Forum: Taking on affirmative action

From the left: Level the playing field
by Bernard Pollack

Throughout my whole life, and often unconsciously, I have unfairly benefited just from being a white male. For example, I generally feel assured that race will at least not work against me in purchasing a house, renting an apartment, securing a loan, using checks or credits cards, getting pulled over in a car or facing an IRS audit. These are just a fraction of the countless situations in which I unduly benefit from white privilege. In the halls of academia and admissions I have also unjustly benefited because of my race and economic class and as a result I stand firmly in support of affirmative action.

Given rising competition and increased applications for top ranked schools, it is no secret that standardized tests scores are often given increasingly stronger importance that unfairly benefits people like me. Having the opportunity to attend a strong public high school in Nassau County on Long Island, this predominately white institution offered free SAT classes on weekends, provided quality college advising and a generally well-rounded education (not to mention those fancy additional preparation classes I could afford). It is fundamentally unfair that many minorities are generally forced to attend unsatisfactory schools and yet are judged on the same criteria as those in superior well-funded schools through subjective testing such as the SAT and ACT. Fundamentally, test scores are not a fair way to distribute a scarce public resource like higher education and very simply they are not necessarily merit-based.

Given President George W. Bush’s opposition to affirmative action despite his rhetorical belief that diversity is essential, I agree with the recent Hatchet editorial that says that he has failed to offer alternative ways for schools promote such diversity. In a Time magazine article Michael Kinsley appropriately articulates how Bush himself benefited from affirmative action – in attaining acceptance to Yale University simply by being the son and grandson of alumni, being from a politically influential family and coming from a fancy prep school (in which he earned mediocre grades). This type of affirmative action for elites is often overlooked considering that a recent Wall Street Journal report states that Harvard accepts 40 percent of applicants who are children of alumni but only 11 percent of applicants generally. In light of this, Nick Kristoff writes in the New York Times on Jan. 24, “How can we evaluate the justice of preferences that favor blacks without considering preferences that benefit whites (legacy), athletes (football players) and the wealthy (children of donors)?”

While conservatives cite polls from the Washington Times showing that Americans oppose programs that give a leg up to minorities, I have found the opposite in researching the issue. For instance, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll from last week, some 53 percent of Americans favor programs that make special efforts to help minorities get ahead in order to make up for past discrimination, while only 39 percent oppose such efforts.

In April, the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments to decide if the University of Michigan’s policy of giving extra weight in admissions to an applicant’s race is constitutional. The importance of this decision is not to be underestimated and it will be a tremendous test to the 1978 Bakke decision, which allowed race to be a factor in admission to higher education. Factoring race in admissions – whether through a point system like at University of Michigan or through a plan in which the top 10 percent of the graduates of each high school in the state are automatically admitted to the specific public colleges – is essential toward leveling the playing field and ensuring fairness in access to higher education for all.

-The writer, a graduate student in the School of Political Management, is a Hatchet columnist.

From the right: Racial policies are devisive
by Jenni Bradley

If you are six feet tall, were born in the state of New York or have only one brother – please discontinue reading the rest of this article. The readership of this piece has already been predetermined, and those possessing the aforementioned, unchangeable traits are not allowed to read further – there are simply too many readers with these qualities.

Is this an unfair and extreme characterization of the intentions of affirmative action? Possibly, well maybe yes. Is it an accurate portrayal of how affirmative action discriminates against individuals? Most definitely.

Recently, the Bush administration submitted a brief to the United States Supreme Court denouncing the use of what is tantamount to racial quota and preference systems when university admissions counselors are reviewing student applications. These programs are unconstitutional. The case in question involves the University of Michigan undergraduate and law schools. The admissions process at the university adds 20 points to admission scores for black and Hispanic applicants, propelling these students one-fifth of the way toward the 100 points needed for admission on a 150-point scale.

It began with the famous Bakke case, the historic 1978 Supreme Court decision allowing the consideration of race in university admissions. The Center for Individual Rights filed suit and now the Supreme Court is being asked to overrule decisions that allow educational institutions to give minority preferences to students applying for admission.

The Bakke decision is not without merit. It has given opportunities to minority students who may or may not have been given a second glance during the admissions process. However, what is the cost of such a practice? If you are giving preference to one individual, do not think for a second that someone else is not being discriminated against. Where does equal opportunity go in this case? Right out the window.

Democrats have had a field day with Bush’s decision to submit a brief in opposition to giving minority preferences. Presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman called it “wrong, deceptive and divisive.” New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton promised to fight Bush every step of the way. But how do Americans, the individuals, really affected by the outcome of the Supreme Court decision, feel about it all?

A recent Time magazine poll showed that 54 percent of Americans disapproved of programs that give racial preferences to minority applicants at colleges and universities, while 39 percent approved. The Washington Times reported that in a Jan. 16- 17 Newsweek poll, more than two-thirds of Americans opposed racial preferences in college admissions. Furthermore, Newsweek found that 56 percent of minorities disapprove of these programs as well. If not supporting minority preference systems is so divisive, why do most Americans, including groups who have the most to gain, not support these initiatives?

Many who support preference believe it will go a long way to addressing the wrongs that have prohibited individual’s equal opportunity in the past. However, Lieberman did get it right when he used the word divisive, because that is the only outcome of quota systems. Instead of correcting the problem, any type of pure affirmative action program only serves to heighten tensions between Americans instead of redressing the past. We must eliminate the use of race, ethnicity and sex as the focal point of policy. How else can we truly be one nation and one people?

-The writer, a graduate student in the School of Political Management, is a Hatchet columnist.

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