Table of Contents
Society Needs Affirmative Action
Hilary O. Shelton is acting director of the Washington Bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Summary: Affirmative action programs are needed because serious discrimination still exists in American society. Without affirmative action, many promising young people will be barred from institutes of higher learning and successful careers. For example, when affirmative action was eliminated in the University of California system, black enrollment at Boalt Law School plummeted. As long as discrimination based on race and gender exists, affirmative action will be needed to ensure equal opportunity for minorities and women.
Affirmative action is necessary because discrimination is still very much a part of our country and our institutions. Some believe that equal opportunity programs such as affirmative action are no longer needed because discrimination no longer exists or because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides the necessary protections against discrimination.
Unfortunately, there are many misperceptions about exactly what affirmative action programs are set up to do, how they work, how successful they have been over the years, how fair they are, and how misrepresented these programs have been, both intentionally and unintentionally. Let me help address many of the myths, misunderstandings, distortions, and, in some cases, intentionally...
(The entire section is 1828 words.)
Society Needs Affirmative Action in Higher Education
Nathan Glazer is professor emeritus of sociology and education at Harvard University. He has written extensively on race relations, education, ethnicity, immigration, and multiculturalism. He is the author of Affirmative Discrimination, Ethnic Dilemmas, and We Are All Multiculturalists Now.
Summary: If test scores and grades alone were used to determine admission to top level universities, the percentage of African Americans attending major colleges or universities would drop from six percent to less than two percent. Affirmative action ensures that African American students are allowed access to prestigious universities such as Harvard and Berkeley, which have long been gateways to positions of power and influence in American society. Denying African American students access to top tier universities would undermine the value of inclusion that is vital to American democracy and send a message of despair to blacks.
The battle over affirmative action today is a contest between a clear principle on the one hand and a clear reality on the other. The principle is that ability, qualifications, and merit, independent of race, national origin, or sex, should prevail when one applies for a job or promotion, or for entry into selective institutions for higher education, or when one bids for contracts. The reality is that strict adherence to this principle would result in few African Americans getting...
(The entire section is 4072 words.)
Affirmative Action Promotes Diversity
Chang-Lin Tien is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and served as the university’s chancellor from 1990 to 1997.
Summary: Affirmative action programs have fostered an atmosphere of diversity and racial tolerance on college campuses across America. Students who are taught in a culturally diverse setting are better equipped to succeed in a multicultural and multiracial society. Because it promotes interaction between people of different races, affirmative action can be an effective tool in bridging racial divisions.
When the debate over affirmative action in higher education exploded, my open support surprised many. My personal view about using race, ethnicity, and sex among the factors in student admissions has put me at odds with many, including the majority of the Regents of the University of California who govern my campus.
With California voters having decided in November, 1996, to end all state-sponsored affirmative action programs, silence would seem to be a far more prudent course for me to take. Educators already have enough battles to fight—declining public funding, controversy over the national research agenda, and eroding public support for America’ s academic mission.
Why did I take on the explosive issue of affirmative action? My participation in the debate is inspired both by my role in higher education and...
(The entire section is 2471 words.)
Affirmative Action Benefits the Workplace and Economy
James A. Buford Jr. is a management consultant and a professor in the College of Business at Auburn University.
Summary: Though discrimination is not as rampant as it was in the past, minorities and women are still underrepresented in many types of jobs. Affirmative action programs ensure that qualified minorities and women are included in the pool of potential candidates for skilled positions. The failure to hire talented women and minorities is a poor use of human resources, and will ultimately harm the workplace and the national economy.
You will, of course, wish to know my credentials for presenting a conservative case for affirmative action in employment. Well, first, as a social scientist with the requisite degrees and academic publications, I am licensed to diagnose the ills of the American workplace from my seat in the ivory tower. But I am also a management consultant with clients who often call on me to prepare their cases in fair-employment disputes, testify as an expert witness, and provide other services adversarial to plaintiffs claiming they have suffered discrimination. My politics are conservative and I have a strong Republican voting record. I live in Alabama, a state that takes a dim view of social engineering. I hold a professorship in the College of Business at Auburn University, not exactly a hotbed of liberal thinking. All this may give me an insider advantage in disputing...
(The entire section is 2963 words.)
Affirmative Action Balances White Privilege
Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas, Austin.
Summary: The preferential treatment granted to blacks through affirmative action programs is no different than the preferential treatment whites have received as a result of white privilege—the fact that many whites are granted jobs, promotions, and admission to elite universities simply because they are white. Those who complain that affirmative action programs have granted positions to blacks of mediocre talent do not realize that just as many whites of mediocre talent have advanced because of white privilege.
Here is what white privilege sounds like: I’m sitting in my University of Texas office, talking to a very bright and very conservative white student about affirmative action in college admissions, which he opposes and I support.
The student says he wants a level playing field with no unearned advantages for anyone. I ask him whether he thinks that being white has advantages in the United States. Have either of us, I ask, ever benefited from being white in a world run mostly by white people? Yes, he concedes, there is something real and tangible we could call white privilege.
So, if we live in a world of white privilege—unearned white privilege— how does that affect your notion of a level playing field? I asked.
He paused for a moment and said, “That really doesn’t...
(The entire section is 1345 words.)
Affirmative Action Harms Society
Representative Charles T. Canady is a Florida Republican. He is the chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, and the principal sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1997.
Summary: By promoting a system of race-based entitlement, affirmative action is keeping America from evolving into a color-blind society where people are judged on their abilities, not the color of their skin. Affirmative action is a system of racial preferences and quotas that deny opportunity to individuals solely because they are not members of a preferred race or ethnic group. By locking deserving whites and Asians out of jobs and schools to make room for minorities with much weaker records, affirmative action exacerbates racial divisions and tensions.
On June 11, 1963, in the wake of Governor George Wallace’s stand against integration at the University of Alabama, President John F. Kennedy reported to the American people on the state of civil rights in the nation. He called on Congress to pass legislation dismantling the system of segregation and encouraged lawmakers to make a commitment “to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law.”
Invoking the equality of all Americans before the law, Kennedy said: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and it is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the...
(The entire section is 3871 words.)
Affirmative Action Promotes Discrimination
Lino A. Graglia is the A. Dalton Cross professor of law at the University of Texas, Austin.
Summary: By granting special treatment to certain groups on the basis of race, affirmative action highlights racial distinctions and exacerbates racial conflict. Affirmative action programs create an atmosphere in which blacks are taught to blame their shortcomings on whites and encouraged to believe that they are “too different” to adhere to the standards of the rest of society. Furthermore, affirmative action excuses blacks from the obligations and requirements expected of others. Racial preferences are nothing more than governmentsanctioned discrimination and should be eliminated.
Insofar as it is controversial, affirmative action is a euphemism for discrimination: the granting of preference to some individuals and therefore the disfavoring of others on the basis of their race. Suggested definitions that fail to recognize this seek to evade rather than confront the only point really in contention: how is it possible to justify an official policy of classifying people by race for differential treatment?
The overwhelming objection to any race-based policy is simply that it makes one’s assigned membership in a racial group, not one’s individuality, the basis of governmental treatment. It leads to—indeed, it virtually compels—the organizing of racial blocs in legislatures and...
(The entire section is 1622 words.)
Affirmative Action Harms Minority Students
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, California.
Summary: In the past, affirmative action programs often placed good, but illprepared, minority students in elite schools for the sake of diversity. These students, who were capable of excelling in good colleges, were transformed into failures by being placed in high-pressure schools where only the most exemplary students can succeed. Since the elimination of affirmative action in the University of California system, minority students have been redistributed to respectable schools that better serve their capabilities.
Crucial facts have been left out in much of the hysteria about declining black enrollments at the University of California at Berkeley, in the wake of the end of affirmative action policies there. This compounds the misconceptions that existed before such policies were ended.
During the decade of the 1980s, Berkeley’s rapid increase in the number of black students on campus did not translate into comparable increases in the number of blacks actually graduating. At one point, the number of black students graduating declined absolutely, while the number of blacks on campus was increasing. That was part of the high price of being more interested in racial body count than in getting people educated.
The problem was not that black students at Berkeley were “unqualified.” Their...
(The entire section is 774 words.)
Affirmative Action Should Be Reformed
Orlando Patterson is a professor of sociology at Harvard and the author of The Ordeal of Integration.
Summary: Affirmative action is intended to expose African Americans to vital social networks that are critical to advancement. One problem with affirmative action, however, is that its beneficiaries tend to segregate themselves from whites. Black college students, for example, have a tendency to reside in all black student halls, and attend all black social events. Affirmative action should be reformed to better facilitate the program’s original goal of fully integrating blacks into American society.
At one extreme, affirmative action is seen as a legally sanctioned remedy for past and present racial discrimination. At the other extreme, it is seen as a violation of the principle of fairness and especially of a “colorblind” society. Between these two extremes we find an evolving practice originating in a 1965 executive order. It should have been the job of the legislative arm of government to spell out both the objective and the procedures of this order, but Congress failed to do so, leaving the matter to the courts. Because the legal system is reactive rather than pro-active, it has been forced to do something it is really not qualified to do. The result has been the mishmash of contradictory rulings we now have. We are badly in need of clarity, and this is where public discourse can be...
(The entire section is 1986 words.)
Affirmative Action Should Be Based on Class, Not Race
Richard D. Kahlenberg is a fellow at the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan research group that focuses on economic, social, and political institutions and issues. He is the author of The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action.
Summary: Because a disproportionate number of minority students live in poverty, an affirmative action program based on class instead of race would be able to maintain acceptable levels of diversity within universities without resorting to racial quotas. Instead of considering test scores alone, an affirmative action program based on class would evaluate applicants in light of the disadvantages they faced. Some studies indicate that class-based affirmative action produced twice as many African American admissions to the University of California at Los Angeles than a system relying on test scores alone. Class-based affirmative action can stem falling minority enrollment, and provide equal opportunity to disadvantaged students of all races.
Ever since racial preferences were outlawed at public universities in California and Texas, the news on minority admissions at the elite public universities has been uniformly bleak. African-American, Latino, and Native-American admissions plunged among undergraduate institutions, and graduate schools saw even larger drops. Some conservatives have pointed out that the declines are proof of how deeply racial preferences had become...
(The entire section is 3525 words.)