Eliminate Affirmative Action In School Only If…

22 Jul

Affirmative action, understood as an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women, has been utilized by institutions of higher learning since the 1960s with the practiced legitimized by schools seeking to campuses more diverse following a number of very prominent court cases. In one such case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Supreme Court while striking down (hard) quota systems for minorities, found that some parts of affirmative action programs were constitutional provided race was only one of a number of factors considered for admission.

In addition to legal precedent, a significant amount of data also supports the case for affirmative action. For example, according to their seminal book The Shape of the River, authors William Bowen and Derek Bok examine the impact of affirmative action through decades of data pertaining to a group of selective colleges and conclude that black students who were privy to affirmative action programs and were admitted to more selective colleges did better in the long-run than their peers who did not. Moreover, the authors found that the students who benefited were more likely to graduate college, to earn professional degrees, and attain  higher incomes. As such, affirmative action seeks to close the considerable gap between white and non-white enrollment at the post-secondary level (which still exists according to the National Center for Education Statistics) in order to make higher learning more diverse and reflective of America’s population. However, the evidence also suggests that it is not only minorities who benefit from affirmative action programs. For example, writing for the Harvard Graduate School of Education author Leah Shafer concludes that white students also benefit from affirmative action programs:

But what about other students — whites and those from a higher economic background? Decades of   research in higher education show that classmates of the direct beneficiaries also benefit. These students         have more positive racial attitudes toward racial minorities, they report greater cognitive capacities, they               even seem to participate more civically when they leave college.

As such, the evidence on the whole as it pertains to education appears to demonstrate that affirmative action is beneficial to both minorities and whites. Furthermore, it would appear that without affirmative action the disproportion of minorities to whites would be even more pronounced. For example, in California where affirmative action was been banned in the late 1990s, at the University of California, Berkeley, the percentage of black undergraduates has fallen from 6 percent in 1980 to only 3 percent in 2017. This is in a state where African Americans currently make up almost 7% of the population.

However, while the legal precedent and evidence which support affirmative action programs are well established, recently there has been a prominent push to eliminate affirmative action programs. For example, the President of the United States Donald Trump and much of his right-wing base have been clamouring for years that affirmative action programs should be scrapped because they are somehow racist in nature and that they are an unfair form of prejudice against white America. This is of course the same white America that was given a 400 year head start against African Americans and other visible minorities who only received equal rights on paper in the 1960s and continue to face a myriad of practical forms of discrimination today. In an attempt to transform inflammatory rhetoric into policy the Trump administration announced in 2018 that it would be reversing President Obama’s policy on affirmative action in schools by abandoning policies that call on universities to consider race as a factor in diversifying their campuses.

While this decision flies in the face of existing laws, legal precedent, what is best for students of all colours (see above), remedying a historical disadvantage, and a nuanced understanding of the barriers visible minorities continue to experience Trump and the right wing are attempting to sell this decision as somehow making post-secondary acceptance an even playing field for all students. Although this is complete hogwash devoid of reality and merely another (far) right wing attack on visible minorities, I am prepared to entertain this preposterous position as long as the President and his base are willing to do one thing; truly attempt to make post-secondary education an even playing field by eliminating legacy acceptance, admission cronyism, admission based on donation, and no preferential treatment or admissions from students who attend private school. In addition to cracking down on these legal (yet dubious) short cuts to admission, Trump and his followers should also support law enforcement in their efforts to eliminate illegal admission tactics evidenced in the recent college admissions scandal when a bunch of Hollywood C listers and a litany of other rich people were accused of finding and paying for back roads into some of America’s most prestigious post-secondary institutions (while USC I am sure is a fine institution I am still amazed that someone was willing to pay 500K to go there).

Of course, Trump, his cronies, and his base would never support such measures because it would mean that Trump, half of his cabinet (including of course Jared Kushner), and scores of his fat cat friends or their children would never have a shot at attending the institutions their rich mommies and daddies helped get them into. However, if Trump and his supporters have even a shred of sincerity (and decency) regarding leveling the playing field when it comes to post-secondary admission, eliminating short cuts for the already privileged is the next logical step.

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