TurningWheels

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
 
Affirmative action

Yesterday I was listening to the usual radio news station, when they reported on the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action in college admissions. As usual, they spoke with a professor from UC Berkeley's Boalt School of Law (it's always somebody from either Cal or Stanford in these parts.)

I couldn't believe my ears. First of all, the Supreme Court decision has no effect here in California because we passed Proposition 209 in 1996, which bans the state and local governments' use of affirmative action in education, hiring and contracting (kind of shocking, coming from the left coast, eh?). So the law professor (or whatever he was) applauded the SC decision, but obviously felt that Prop 209 was bad for California. He actually said that they aspire to make their University the best with DIVERSITY and Prop 209 has lead to less diversity (interpretation: less diversity = worse school.)

So I have a couple of questions. First, isn't a school's worth based on its academic merits, not the color of the student body? Isn't Howard University a highly respected school because of the academics, not the fact that the University is a traditionally black University? I honestly believe that a school should not factor in race when deciding who to admit. Well, I believe that anybody who meets the standards of admission should be admitted, regardless of where they come from or what they look like. I didn't have the grades to get into Cal or Stanford, and I had to live with that and went to one of the Cal State Universities. If you don't have the grades or the SATs, then you don't get in. Simple. There are plenty of Junior Colleges where you can take a series of courses designed to qualify you for admission into UC, State or private schools, so it's not like the opportunity isn't there.

One more question: isn't affirmative action flawed in that it looks solely at race? I believe that socio-economics are more of a factor in academic achievement than skin color. One can argue that blacks or hispanics are disproportionately living within poverty, but there are plenty of whites who are, too. Do white people in the lower economic classes get any kind of preference when applying to Universities, because they had "limited" academic opportunity? Does affirmative action apply to them? Perhaps Universities should start looking at addresses and zip codes instead of skin color or ethnicity. Wouldn't that be a way to give ALL Americans an opportunity for education? Isn't affirmative action supposed to be about giving opportunity to those who otherwise wouldn't have it, solely because of the under-achievement of the schools in their communities?

Fact is, in this day and age you'd be hard-pressed to find a school that would NOT admit a student because he is not white, and if you remove the check-box ethnicity question from the application, the playing field is level. An applicant's address may provide much more insight into their education opportunity than a check-box. Besides, I know several minority students who checked "white, non hispanic" on their applications, because they wanted to get in on their academic merits, not their ethnicity. I'd probably feel the same way.




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