Politics with Pavlinec: Affirmative Action

Last month, the Trump administration prohibited Texas Tech Medical School from using affirmative action. Once again, our society faces the issue of race-based admissions. The block on affirmative action stemmed from a 2004 complaint against the practice from The Center for Equal Opportunity. An investigation followed in 2005 from the Department of Education. Investigators  then conducted an internal review of Texas Tech.  Some of the school’s staff are concerned the review “does not specifically consider the necessity for continued use of race-conscious admissions” for campus diversity.

Affirmative action is the practice of preferring applicants to jobs or schools that belong to previously and currently discriminated groups. This conversation usually revolves around whether the policy is fair. But we should look at the outcomes too. In my view, affirmative action is not only bad moral policy, but that it also does not fulfill its purported mission.

Affirmative action is racially discriminatory. Discrimination is making or showing an unfair or prejudicial distinction between different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. In affirmative action, we actively select certain races over others. This policy’s primary mission is to equalize representation at colleges, giving more opportunity to minorities. This applies especially towards towards Hispanic and black Americans, but it has had no measurable effect on either in representation at top colleges.

For black Americans, affirmative action sought to alleviate the disadvantages in life emanating from slavery up until Jim Crow, with residual discrimination still affecting people today. If we assume that past and present discrimination is the majority of the cause for educational disparities for African Americans, its obvious why our society could consider this positive discrimination in favor of black people, even if at the expense of other races. However, this logic is contingent on the success of improving black american’s outcomes in jobs, income and education. The evidence suggests it does not.

Problems with Affirmative Action

The purpose of admissions is to place students in an environment that is comfortable, but also challenging, allowing growth. Affirmative action disregards this notion. First, it mismatches students to colleges where they do not meet academic standards. Any student, regardless of race, whose academic performance is well below their classmates has less likelihood of succeeding. However, if that same student went to a school that met their skills, they could thrive and cultivate their abilities for the job market. Unfortunately, almost all of the top schools participating in affirmative action have their “African American students end up in the lower quarter” of the class.

Second, it fuels racial tensions. White students may view minorities in a different way, seeing them as potentially unqualified when in fact they could be valedictorians. This policy facilitates racist behavior rather than diminishes it, and this is not only a U.S. issue. Riots in India concerning caste-based job quotas fuel violence between groups. Affirmative action even divides black people and other minorities. Asian students are widely discriminated against in admissions, and this Harvard lawsuit is emblematic of the practice. In New York, Governor Bill De Blasio wanted to equalize the disparities in public schools because Asians were too over represented, so he proposed changes to lower the importance of academics in admissions. Asian community members felt he was “pitting minority against minority.”

Affirmative action also produces net-negative outcomes due to dropout rates for the less qualified students. It not only does not help most black people who received affirmative action, but it also leaves other qualified disadvantaged students without opportunity, leaving everyone worse off than before. This is again the outcome of mismatching abilities to make statistics look good for top colleges. These schools want to keep their branding ‘diverse’ and appear inclusive, when in reality they care more about their image to rake in the cash.

What can we do?

Our focus on race needs readjustment, especially when we can be characterized by a near infinite number of characteristics. For example, why shouldn’t attractiveness be held higher than race in admissions? It plays a large role in our perceptions of people and life success. Factors such as height, weight, intelligence, upbringing, wealth, health and work ethic are only a few characteristics we do not take into account, but which play a part in our success in life.

Who do you rather be, a beautiful black female, or an unattractive white male? What about a highly intelligent Asian female with chronic back pain? It is more complicated than being black or being white, with many factors simply disregarded and not taken into account in admissions.

The previous questions demonstrate the naivety of our viewpoint on discrimination, it is impossible to account for these differences, let alone rank order them for admissions… So what justification is there for discriminating against some groups over others? Is it justified to discriminate against someone who has high academic performance and overcame many disadvantages such as poor health? The answer is contingent on if they are Asian, white or black.

Ultimately, we should look to the root causes of why African Americans score worse in school instead of trying to fix outcomes at the college level, where it is already too late to make major scholarly change. These disparities do exist because of individual discrimination to an extent, but it is not the single cause. Inadequate public schooling, growing up in a single parent household, not completing high school, minimum wage laws and licensing laws all negatively and disproportionately impact the poor and especially minorities. Eliminating bad policies such as licensing laws, even if they have good intentions, is necessary for helping underprivileged communities.  You may not agree with these posited problems, but I would only like to open the conversation to considering other options that will assuage these disparities in non-discriminatory and ultimately more effective ways.


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Chris Pavlinec is a junior studying Political Science with a Concentration in Politics, Philosophy and Law. He hails from New Jersey and spends his time reading economics, playing guitar and prepping for law school.

'Politics with Pavlinec: Affirmative Action' has 1 comment

  1. May 15, 2019 @ 5:45 pm Kinnon Westraad

    Really great and interesting article; not only did you touch on the major arguments debunking the legitimacy of affirmative action, but you brought in unusual and alternative arguments that maybe more people can sensibly relate to. I liked that method!


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