It would appear the noble concept of Affirmative action has been perverted from its original meaning and intent.
In March 1961 President Kennedy issued Executive Order (EO) 10925 and its purpose was to eliminate discrimination in hiring practices (specifically by the federal government but as we have seen this was rightfully expanded throughout our society). Every federal contract included the promise that:
"The Contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed color, or national origin. The Contractor will take Affirmative Action (my emphasis, JM) to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin"
In other words applicants would be judged only on merit. Discrimination based on the aforementioned personable attributes was verboten. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 significantly expanded this scope to any employer or institution receiving federal funds. Those found wanting would lose their federal funding and/or face punishment. The scope of this Act now also included many state institutions due to their participation in federal grants and programs.
So far so good.
A year later President Johnson upped the ante. In a 1965 Howard University commencement address he stated:
"You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you're free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates or opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates .... We seek not...just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result. "
Sounds good, but how are we to realize this "...equality as a fact and equality as a result..."? As a result of what? Uh Oh! Is this the seed of our malcontent?
A few months later President Johnson issued EO 11246 which essentially parroted Kennedy's but differed by including the phrase " ...and to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program in each department and agency."
The translation of that phrase was soon forthcoming. Kennedy's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity was abolished and its responsibilities shifted to the Dept. of Labor who, under President Nixon's administration, issued Revised Order No. 4 requiring contractors to develop "...an acceptable affirmative action program," which would include "...an analysis of areas within which the contractor is deficient in the utilization of minority groups and women, and further, goals and timetables to which the contractor's good faith efforts must be directed to correct the deficiencies" Affected employers and federal fund recipients were directed to define "minority groups" as "Negroes, American Indians, Orientals, and Spanish Surnamed Americans." and "underutilization" referred to "having fewer minorities or women in a particular job classification than would reasonably be expected by their availability." "Goals" were not to be "rigid and inflexible quotas" but "targets reasonably attainable by means of applying every good faith effort to make all aspects of the entire affirmative action program work."
Quota, Goal, or Target
: Semantics aside, it is clear what has happened.
Here we have some sort of bureaucratic species event in regards to evolving morality with the resultant hopeful monster we now know as "Affirmative Action". Four decades later we are still engaged in the hand wringing caused by this moral mutation and the means used to apply "every good faith effort".
So, an original noble cause selected for by a strong moral force deeming such aforementioned personal criteria as irrelevant has morphed into a policy of preferential treatment mandating that same forbidden criteria to be considered.
Affirmative Action (AA) suffers from the moral corruptions that two wrongs do make a right and that ends do indeed justify the means employed to accomplish them. It then strives mightily, sans nobility, to eliminate the moral degeneracy of racial discrimination by means of..., well, discrimination.
But why are we so concerned and outraged at these unequal treatments? Is it because those entrusted to make these judgments feel guilty for past generational wrongs and feel reparations are in order or do we all feel the moral imperative in that all men should have equal opportunities?
It would be wise to forget the guilt and reparations. As Mr. Dworkin has pointed out in his article, this concept only works on an individual basis and will never restore past opportunities to those individuals. Monetary reparations are unwieldy on two counts. How does one calculate these damages fairly? Even if one manages that trick how can one pay an imaginary worker an imaginary salary for a job that he or she never really accomplished?
So that forces us to seek the ounce of prevention that would accomplish future parity. Existing labor laws, if enforced properly, should discourage discrimination in the workplace. But proponents of AA claim minorities are still at a disadvantage and because of past wrongs need a "leg up".
Unfortunately, this method of "helping" labels those deemed disadvantaged as inferior to all concerned. In addition those actually discriminated against in this process develop deep resentment in regards to a perceived type of perverse reversed social nepotism. This is not the best of social policy. Implicit in these choices is the fact that standards are being lowered or, conversely, those so chosen may be unfairly set up for failure.
This just in, PBS's News Hour just interviewed NYT's executive editor on Friday 5/9/03. The subject was NYT reporter Jayson Blair's fabrication of stories and outright plagiarism as relates to lifted material from the San Antonio Express-News. The NYT is now in the process of checking Mr. Blair's work product for the last four years.
In the interview the executive editor of the NYT pointed to the fact that the NYT actively pursues an Affirmative Action plan desired to hire qualified minorities at all levels of the organization (Mr. Blair is of Afro-American persuasion). What did he mean by this? Is the fact he mentioned this significant? Implicit in this seems to be the fact that perhaps a reporter of lesser quality has slipped by (or was not subject to) high NYT's standards. This is a pernicious thought sneaking through. Once this stink is out of the bottle it taints those who are perceived products of AA regardless of personal qualifications to the contrary. What is perceived by some as inferiority may just be laziness... but wait, wasn't that attribute once attributed to the "Black" stereotype also? The point is obvious.
Race is a biological fallacy and exists only in man's institutions. Indeed at one time Florida law said one was "Black" if one showed 1/16 ancestry of blackness, Mississippi chose 1/8, and Alabama, as a gesture of liberality, said any trace of this ancestry would do for blackness. So one could easily change one's "race" by geographic relocation.
The worst of these institutions to participate in perpetuating the ruse of race is the very institution we pilgrimage to when this question arises, the Supreme Court. This judicial bias shows up in some cases in the early 1900's (and earlier) where it tried to decide whether or not immigrants were candidates for citizenship. One main criterion was that one had to be "White". During this period this court decided that a Japanese individual was not White (he literally was) and cited the applicants failure to provide supporting scientific evidence that he was. A few years later an immigrant of East Indian descent was deemed "not white" (his skin was brown) even though he had provided incontrovertible scientific proof (of the time) that East Indians are from Aryan /Caucasian stock (the basis of "whiteness"). Given the court's racial make-up at the time it seemed the definition of "white" would be decided by "white" men, legal or scientific evidence to the contrary. Why was citizenship so important? Back then you had to be a U.S. citizen if you wanted to own property and, according to Section 1 of the 14th Amendment (the "equal protection clause") if you weren't a citizen, property wasn't the only thing that could legally be removed from you.
Regarding the subject of this thread, it is time to take the race question off the admission application. It is time to reward merit and not skin color, ethnicity, or recent immigration status. AA has again morphed and has now spread its wings as "Diversity". There is no need for this masquerade.
As the Dworkin article mentions, whenever we encounter motives to "remedy" past racial wrongs these must be monitored closely. There is a legal term whose Latin term I have forgotten (cestui que ?) but whose English translation is "Who Benefits?" If one applies this question to Universities in their quest for ethnic, social, and economic plurality surely we find their motives are pure and those benefiting from their choices of admission are worthy. The question then seems to be: Are the universities lowering their standards to accomplish this noble goal? But isn't this the university's business? Wouldn't this situation be self-correcting at some point? Perhaps, perhaps not. Why would such institutions allow their standing in the academic community to decline so?
There is one more thing I would like to address and that is the prospect of runaway AA that seems to be a demonstration of what I shall call "slithering discrimination". In the mid 1990's the University of California system had to dismantle their AA system due to the success of a referendum that outlawed racial preferences. Sounds noble enough. But the UC officials made an end run around California voters by giving the SAT II twice the weight of the regular SATs. To explain I cite an excerpt from Charles Krauthammer's 7/13/2001 piece in the Washington Post entitled " Affirmative Action Fails Again ":
As regards the double weighting of the SAT II he informs us that:
"Sure, some people might think it odd. After all, when standardized tests such as SATs are denounced for cultural bias, a particular animus is reserved for the SAT II (which tests knowledge in specific subjects such as history, biology and French) on the grounds that it is more culturally influenced than the SAT (which measures general reasoning and linguistic ability). Ah. But the beauty of this odd change is that it gets under qualified Hispanic students into the University of California system. In one predominately Hispanic high school, among the worst in the state, reports the Wall Street Journal, the number of graduates accepted to UC schools increased by more than 50 percent this year. How did they do it? They aced the Spanish language SAT II.
Being fluent in Spanish, they breezed through, often without study or preparation, a test designed to measure second language acquisition. Despite doing dismally on all the other tests, their spectacular scores in SAT II Spanish raised their average enough to get them into the better schools. Presto. An almost foolproof way to give Hispanics a leg up -- and the latest demonstration of the mindlessness and cynicism that has overtaken affirmative action. Perhaps the most perverse effect of the SAT change is that it ignores or, indeed, injures blacks, the group for whom affirmative action was originally designed."
So we see that now blacks, in addition to "whites" are injured (or dare I say "unprotected") by this system, but it gets worse.
As Mr. Krauthammer goes on to comment at:
"An English-speaking third-generation Mexican American whose grandfather fought in Normandy gets nothing -- in fact, he may even lose his slot at Berkeley to the newly arrived Guatemalan whose slate as a citizen is still blank. Why are we doing this? For the shibboleth of diversity. Diversity at any cost. And the cost is considerable. In order to artificially inflate the number of Hispanics admitted, the new rule places students who are not academically prepared in colleges a notch or two above their ability."
The declaration of race in the admissions process comes from ancient irrationalities and is an outdated procedure overdue for elimination. I suggest we rely on merit as sole criterion. This would cut the Gordian Knot and let the universities keep their high standards. If some group is deemed in some need of assistance academically the university, given it cares, should actively move to raise that group's academic standards by improving their educational background before admission is considered and not conversely lower university standards by such circuitous methods. The university could very well act in concert with those same minority groups clamoring for special treatment. Instead of claiming entitlement, these organizations could devote their resources to actually achieving the goal of providing their perceived charges with a quality pre-university education. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to obtain and earn their education and not to universities to guarantee demographic academic balance. Those so graduating would possess the rightful pride that comes from pursuing such a path and society would be rewarded with productive members possessing this hard earned self-assurance.
P.S. We might do well to examine why and who's responsible for the vast inequity manifest in our educational system. This query is rightly focused on public primary and secondary schools. Specters of teacher performance evaluation, vouchers, and tax increases surely loom on this horizon but what is our goal: Quality education for all or Diversity? If we strive for the former the latter follows. The same is not true for the converse. But that is another thread entirely.