Court case that dealt with affirmative action was Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971). A group of workers sued the power company because the hiring, firing, and seniority policies of the company hurt blacks. In particular, there was a test for prospective employees which had only peripheral relevance to the job at hand and which was disproportionally excluding blacks. The court ruled that non-germane tests that had a disproportional effect on a certain race were illegal. While this ruling was partially overturned in Wards Cove Packing Company v Antonio , hiring requirements of employers have been under increased scrutiny since (Ezorsky 50).
5. Another important early case was that of United Steelworkers of America v. Weber. The United Steelworkers had a program where they were eliminating racial imbalances in a plant by reserving half of the spaces in a worker-training program for blacks until racial parity was achieved. When Weber, a white steelworker, sued on the basis that he had more seniority than the most senior black trainee and yet had still been rejected from the training program, the court upheld the voluntary program of the United Steelworkers (Ezorsky 122-3). This judgment essentially validated quotas in this instance despite the fact that they had been ruled unconstitutional in education in a case the previous year, Bakke v Regents of the University of California , which ruled that the UC's quota system was unconstitutional. Between Bakke , Weber , Griggs , Wards Cove , and several other cases, we are left with a very muddy definition of what types of affirmative action are permissible in America today.
6. Those who advocate diversity as a priority in admissions policies disagree with those who simply care about using SAT scores and statistics to predict success. These people believe that having a diverse university provides benefits. After all, everybody will have to deal with people of all races in an increasingly racially integrated workforce.
7. However, achieving diversity in colleges is more complicated than simply admitting lots of minorities. These proponents also point to the ‘critical mass' hypothesis, which states that a certain representation of certain minority groups is necessary for the students from that group to feel comfortable and wanted, and for them to be able to socialize properly. Researchers have found that minorities feel that in order to be treated properly, and to make a proper impression on the rest of the student body, there needs to be a certain minimum number of them. This has been shown to create a situation there people are “more tolerant and less hostile towards those who are different.” (Hughes, 7) This is because a certain threshold must be reached before minorities feel that they are educationally visible (Blake 25). This “critical mass” makes minority students “realize that they are not so different” and allows them to see others “like [themselves] who are struggling and making it.” (Blake 24) Procurement of a sufficient number of minorities, in both the student body and the faculty will “give students [not just] one or two potential role models, but a whole range of people with whom [they] can potentially identify and draw support from.”(Blake 24) This also ensures that impressions of races, perspectives, or “natural relationships” will not be drawn from just one or two examples.
8. The diversity justification for affirmative action became prominent after the Bakke decision (which was written by the swing vote who didn't completely agree with either of the opposing groups of justices) allowed affirmative action to be used to promote diversity. Many proponents point to the progress of minorities in academia and the workforce as positive side effects of diversity. However, there are many opponents of this justification. According to Lino Graglia, preferences accorded to minority groups cause most of them to be placed in institutions that are at last one level above where they would be competitive. Graglia attributes the proliferation of majors like “Women's Studies” or “African American Studies” as well as “multiculturalism” to this lack of competitiveness among persons admitted to institutions at which they are unable to compete (Grapes 47-50). While there is nothing wrong with studying other cultures, and these majors need not necessarily be less academically rigorous, there are limited employment opportunities for persons with degrees in such fields and educational resources could be better used in other ways. Cultural studies would be better as a supplement to other fields, such as political science or business, rather than as a stand-alone field.
9. It is also worthwhile to note that while many affirmative action proponents discuss the benefits of diversity, not one of them cites any sort of study indicating that there is a measurable increase in learning in the overall student body that is attributable to diversity. Most of the justification is conjectural, and while there may perhaps be some value to diversity, this has to be balanced against the cost of continuing racial resentment, artificially imposed discrimination, and inefficient use of educational resources.
10. According to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, having more nonwhite students does not necessarily mean that a university will have a more diverse student body. This ruling was made in the case Johnson v. Board of Regents of University of Georgia, when the admissions policy of the University of Georgia, which gives a slight preference in bonus points to nonwhite applicants, was ruled unconstitutional. The three judge panel said that the university had not proven that more nonwhite students lead to more diversity. This is counter to part of the Bakke decision which ruled that diversity could be a justification for affirmative action. The judges wrote that "racial diversity alone is not necessarily the hallmark of a diverse student body, and race is not necessarily the only, or best, criterion for determining the contribution that an applicant might make to the broad mix of experiences and perspectives that create diversity.” As an example, Judge Stanley Marcus said that a white applicant from rural Appalachia may contribute more to the student body than a nonwhite applicant from suburban Atlanta. This ruling means that race cannot be used as a proxy for diversity, weakening the legitimacy of race based affirmative action for this purpose (U. of Georgia Cannot Use Race…). Marcus's ruling is supported by an article entitled “The Legal Fiction of Diversity” by Dahlia Lithwick. Lithwick discusses how the Bakke decision that minorities could be given a plus in admissions in order to achieve diversity was essentially a fancy excuse for reverse discrimination because other types of diversity were not ensured by the ruling. Lithwick rightfully blames the ruling on Justice Powell, who as the swing vote in the 5-4 decision disagreed partly with both sides, and wrote the decision outlawing quotas but allowing a boost for minorities to promote diversity (Lithwick, 2002).
11. Many affirmative action proponents support affirmative action for other reasons than diversity for its own sake. Many proponents feel that affirmative action is necessary to compensate for disadvantage due to racism, poverty, or parents who were not well educated. Others believe that it is just and proper payback for years of improper treatment. They point to what is still a reality in America today: that blacks as a group hold lower paying, more menial jobs, and hold disproportionally fewer desirable jobs, with representation in the top echelons of society being egregiously low. While these proponents bring up legitimate grievances that should be addressed, they sometimes sweep other consequences of affirmative action under the rug. Whenever for example, a person is admitted to Harvard with lower grades on the basis of their race, this means that a more qualified candidate gets rejected simply because he or she is not a member of the privileged group. Since these proponents don't themselves build new prestigious universities or hire more workers, but instead demand places for favored groups in existing jobs and universities, they are simply redistributing a scarce resource. This reality, and the balance between a more egalitarian society and fairness for today's children needs to be carefully considered.
12. Roger Clegg discusses a statistical analysis by the Center for Equal Opportunity of several Virginia law schools. Of all 47 schools that the CEO had studied, the University of Virginia was the most horrendous. The study found that the odds of favoring a black candidate over an equally qualified white candidate were a staggering 731 to 1. William and Mary also came out as a big discriminator. There, the odds favoring equally qualified blacks over whites are 351 to 1. Since this is difficult to understand, Clegg gives us some examples. According to Clegg, if you were black and had an LSAT score of 160 and a 3.25 GPA you had a 95 percent chance of getting into UVA while a white student would only have a 3 percent chance. The usual defense of affirmative action here is hardly reasonable. Most of the time schools claim that race is just one factor. In this case it seems to be the factor, increasing your chances nearly 32 fold if you are black (Clegg). Statistics from Brown University indicate a similar trend toward Asians. According to their statistics, each year Asians make up 20.3% of the applicants and only 16% of the acceptances. Blacks and Hispanics pick up most of this slack. Blacks make up 6% of the applicants and 9% of acceptances while Hispanics make up 7.1% of the applicants and 9% of the acceptances. Whites suffer only slightly at Brown, where they make up 66.6% of the applicants and 66% of the acceptances. The lower rate at which whites and Asians are accepted is despite the fact that they have, on average, higher test scores.
13. Many affirmative action proponents point to statistics such as those in the Clegg study as proof that affirmative action uses goals and statistics dealing with broad groups to make unfair decisions about individuals. They believe that every time a less qualified person gets something because of affirmative action, there is somebody who was more qualified who is rejected. As Lino Graglia, a professor of law at the University of Texas says “It is not possible to compensate for an injury to A, inflicted in the past by B, by giving today a benefit to C at the expense of D.” (Grapes 38) These opponents feel that affirmative action is unconstitutional because while it tries to right disparities between groups, it works (sometimes negatively) on individuals. Since the constitution guarantees, among other things the rights of individuals ("no individual shall be denied equal protection . . ." "no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of race . . ."), they say that affirmative action clearly is not compatible with these protections.
14. Writer Dinesh D'Souza, the author of Illiberal Education is an opponent of affirmative action. His view is that policies that discriminate in favor of a group (i.e. affirmative action) are as wrong as policies that discriminate against it (i.e. segregation)(Guernsey 62). This makes sense since the byproduct of affirmative action is that the more qualified candidates don't get jobs or college acceptances simply because of their race. In practical consequence, this is the same as specifically limiting the numbers of a certain race who can qualify.
15. Even if the grievances that are brought by affirmative action proponents are genuine, the process of adjusting the playing field, as affirmative action gurus like to say, might do more harm than good, and muddy, instead of fix the racial picture. One of the best articulations of the point comes from a story told by Clarence Thomas, which is related to us in an essay by Juan Williams in his essay “A Question of Fairness”:
“Thomas told me a story from his boyhood to illustrate what fairness means to him. He was on the back porch, playing blackjack for pennies with some other boys. As the game went on, one boy kept winning. Thomas finally saw how: the cards were marked. The game was stopped. There were angry words. Cards were thrown. From all sides fast fists snatched back lost money. There could be no equitable redistribution of the pot. The strongest, fastest hands, including those of the boy who had been cheating, got most of the pile of pennies. Some of the boys didn't get their money back. The cheater was threatened. The boys who snatched pennies that they had not lost were also threatened. But no one really wanted to fight -- they wanted to keep playing cards. So a different deck was brought out and shuffled, and the game resumed with a simple promise of no more cheating.”(Williams 5)
Williams explains how Thomas felt that that story is like race relations in America. The end of the cheating, according to Thomas, was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The dispute now, is how and whether the government should return the pennies to their rightful owners, generally seen as blacks, Hispanics, Women, and Native Americans (Williams 5)
16. Affirmative action is the vehicle that would be used to return the pennies to their rightful owners. If whites living today were the equivalent of the boy who had the marked deck or the older boys who had stolen the pennies, then the answer to the dilemma would be easier. However, almost all whites living today received little to no benefit from either slavery or segregation. In fact, most Americans (or their ancestors) immigrated to America many years after the end of slavery, themselves uneducated and poor. Thomas points this out by saying:
“I will ask those who proffer a governmental solution to show me which group in the history of this country was pulled up and put into the mainstream of the economy with governmental programs. The Irish weren't. The Jews weren't. Use what was used to get others into the economy. Show us the precedent for all this experimentation on our race."(Williams 6)
Thomas's assertion is that other immigrant groups didn't need (or have) government programs in order for them to get along economically. While not denying that minorities have been cheated, and even saying that at times he would like to cheat in favor of those who were cheated, he acknowledges that, as previously established, whites in America today bear little resemblance to the hooligans at the card game. This is especially true since many white immigrants (especially the Jews and Irish that Thomas uses in his example) were far more likely to be discriminated against themselves by those who benefited from segregation and slavery than to be among those sharing in the benefits. Examples include the temperance movement (essentially a Whig backlash against immigration of Catholic Irish and Germans) and the setting of quotas for Jewish admittance to Yale Law School, until the 1960s (Folk 1).
17. While most affirmative action proponents do not support the lessening of opportunities for non-minorities for its own sake, they have a different take on the situation. Many proponents argue that being a minority in America is fundamentally different from being a member of another disadvantaged group. Specifically, the treatment and impediments that hold certain minorities back are peculiar to certain groups. Two experts help us to understand this argument. One is Victor Villanueva, who makes a distinction between “immigrants” and “minorities”, and the other is John Ogbu, who makes a distinction between ‘voluntary minorities', or those who choose to immigrate, and ‘involuntary minorities', or those races that inhabited North America prior to the arrival of Europeans, or who were enslaved and brought here. A discussion of the views of these authors will bring us to a discussion of the distinction that is made by affirmative action proponents between those who receive affirmative action and other disadvantaged groups.
18. Victor Villanueva, a professor at Western Washington University, makes an important distinction between “minority” and “immigrant”. Villanueva argues that while much of America's underclass has been made up of those who came into American society under marginalized circumstances, culturally different, not knowing the language, and poor, that there were significant distinctions between those that were “immigrants” and those who are “minorities”. Villanueva points out that some groups, such as blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, became part of America through conquest, great-power treaties, or questionable real estate deals. By contrast, those who he considers immigrants (Asians, Italians, Germans, Irish, etc.) came more or less willingly, albeit in an attempt to escape political and economic upheaval. Villanueva points out that many, such as Irish and Germans, assimilated easily, while blacks and Hispanics and Native Americans continue to occupy a different role. Villanueva gives examples of how German foods such as sausages are Americanized as hot dogs, while tacos are still considered ethnic foods. In the supermarket, Villanueva notes, beans are put in the ethnic section, while “items as foreign-sounding as sauerkraut are simply canned vegetables.”(Villanueva, 109-117)
19. Scholar and anthropologist John Ogbu takes a similar tack to Villanueva. Ogbu believes that while discrimination in schools and class differences account for some of the stratification between blacks and whites in America, that “deeply rooted attitudes, shaped by the historical experience of each group, also help explain the differences.” Ogbu makes a distinction between “voluntary minorities” (equivalent to Villanueva's immigrants) and “involuntary minorities” (equivalent to Villanueva's minorities, who have been oppressed and discriminated against). Ogbu believes that these negative experiences (which he feels are stronger than those faced by other groups) help to explain what he calls an “oppositional identity” which gets in the way of learning by causing blacks to disdain learning because its involves “acting white” (Freedberg, 1). Since blacks were forced to come to America and were enslaved, the mistreatment and blacks' reaction to it has created a cultural feeling that makes learning difficult. Discrimination in the past has broken the link between effort and reward, Ogbu says, creating a situation where black youth believe that education will not pay off. Discrimination has also created distrust for institutions that are seen as “white”, such as school (Ogbu).
20. Because of the distinctions that are made between “minorities” and “immigrants”, affirmative action proponents believe that special status should be accorded to “minorities” over “immigrants”. There is something that does not have to do with effort, nor with ability, nor with the standard hardships of being an outsider that is keeping Villanueva's “minorities” back. Because of these hardships many affirmative action proponents insist that all other things being equal, there is a disadvantage to being a member of certain minority groups. Many believe that this disadvantage is manifested in the form of racism. Affirmative action opponents disagree, citing the 1964 Civil Rights bill and the current politically correct atmosphere as being important factors in limiting racism. Those who discount the hardships of Villanueva's minorities note that even the most hardened racists find it difficult to find support for their views or a legal way of expressing them in a manner adverse to blacks. Most business owners, for example, simply wish to avoid discrimination lawsuits, regardless of their personal racial views.
21. Opponents of affirmative action argue that race is a poor indicator of hardships. These opponents say that while the average white person has a higher income and more net worth than the average black or Hispanic, there are plenty of poor white people and wealthy black people. To assume that blacks are poor and whites are rich solely on the basis of race, while statistically accurate, ignores differences between individuals within groups. Since differences within groups are always larger than differences between the average members of differing groups, this type of lumping is unfair. Since most applications for jobs and colleges require information about an applicant's finances anyway, there is no more reason for them to assume poverty on the basis of race than there would be for a policeman practicing racial profiling to stop Colin Powell on the street (in both cases, it is easy to identify exceptions to the stereotype, even when the stereotype is misguided). Since most affirmative action proponents are against racial profiling, one must question whether these proponents want a double standard: they want minorities to be considered as a group when that type of consideration would provide benefits, but as individuals when consideration of the characteristics of the group in general would result in police harassment.
22. Even if classifying economic disadvantage by race was justified in the 1960s, many argue that is no longer the case. Blacks have vastly improved their position over the past several decades. Blacks earning over $50,000 a year are the fastest growing income group in America. The result of this is that since the 1960s, the percentage of affluent black Americans had doubled. In some cases, blacks are even doing better than whites. In two parent households where both parents are college educated and both parents work, black families make more money than white families. Between 1979 and 1991, the number of black accountants has increased by 479 percent, the number of black lawyers by 280 percent, and the number of computer programmers by 343 percent (Guernsey 63). Given these figures, it seems to some that Villanueva and Ogbu's arguments about problems peculiar to this “minority” group may be becoming obsolete. After all, more blacks are getting educated and getting jobs, and among black people who are well educated and have jobs, there is little to complain about.
23. Many who acknowledge inequities in America and acknowledge the need for corrective preferences question the wisdom of giving preferences to members of the emerging black middle (and upper) class. If race doesn't necessarily correlate with disadvantage with the strength that Villanueva and Ogbu would like us to believe, then maybe there is another index to use to determine disadvantage when considering job or college applications. Professor Plous of Wesleyan University discusses compensation for inequity in his article titled Ten Myths About Affirmative Action. Plous states that because racial minorities are at a disadvantage (at least in the aggregate) that there is a need for a correction. However, he concludes his point by stating that “unless pre-existing inequities are corrected or otherwise taken into account, color-blind policies do not eliminate racial injustice-they reinforce it.” (Plous, 2) Plous, however, gives no reason why these inequities could not be ‘otherwise taken into account' by looking at other factors, such as socioeconomic status. While some might argue that there are disadvantages independent of socioeconomic status that disproportionately affect minorities, such as the claims of Villanueva and Ogbu or statistics indicating a disproportionate number of single parent minority households (Grapes, 61), it should be noted that almost all college applications already request information about the applicant's family structure. Likewise, it should also be noted that the vast majority of college applicants (and virtually anybody who has any claim of being disadvantaged) provide detailed reports of their financial status to the colleges that they apply to in the form of financial aid applications. Thus, all the information that is needed to make an intelligent assessment of an applicant's disadvantage is already provided in college applications and could be used to make an intelligent assessment of an applicant's disadvantage without resorting to race. Since race is sometimes a poor indicator of disadvantage, there is no reason to give automatic advantages to a minority applicant just for checking a box corresponding to their skin color.
24. Lino Graglia says “Not all blacks, and not only blacks...have been disadvantaged” (Grapes, 48). Since statistics indicate that blacks are getting closer and closer to the average income, many believe that it now makes more sense to base preferences on socioeconomic status. This way, whites who are as disadvantaged as the blacks that affirmative action is intended to help would be benefited while ensuring that middle and upper class blacks with no right to preferential treatment are not swept up in the diversity frenzy. This would provide a true adjustment while reducing the racial tensions caused by preferences. This would also ensure reasonable numbers of minority students while providing opportunity to students of all races, which is really the point (Grapes 59). The case for socioeconomic affirmative action is especially compelling because according to Lino A. Graglia, very few children of the underclass, white or black, end up applying to the competitive institutions where affirmative action is used (Grapes, 48). This leaves us in the position of giving preference to middle class blacks over middle class whites. If we really want to help persons who are disadvantaged, we might do well to use socioeconomic status, which might have a better predictive value of disadvantage.
25. Despite the fact that SAT scores correlate well with grades in college, some minority advocates and affirmative action supporters claim that they are biased against certain groups. While it is undeniable that different groups perform differently, racial bias is unlikely to be the cause. Statistics from the College Board indicate that the SAT actually predicts college performance for minorities more accurately than it predicts performance for whites (D'Souza 44). Even if the standardized tests really did have terms that were less familiar to students of certain races, it's still not clear that the tests are at fault. According to College Board President Donald Steward, who is black, “standardized tests are preparation for words and terms and ideas that students are likely to encounter, whatever their cultural background.” (D'Souza 44) In other words, even if they aren't familiar with test materials, maybe they should be. According to these findings, SAT scores really do predict performance in college, especially for minorities. An examination of the disparities in SAT scores might shed some light on why socioeconomic status might be a good index.
26. An examination of SAT scores by gender, race, and school types shows that Asians are a good example of how the SAT is not racially biased. In 1998, the average Asian score on the math portion of the SAT was 562, 50 points higher than the national average, and 34 points higher than the average white score. While some groups did score lower than others, these differences were not significantly larger than the differences between males and females on the math portion, or the differences between students at public, parochial, and independent schools. This suggests that disparities in SAT scores are just as related to the types of schools that students go to (dictated mostly by socioeconomic status) as they are by race (Appendix). It is indeed very possible that the disparities between the races are caused mostly by the disproportionate numbers of certain races that go to the public schools for economic, not racial reasons. Keeping this in mind, it might be better to give preferences based on socioeconomic status or even the type of school that a student attends rather than race.
27. Opponents of affirmative believe that affirmative action distributes educational resources in a way contrary to what is scientifically proven to provide the greatest return on the investment of resources. Grades and test scores have been shown to correlate strongly with performance in college (Study: SAT….). The SAT has been reworked over decades in an attempt to predict performance in college. Statistical studies have shown that there is no better predictor of performance in college than SAT scores. While some compromise between the efficiency of using SAT scores to distribute resources, and addressing class differences in America might be necessary, I believe that a fair result could be achieved through socioeconomic preferences.
28. The only way that the loss of efficiency that results from going against scientifically proven methods of determining who would perform the best in a job or school could be justified is if there was proof that including persons under an affirmative action plan somehow results in an increase in efficiency greater than the decrease due to improper utilization of the resources. While there are anecdotal claims that diversity benefits everybody, nobody has been able to provide a large body of research proving that there is a substantive benefit. By contrast, there is much evidence that shows that those admitted with inferior credentials under affirmative action have a higher rate of dropout and delinquency than the general student population. Therefore, from a utilitarian perspective, affirmative action causes inefficient use of educational recourses.
29. In addition to hurting white and Asian students, there is evidence that affirmative action may also have an adverse effect on the minorities that supposedly benefit from it. There are some who believe that affirmative action policies discourage minority achievement. Edward Blum, Chairman of the Campaign for a Color-Blind America Legal Defense and Educational Foundation says that while he admits that poor performance of minorities on standardized tests is due to poor education in minority neighborhoods, that he believes the solution is harder work and commitment on the part of minority students. He says that liberals are "demonizing the very principles--rigorous intellectual effort, skill mastery, grade and test performance--by which those who compete with black students are strengthened." He points to the fact that there have been countless studies and they all say the same thing- tests like the SAT are a highly reliable predictor of academic success. According to his article, no other variable--grades, essays, leadership qualities or overcoming hardships--so closely correlates to the likelihood of graduation from a particular college as does the SAT (Blum, 1999). A Washington Post article discusses George Mason University Professor Walter E. Williams's view that admitting students to colleges at which they won't be competitive isn't doing them any favors. "It is an academic mismatch," says Williams, "You say to me, 'Mr. Williams, teach me to box,' and the first match I get for you is with Lennox Lewis. You are going to get your brains beaten out." Williams points out that low test scores do not necessarily indicate low intelligence, but more often, lack of preparation. He also says that students with lower scores usually have lower rates of graduation at the more competitive colleges. Given this trend, he cites a colleague, Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, who is against affirmative action policies that admit weaker students. Sowell asks, "What is accomplished by admitting more black students and graduating fewer?" The article also discusses Harvard University historian Stephan Thernstrom who says that African Americans are more likely to earn doctorates if they attend historically black colleges or urban universities, which are generally less selective (College Applicants Urged…). While this fact helps to prove the point that persons should not be brought to colleges for which they may not be properly prepared for, it also lends credibility to the idea that a “critical mass” helps minorities, as historically black colleges obviously provide such an environment.
30. E. J. Dionne Jr., a writer for the Washington Post sums up the scarcity situation concisely:
“Affirmative action is a program defended in the name of equality whose actual purpose is to redistribute inequality. Affirmative action does not seek a general expansion of incomes or opportunities. Rather, it tries to achieve a different apportionment of existing opportunities. It's the classic zero sum game.”(Dionne, 1)
Dionne goes on to point out that unlike conventional redistribution policies, affirmative action is different because it distributes jobs and education instead of money and because it defines the recipients based on who they are, rather on their condition. The first difference, that of jobs and education versus money means that it's harder to ‘split the difference' as Dionne says, or to spread the benefits out among several deserving groups (elderly, disabled, poor, etc.). The second and perhaps more important difference is that a person's race determines their benefit rather than their condition (i.e. orphaned, elderly, sick). Dionne's example of how this could backfire is that of a black steel factory owner's son getting preference over the son of a white janitor who works in the same plant. While this obviously does not make up the majority of the affirmative action cases, one must wonder if there is a better way of apportioning compensation to members of disadvantaged groups (Dionne 1-2).
31. Other proponents of socioeconomic based affirmative action believe that when race is used to determine who gets privileges, the greatest beneficiaries are sometimes wealthy or middle class blacks. According to Clarence Thomas, affirmative action only helps the elite of the minority populations while leaving the vast majority of the lower middle class or poor with little to no benefit. One reason for this is that as previously stated, few persons in the under classes of society, white or black, go to prestigious universities. Thomas also believes affirmative action -- meaning goals and timetables for employers who have hired few, or have never hired, blacks -- not only is window dressing but also has failed to help the mass of poor black people get into the mainstream economy (Williams 3). Richard Rodriguez, a Hispanic Scholar and author of Hunger of Memory agrees, saying, “those who were in the best position to benefit from [affirmative action] were those blacks least victimized by racism or any other social oppression” (Rodriguez 145). Race based affirmative action programs simply skim the top of the minority pool, leaving the educational needs of the vast majority unfulfilled. In addition to being unfair, this is usually seen as a complete solution to the problem, and educational policymakers feel that they have accomplished their objective just because the elites of the underrepresented minorities are now enrolled in good schools. The truth is that attempts to help truly disadvantaged minorities through affirmative action usually backfire. As Rodriguez says, as attempts to admit more and more minorities grow, “more provisional students [are] admitted”(154) because “admissions committees agree to overlook serious academic deficiency”. Instead of benefiting from their elite environment, these students fail. According to Rodriguez, these students become “bewildered by the requirement to compose a term paper and [are] each day humiliated when they [cannot] compete with other students in seminars”(154-5). These students, poorly prepared for their school, and unable to take advantage of what is has to offer, usually end up dropping out (155).
32. Clarence Thomas (also a former Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission) also believes that not all disproportionality needs correcting. Thomas cites the all-black basketball team at Georgetown University, which is a mostly white university. If examined with racial preoccupations it would appear that Georgetown was discriminating against white basketball players (Williams, 5). While disproportional racial representation is sometimes due to malice or neglect, there are many examples of situations where disproportional representation is merely incidental. According to Lino Graglia, there is no reason why different racial groups always have to appear proportionally across the board. For example, let's take three groups that have been discriminated against: Jews, Asians, and Blacks. Jews (3% of the population) make up 40 percent of most law faculties, and Asians dominate the math and science fields. Blacks (12% of the population) make up two thirds of professional football players and eighty percent of professional baseball players (Grapes 40). It would be somewhat unreasonable to suggest that any of these proportions is due to some racist factor - there is nothing wrong in and of itself with certain groups appearing in large numbers in certain activities (which means mathematically that other groups will appear in less than proportionate numbers).
33. In this paper I have considered many of the reasons for having affirmative action and many of the reasons why affirmative action in its present form is not appropriate for the educational goals this country should be pursuing. While Johnson's remark about taking a man who has been hobbled by chains and setting him free to compete and not being totally fair is legitimate, and while preferences may have been appropriate at first, we must attempt to progress toward a color blind society. Affirmative action programs today continue the practices of considering race, and constitute a form of discrimination. These preferences create ongoing racial tensions, while failing to render any benefit to impoverished non-minorities who endured hardships, or to minorities who are so marginalized that they cannot even take advantage of the preferences that affirmative action renders. Greater emphasis must be placed on improving our curriculum to teach the skills needed to prepare for college, the link between effort and reward must be convincing, and we must devise a system where due consideration is rendered to all, rich and poor, black and white.
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