The Affirmative Action Question
Affirmative action has been a highly controversial topic since its origin in the mid-1960s. It began as a program to increase opportunities for minorities by favoring them in hiring and promotion, college admissions, and the awarding of government contracts (Finkelman 1). For a student who is applying to colleges, affirmative action programs can affect them greatly. These programs have often become the basis for college admissions, thus leaving many at an extremely unfair disadvantage during the process. By continuing this, we are practicing a form of discrimination and ignoring the constitutional rights given to us as citizens. Affirmative action in college admissions has developed into an enormous problem and should be eradicated in the near future.
In college admissions, minorities have an obvious advantage over others. The admissions standards of minorities are often compromised and blatantly lowered to allow admissions. An example of this can be seen at the University of California at Berkeley. The admission process there went from recruiting Black and Hispanic applicants to lowering admissions standards in order to raise their representation in each freshman class (Browne-Miller 127). This compromises the educational quality of the class and denies others who may deserve admission their acceptance.
Affirmative action was begun with a good cause in mind. Its purpose was to help minorities attain representation...that paralleled their percentage of the population (Finley 1). There is no doubt that minorities have been short changed in the past. Supporters of affirmative action programs seem to think that this is some sort of vindication for the entire minority group. This is now what is viewed as fair.
Advocates of affirmative action respond that discrimination is, by definition, unfair treatment of people because they belong to a certain group. Therefore, effective remedies must systematically aid groups that have suffered from discrimination (Finkelman 1). In essence, we are rewarding minority groups for past wrongs that have been committed to them. This may seem fair in the present, but when looking to the future, there may be no end in sight. It is possible that we will have to go on for years before realizing that by rewarding past victims, we are punishing others. Most times, the individuals that are being punished are in no way responsible for the past. In sight of this, we may have to reward the victims that are now appearing with the programs. It may simply develop into a vicious cycle of trying to correct the past while destroying the future for others.
Martin Luther King Jr., a noted preacher once said, I have a dream, that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character (Finley 1). Affirmative action is a direct contradiction to this statement. By basing admissions on quotas for minorities, we are abandoning the meaning of equality. In light of this, race should not be considered in the college admissions process. This makes the process extremely unfair and causes a great deal of unnecessary discrimination.
This aforementioned discrimination is also a direct violation of the 14th amendment of the Constitution. The 14th amendment reads, No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State...deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection under the law (Finley 1). Affirmative action is based completely on minority status. As law author Krista L. Cosner notes,
Under equal protection jurisprudence [a division of law], laws which classify people according to race receive strict scrutiny. These laws are unconstitutional unless they are the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling state interest. (Cosner 1007-8)
These college admissions are often based upon this and in essence, denies equal protection under the law. These debates have been the basis for numerous Supreme Court cases.
One of the notable Supreme Court cases was the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. This case involved a thirty-five year old white man, Allan Bakke who applied for admission and was turned down from the University of California Medical School at Davis. The affirmative action program that was implemented here involved the reservation of sixteen spots in each entering class of one hundred for minorities. This was done in an effort to redress long-standing, unfair minority exclusions from the medical profession ( Oyez 1).
The affirmative action program in this case allowed less qualified individuals who were classified as minorities to be admitted even though Bakke s credentials exceeded their own. Bakke decided to take this case to the California courts and eventually to the Supreme Court. He claimed that he was denied admission to the University solely on the basis of race. This case was a direct questioning of the validity of the Fourteenth Amendment s equal protection clause and the basis of affirmative action. The Supreme Court did in fact decide that this was constitutionally permissible. Although Bakke s case did gain him admission to the medical school program, there was a split vote. Four of the justices decided that the racial quota system in college admissions was not permissible while five decided that is was.
This case was simply a travesty. The University of California was in fact admitting less qualified students simply because they were a member of a minority group. What is worse, is the Supreme Court simply stood by this. If this is allowed to continue, the entire higher education system will continue to suffer immensely. By permitting less qualified students to be admitted, the quality of the education and institution as a whole is compromised. Author Angela Browne-Miller notes:
Perhaps we have achieved liberty and justice for all and this is how it looks: a continual balancing and rebalancing of opportunity; a continual monitoring of ourselves and our institutions, especially by those who perceive the presence of injustice-the restriction of access to opportunity. (124)
If this continues, we will constantly be readjusting everything to better serve those who have been the victim of prejudice. Eventually, it will include the entire population since most have been a victim of prejudice at one time or another.
Affirmative action in college admissions was supposed to allow many the opportunity to gain higher education. This has occurred, but doesn t necessarily mean that the individual will succeed. Such a case came be seen at the University of California at Los Angeles. Around 90 percent of the regularly admitted law school applicants pass the bar exam. When looking to the students that were admitted under special programs to help minorities, the passage rate falls to 30 percent (Finley 1). This reflects that the relationship between admissions and success is not extremely impressive.
For many minorities, the presence of affirmative action is an extreme annoyance, for even if it has not aided them, they are automatically looked at by most as a recipient (Finley 1). It is undoubtedly a difficult idea to contemplate, but a minority may always wonder whether or not they were admitted based on credentials or their race. Most of the time, people would rather know that they accomplished something rather than think that it was handed to them without merit. Washington Post columnist William Raspberry explained, I doubt that many affirmative action supporters -- including the beleaguered Bill Lee -- want to parcel out society s goods on the basis of racial entitlement (Raspberry 2).
Shelby Steele, an African-American associate professor and San Jose State University explain her view by saying, Affirmative action robs us of our dignity. It says somehow color, not our hard work, can bring us our advancement (Finley 1). Advancement should be something that is earned by a person and not handed to them. Simply, affirmative action is the server of such hand-outs.
William Raspberry noted, we need to level the playing field. This will allow the equality that is lacking to emerge. Before we do away with affirmative action as a whole, we must see it as a problem and a vice for discrimination. Until this is admitted, the debate will continue endlessly and applicants will always remain at a disadvantage.
A progressive change should take effect. Admission officers should look to affirmative action only when the credentials of applicants are equal. Cosner notes:
Because affirmative action provokes volatile and nationwide controversy, higher education programs should be refined to emphasize characteristics indicative of scholastic achievement, and to emphasize race or ethnicity less. (1003-1004)
This would be ideal and more importantly decrease discrimination.
Another alternative might be for admission policies to consider factors that may have some correlation with race, such as economic disadvantage or geographic location (Sedler 1163). These factors should be applied in a neutral manner and result in a non-minority preference (which would include whites). These types of alternative may offer a solution to the current problem.
At its birth, the increased opportunities given to minorities through affirmative action programs were based on equality. This may no longer be the case. Affirmative action was begun with a good cause in mind....Today, however, it has gotten out of hand (Finley 1). Giving people opportunity based on their membership in a group goes against all possible interpretations of equality. Instead of admitting individuals based on their credentials, it is more of a reference to a minority basis. This should not be the case on college admissions and opportunity. Credentials should be of the utmost importance, not minority standing. By continuing this we are not practicing equality, instead we are practicing discrimination. This is where the whole circle began and we must eventually learn to escape it.