Politics Relationships

Affirmative Action. Is it a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

In my opinion affirmative action can be both a good and bad thing. 

Affirmative action is not unique to the United  States. It’s a phenomenon now present in many countries. This Wikipedia article is fairly thorough.

Affirmative action in the US first began as an executive order put into place by John Kennedy in March, 1961  It’s goal was Affirmative Action to level the playing field, to make sure that ALL government contractors “affirmatively acted” and governed their own organization to make sure that none of their employees were discriminated upon by virtues of their race, religion (creed) or national origin.

As with many laws, rules, and regulations, smart people often try to broaden the application and expand the scope beyond a particular rules original intention. 

We see that with the application by law enforcement of the RICO statute designed to ensnare organized crime participants. It is today used to ensnare lots of people never intended to be prosecuted in this fashion. I hate crooks. I hate over-reaching applications of a law even more. But there are exceptions. 

Let’s continue, and examine the current focus and intention, namely to, in some cases, create a second system of eligibility criteria for a selected class of people. 

In the case of school admission it might be a special oversight review to decide on the admission of a student. 

In the case of business it might be to allow a contractor to bid on a job even though he might not have a large enough company, or enough experience, or meet other requirements.

You can see that if the individual is allowed to compete to win a bid, or a school admission, that affirmative action allows eligibility, but not necessarily a position. 

Because the desired effect and not enough special class contractors were being hired, or enough special class students admitted,  affirmative action changed and broadened again to ensure that some of the excluded participants were given contracts in spite of not meeting requirements, or students, admission while not meeting the standards of other competitors for admission at an institution. They might meet requirements for admission, but we’re not among the group selected because competition was so difficult.

What’s next? Depending on the institution this usually went one of two ways. 

Some simply created more admission spots for special class students so as to not deprive a more competitive student of admission while adding students that might not otherwise have been admitted. 

However that does not work well with contractors, as you don’t need twice as many people to do the same job.  So a second group excluded some of the true bid winners and instead gave the job to a special class competitor. 

Schools often did the same. A special class student was admitted at the expense of another better qualified student, who was not.

Many argue today that diversity has merits beyond its implications of lowering standards. 

I have said in a previous article that I personally favor a colorblind approach -or religious blind- or blind- where those who won (or admitted), won on merit.

We always want the best qualified individual or company for that particular job.  I don’t want a bridge built by someone not best qualified for the job. 

The downside of affirmative action is discrimination. It discriminates no matter how it is applied. One can argue that without it, society discriminates based upon its actions. 

It’s a dilemma. 

How about upon application? Let’s presume for a moment to move away from affirmative action.

Affirmative Action QuotesWe go to a medical school to observe. All of the people there went through the admission process and made it. Some of them are now at the bottom of the class. After they graduate and start practice, will they be among that group of nightmare doctors we read about every day? The ones that make stupid mistakes and injure or kill their patients?

Not from what I could find. Read this.

So now if we admit some otherwise great special class candidates who maybe did not do quite as well in college as competitors, does that lower the bar? Not as long as the minimum admission standards are met. They still qualify for admission. 

In other words, according to the standards set down by the school, my kids met the minimum qualification to go to Harvard. None got in however, because of the qualifications of those they were competing against. That is not a good thing If for special classes that minimum bar is lowered, however, that is not a good thing.

There are many examples of special class students becoming inspired and academically beating those not admitted as special class students. I know some. They are impressive people.

Here is something disturbing that might explain WHY those special class students are less academically competitive:

It looks like this subject needs a lot of open debate and discussion.

What are your thoughts on affirmative action. Does it have a place? Let’s hear from you. 

2 thoughts on “Affirmative Action. Is it a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

  1. As you point out, affirmative action occurs in varied contexts. Consequently, how it is implemented matters a great deal. Thus, for a thinking person, whether you are for or against affirmative action may depend greatly on the context in which it is used. No supporter of affirmative can plausibly argue that it should result in an unqualified person being hired, especially for a highly skilled occupation. That issue is a non-starter but it is the argument that opponents of affirmative action immediately seize upon.

    There are several valid justifications for implementing preferences among qualified candidates in hiring decisions.

    One, diversity may matter. If you are trying to pitch a product to a certain constituency, it may make sense to hire someone with an obvious appeal to that constituency or who may have a better understanding of those folks. This rather obvious choice is not always made, repeatedly, because we do not live in a color-blind or gender-neutral society. In fact, that has never been the case and many people do not want to face up to that fact. We are clearly a poorer society because of it. In higher education, many believe that elite schools foster better learning environments where there is diversity among faculty, students and staff. I daresay most elite colleges do everything they can to ensure they have a diverse student body, if not faculty. This makes quite a bit of sense because the pool of applicants is usually very deep. Non-competitive schools do not have to worry much about affirmative action because there is much less selection taking place

    Second, may people do not understand that many institutions – after all they are run by human beings – have historically discriminated against people of color, immigrants, women, and against those based on sexual preference or identity AND CONTINUE TO DO SO. Don’t believe me? Go read some EEO decisions. Yes, the majority of those charges are dismissed but I think the sheer number of findings adverse to employers is still unsettling. In this context, affirmative action really means taking a close look at staffing, recruiting and hiring practices to determine if anything untoward is occurring. In other words, it is a check on the unconscious biases that still exist which may adversely affect a business. This check is a wise and prudent business measure.

    Third, there are some fields, higher education is one, where institutions favor applicants for very arbitrary reasons. Favoritism is doled out to students of wealthy families, to children of alumni, to student-athletes, aspiring musicians. to students born in a particular state or region of the country. Given these types of preferences, it hardly seems justifiable to fail to select qualified persons from adverse backgrounds or from groups that have historically suffered discrimination.

    Certainly there are vocations where affirmative action has little place, where the qualifications for performance should never be compromised in any way. But these types of jobs are rare. Anyone who believes that the US is and has always been a strict meritocracy just does not understand human nature or more importantly, our history. Pretending otherwise has cost our society greatly and has undermined us all in terms of our standing in the world. We will not always be able to afford importing brains from overseas as we do now.

Leave a Reply