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More on Affirmative Action

What justification would be necessary for Affirmative Action?

I will consider Affirmative Action as basically any program that gives preference to minorities or women in admissions/hiring over candidates with similar backgrounds/qualifications. AA can already be rejected by appeals to individual rights, fairness, non-discrimination ideals, and the like--but of those people who remain unconvinced, what reason is there to keep these programs?

Net Disadvantage - In context of all the other factors considered in something like college admissions (which I will focus on), is it a fair assumption that a minority applicant has had a greater disadvantage due to his or her race.

The argument I usually hear is that because of past racial discrimination, minorities are more likely to fall into the lower socioeconomic classes and attend schools of poor quality. But college admissions already take applicants' financial situations into consideration as well as the location and quality of schools attended. This would cover any inequality on that level that might have come about as the result of racial discrimination. But AA programs would give more preference to a minority student from a poor quality high school than to a non-minority student who went to the exact same school and whose family was at the very same socioeconomic level, assuming grades and test scores and the like were equivalent. In practice, of course, preference is not just given when all other things are equal--in the name of diversity, minority students are admitted over non-minorities of similar backgrounds who are more qualified. But even if this wasn't the case, what is the evidence that minority students are more disadvantaged within a poor quality school than non-minority students in the same school?

I haven't been presented with any so far. As I've mentioned before, bad high schools don't have terribly high academic standards, so if an individual is motivated to succeed, it is far easier to do so in that sort of environment. Standards are so low (I know - my high school was this way) that it takes minimal effort to get good grades. Standardized testing has very little to do with academic performance; individuals who aren't so bright but work hard enough to get a 4.0 in a bad school still don't score very well, and smart kids who are too lazy to do their schoolwork still do score well. (Questions of the validity of these tests in reflecting intelligence aside--they are still race-blind.)

What else? Obviously, I don't know what else there could be, because I've never been given any reason to believe that there is anything else that would disadvantage minority students over non-minorities of the same background. Intuitively, it does not seem that this would be the case to me--apparently it might be to some people, but that just shows that intuitions conflict on the matter. If there are no legitimate grounds for AA programs, they disadvantage they create for non-minority students is a very serious discrimination--isn't this worry enough that a high standard of proof should be demanded of those who support these programs?

News Note: A friend let me in on a bit of news that I found quite pleasing -- a number of colleges have begun reviewing their minority-only scholarships and dropping the race requirement because it violated Department of Education anti-discriminaiton standards. There is a group that has been challenging these minority-only scholarships and prompting to Dept. to ask colleges to review the requirements. More on this when I get some more information.

(debate at Hot Abercrombie Chick! Blog)

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Comments (1)

Back during the last big fi... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Back during the last big fight about affirmative action, the sticking point was the awarding of extra points to candidates for admission based solely on ethnic background. I don't recall the specifics of the case (namely, the state involved and the actual numbers), but apparently being black or hispanic was worth more than scoring perfectly on the SATs.

An old tenet I like is "a difference that makes no difference is no difference." So I decided to play with the numbers a little. If, instead of awarding 20 extra points for someone being black or hispanic, we simply lowered the admission threshold to 80 from 100 and took 20 points away from everyone who wasn't black or hispanic. The end result would be the same, but instead of rewarding one group, we'd be penalizing others. Nobody liked my idea, but no one would tell me what the problem was.

I'm a heterosexual male of Northern European descent. When forms ask me for "Race," I answer "American," "Mutt," or "Other" (depending on the nature of the form). I've never owned a slave, I've never held any position where I was able to exploit a minority, and yet I'm being held responsible for the conduct of others simply because of racial profiling.

Oh, well. I don't recall anyone ever promising me life would be fair.







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