The association of quotas with affirmative action is inaccurate, or at least overstated. Aff. Act. can be as small as increased job advertising in minority neighborhoods. The use of quotas is an unfortunate by-product of lawsuits based on the number of minorities present in a given workplace. What these suits failed to consider is that its unreasonable to expect a given workplace to contain a higher percentage of minorities than the surrounding community. If a company is based in an area that only has, for example, 10% minority families, then one would expect around 10% of the workers to be minorities. The lawsuits apparently felt it should be higher, perhaps closer to 40%. Thus, many businesses instituted quotas to make sure the numbers were artificially high, and thus keep the lawsuits at bay.

Imagine, if you will, a relay footrace between two teams.

Upon starting the race, it becomes apparent that the runner one of the teams is carrying a 50-pound weight on her back, and being forced to run through knee-deep water. And that runner is lagging behind badly.

And after the first change of runners in the race, the one team once again has their runner handicapped. The weight seems a bit smaller, and the water a bit more shallow, but they're still suffering.

Finally, a bit later, they seem to have decided to make things fair. The one team now no longer has to deal with the weight or the water. But they're still at quite a disadvantage, because the other team got such a head start.

So how do we make the race, which is still going on, fair again? Especially since each individual runner on the team is judged against the corresponding one on the other team? If you stop the runner on the advantaged team, is that fair? Especially since the runner didn't do anything wrong, it's not her fault she started with the advantage, and she doesn't think waiting for the other to catch up is fair.

If you try and do anything to even it back up, the runner on the one team suffers for something she had no part of. If you don't, the other team has to be much better to even catch up.

This is the difficulty when dealing with affirmative action. African-americans got a really crappy start because they were handicapped in every way possible. But if you try and make it up now, people who had nothing to do with putting them down suffer. It's a no-win situation. Treating everyone equally now doesn't eliminate the effects of past injustice.

Of course, there was 350 years of affirmative action before the term even came into use; for example, laws that benefitted whites only - many (white) families got 40 acres and a mule, and then some, IIRC, as the Untied Snakes grew ever westward, and state and federal governments passed homestead laws parceling out land. (And need I add that the land in question had Previous Owners?) And in the matter of college admissions, many utter dolts over the years were given entrée into university on the basis of the Last Resort: a father or grandfather who was an alumnus, or invoking the name of an ancestor who had a building on campus named after him. I've seen such a dolt or two in my day.

I think the general intention for affirmative action, at least in the beginning, was this: if a white male and a member of a visible minority are equally qualified for the job, and the enterprise has a history of hiring only white males, then steps should be taken to choose the visible minority over the white male, until a balance is reached. No harm to the business, since they're getting a qualified person either way, and no harm to the white male, since, in an ever-expanding economy, there will be an opening for him somewhere. My only quibble with the whole idea is when an unqualified person is chosen over a qualified one, but does that happen? I don't know. I bet it happened in the centuries before affirmative action and anti-discrimination laws, when employers were free to choose the unimpressive white applicant (or the boss' mediocre brother-in-law) over the summa cum laude minority applicant.

Affirmative action is one of those easy-to-demagogue issues, and you should probably be wary of those politicians who trot out isolated horror stories to show "the evils" of "reverse discrimination". Your time might be better spent studying the history of discrimination in the US, and its ongoing effects, before trying to sink your teeth into this particular issue. How often does affirmative action come up in your life anyway? If your ox has ever been gored by it, think instead about how much you've benefitted in your life from not being a member of a visible minority - that might put things in perspective. Think hard, and think back a few generations, if need be.

Once upon a time, I vaguely supported affirmative action. I hadn't thought about it much, but I knew that racism still existed, and that black people in particular had been the victims of strong discrimination fairly recently in history. Then, as I moved through high school and college, I began to have my doubts. When I got a job after college, I started participating in hiring and firing decisions, and I soon came to believe that affirmative action often hurts the people it's intended to help.

That claim undoubtedly sounds strange. After all, affirmative-action policies are intended to increase the representation of minorities and correct for injustices both past and present. How could a policy intended to help minorities actually hurt them? Well, in general, public policy is complicated: policies have consequences, both intended and unintended, and those consequences have their own consequences; not all of those consequences are desirable or beneficial. When evaluating a policy, we have to look at all of its real effects, not its immediate or intended effects, however beneficial those intended effects might be. Past experience indicates that I'll be plastered with knee-jerk accusations of racism, but so be it.

If we're going to discuss affirmative action, it's useful to begin by defining the term. Strangely enough, good definitions are hard to find. The NAACP website doesn't provide one, for example, and the website for the American Association of Affirmative Action (yes, there is such an organization) just says that affirmative action "is not rocket science; it's harder than rocket science" and claims that nobody can explain it in a mere two-minute discussion. It does mention that affirmative-action programs make "a good-faith effort to ... attract minorities and women in percentages that are representative of the general workforce the employer recruits from"; however, it doesn't identify specific policies (except to say that quotas are illegal). From what I've seen, though, affirmative-action policies can range all the way from extra interviews for minority candidates to preferential treatment for less-qualified minority candidates.

Let's start with college admissions; after all, that's where we hear the most about affirmative action. Many undergraduate admissions departments make some effort to recruit underrepresented minorities, even if few admit to hard-and-fast quotas. In some cases, admissions officers deliberately accept minority candidates even if better-qualified majority candidates are available. Other departments use a more moderate policy; when forced to choose between minority and majority candidates with equal qualifications, they choose the candidate from the underrepresented minority.

The latter policy causes the fewest problems. It's realistic to say that two candidates can seem indistinguishable; if you're faced with 15,000 applications, it's probably impossible to assign a unique and meaningful rank to every single one of them. It's still not a meritocratic system, though--that would use a coin-flip to decide between two equal candidates.

Let's look instead at the consequences of the first policy. Suppose you're a college admissions officer and you're going to lower the SAT threshold for minorities from 1400 to 1200. You're assuming that the minority candidates received lower scores because of discrimination. In some cases, you're right--some minority students do poorly because their parents could not get good jobs or their teachers assumed they were just hopeless dumb black people or whatever. (Such teachers should be driven out of the profession, but that doesn't help the student in question.) Many minority students, however, grew up in wealthy families in which they had plenty of opportunities and sources of encouragement--perhaps more than a white student from a poor family would've had!

So not all minority students are slogging through deep water with a weight on their back (to use Saige's metaphor). Moreover, it's perfectly possible for minorities to perform well in spite of discrimination--it takes hard work and strength of character, but people do it. So, yes, in some cases, an SAT score of 1200 underestimates a minority student's intelligence, but in other cases, it's right on the button. Thus, if you admit a bunch of minority students with 1200s, you're admitting some people who really aren't qualified. The SAT predicts school performance reasonably well, so, on average, beneficiaries of affirmative action will perform more poorly than majority students...and teachers and students are bound to notice. Moreover, some of these students will be at the very bottom of the barrel, so many of them will suffer and fail (although grade inflation may prevent them from actually failing out). Is this racist and unfair? I don't think so--follow the reasoning, and follow the numbers. It's a true statement of a direct result of affirmative action.

I haven't even mentioned that this policy isn't at all fair to the majority students who worked hard to earn good grades. Suppose you're a high school student who works your butt off to get good grades, participate in extracurriculars, whatever it takes. Then you get rejected from your top choice only because the university needed the spot for a minority. Proponents of affirmative action claim that such situations are mythical, which is strange, because I've met a few people who had this experience and I don't often hallucinate. Here's the story: the high school my sister attended frequently sends many people to top schools. Ten of them applied to Swarthmore. Nine of them were rejected, and one of them--the only minority one--was accepted. Now you're saying, "Okay, but maybe the black student was more qualified." We know that's not the case: each year, the school puts out a booklet that describes how the previous year's seniors fared when they applied to college. The book is organized by college, and for each school, it lists each applicant's GPA, SAT scores, number of APs, racial group, and legacy, if any. They don't print names, but it's easy enough to figure out who's who. The nine students got the booklet the following year, looked under Swarthmore, and found that the black student had lower grades, fewer APs, fewer extracurriculars, lower SAT scores, and no legacy. But she was the only one accepted. (Yes, I know that isolated anecdotes aren't adequate evidence, but I'd love to see admissions departments release similar numbers. Somehow I doubt they will.)

"Fine," you might respond, "let's not admit less-qualified students; let's stick with the less offensive policy. Affirmative-action policies still increase diversity and expose students to people from other cultures, which is good." Unfortunately, the available evidence shows that an increase in diversity does not immediately lead to integration. For example, a few years ago, 60 Minutes ran a documentary on race relations at Duke University. They found that after several years of affirmative action, black and white students had not integrated; rather, they had self-segregated. The university had white frats and black frats, white dorms and black dorms, white parties and black parties, even a white bench and a black bench on the central lawns near the chapel. Sure, sometimes white-sheeted white students are to blame, but one can identify one or two people who fan the flames of discontent on the black side as well. Affirmative action does not necessarily force the majority to accept the minority--in fact, because of the preferential treatment I've described, it can actually foster resentment.

Now, let's remain in the university for the moment but move to the other side of the podium. Black student organizations often place great pressure on administrators to hire additional black faculty. But there just aren't enough black faculty to go around, because very few minorities entered graduate programs in the 60's and 70's (in fact, that's one of the main reasons why affirmative action was proposed in the first place!) So universities end up caving in to the pressure and hiring less-qualified black faculty. Now, affirmative action is supposed to show students that black people are just as capable as white people--but what happens when students do encounter one of the few black professors and find out that he's subpar? What happens when the sole role model for black people is a moron? How does this help fight the stereotype of the "stupid black person"?

Moreover, affirmative action just causes more resentment among faculty members. Black professors are a scarce resource, so competition for them is fierce--universities end up offering them a high salary, a house, a car, not because the Hispanic woman is better than anyone else, but only because she's Hispanic and the university needs another one on the books. One can imagine how the majority faculty--who worked exceptionally hard to earn their jobs--react when they see a less-qualified minority driving around in the Jaguar the university gave her. It's true that the minority faculty would've correctly felt that way about the majority faculty some years ago, but I just can't see that two wrongs make a right.

Let's leave the university and move to the real world. What happens here? Well, you might say "Whatever--even if all you say is true, at the end of it all, this minority is still going to graduate from Harvard (or wherever), and that's what's important--that's what's ultimately going to get him a job." Maybe...and then again, maybe not. A degree from a prominent university has value because it indicates that the student has an exceptional intellect and has successfully handled difficult challenges. If Harvard relaxes its standards--if it admits less-qualified students, eliminates core requirements, and creates programs and majors that allow unqualified minority students to coast through without being challenged--then its degree no longer has the weight it once did. The degree has a different weight for minorities because the standards have been different throughout.

So affirmative action can sometimes prevent the minority applicant from reaping the benefits of the prominent university degree. It'll come back to haunt him in the workplace--it's a tough business world out there, and companies can't afford to give out too many sinecures. Anyway, when a minority from a prominent university applies for a job, interviewers are forced to think "So is this person smart...or was she just a token black person?" This problem can pursue the minority throughout his career: "He got hired at Company A. Is it because he's good, or did they just need some black guy who wouldn't embarrass them?" "She worked at Company B for the last few years. I remember hearing that they got slapped with a sex-discrimination lawsuit...yeah, she got hired just after that. Hmm.") (Also, the moderate affirmative action policy I described before--the one in which minority candidates are accepted only if they are equal to a majority candidate--probably doesn't come into play when you have only two or three candidates for a particular job; in that case, you probably really can figure out who the best candidate is.) Note that these problems aren't caused by mindless bias on the part of the interviewer; they're plausible hypotheses. The minority candidate might very well be a less-qualified candidate who received his position through race alone. Can the interviewer really pretend that this isn't the case?

Many companies have affirmative-action programs too, but these don't seem to help minorities much either. One company I worked at had a rule saying that when minority applicants applied for jobs, they had to receive interviews. That sounds nice and moderate--hey, at least they're not turning down majorities to hire underqualified minorities--but in some ways it's not much better. Often, the interviewer will already know who he wants to hire for a given position, and he'll know from the resumes that the other minority candidates just don't happen to be better than the minority candidate. He's forced to interview them anyway, even though he knows he won't hire them. This wastes the time of both the interviewer and the applicant (my boss once made the following true statement: "I can't meet with you on Thursday; Human Resources is making me go interview some black people and Hispanics for a few hours.") Now, take the implications of this policy one step further: minorities who receive interviews are rejected more often than majorities who receive interviews, solely because they're required to receive interviews even if they won't get the job. Would you want this if you were a candidate? Would you want to spend time interviewing for a job you weren't going to get? Is affirmative action in this case really a benefit to the minority candidate?

All these problems with affirmative action explain why people don't want affirmative action if they don't think they need it. Take Julie, a sophomore who started working in our lab a while ago. Julie is fantastic, and anyone would be wise to hire her. She earns good grades, she works hard and well, she's personable, and she knows when to take the initiative-two weeks after she started, she took charge of one of our projects and made it much more productive and efficient. Julie's a perfect employee and a great student...and she's also Hispanic. But she's never used that to her advantage. When she got her college applications, she looked at the little box on the form that asked her to mark her race. She thought about it, and she realized that she'd never know how good she really was if she checked the "Hispanic" box. She took a deep breath and checked the "White" box...and now she knows that she got in not because of the color of her skin, but because of the content of her character.

It's easy for Julie to evade affirmative action-she doesn't particularly look Hispanic and she doesn't have a Spanish last name-but it's much harder for my friend Johanna. Johanna's a graduate student in physics, a field in which women are relatively rare. She constantly has to face suspicions that she's a token, an equal-opportunity admit, a bone thrown to the PC fanatics. What was she supposed to do? She couldn't exactly hide her sex (not that she should have to) because she had already established a reputation while an undergraduate and, in any case, she had to go for interviews. She did refuse to apply for any women-only fellowships or scholarships; instead, she competed against the men--and won. (Johanna and Julie aren't the only people who feel this way; Clarence Thomas and Ward Connerly have made similar points.)

A minority--any minority--can best combat discrimination by being as good as they possibly can be. If they excel, if they work so hard that they're the best in their field, then people who refuse to hire them will be exposed as the prejudiced fools that they are. It is possible-it's what the Jews and Irish and Indians and Asians and everybody else did. Is it entirely fair? Maybe not--but it's what works.

President Bush Discusses Michigan Affirmative Action Case

President George W. Bush said the following in The Roosevelt Room in January, 2003:

Good afternoon. The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in a case about admission policies and student diversity in public universities. I strongly support diversity of all kinds, including racial diversity in higher education. But the method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal is fundamentally flawed. At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes perspective students, based solely on their race.

So, tomorrow my administration will file a brief with the court arguing that the University of Michigan's admissions policies, which award students a significant number of extra points based solely on their race, and establishes numerical targets for incoming minority students, are unconstitutional. Our Constitution makes it clear that people of all races must be treated equally under the law.

Yet we know that our society has not fully achieved that ideal. Racial prejudice is a reality in America. It hurts many of our citizens. As a nation, as a government, as individuals, we must be vigilant in responding to prejudice wherever we find it. Yet, as we work to address the wrong of racial prejudice, we must not use means that create another wrong, and thus perpetuate our divisions. America is a diverse country, racially, economically, and ethnically. And our institutions of higher education should reflect our diversity.

A college education should teach respect and understanding and goodwill. And these values are strengthened when students live and learn with people from many backgrounds. Yet quota systems that use race to include or exclude people from higher education and the opportunities it offers are divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution. In the programs under review by the Supreme Court, the University of Michigan has established an admissions process based on race.

At the undergraduate level, African American students and some Hispanic students and Native American students receive 20 points out of a maximum of 150, not because of any academic achievement or life experience, but solely because they are African American, Hispanic or Native American. To put this in perspective, a perfect SAT score is worth only 12 points in the Michigan system. Students who accumulate 100 points are generally admitted, so those 20 points awarded solely based on race are often the decisive factor.

At the law school, some minority students are admitted to meet percentage targets while other applicants with higher grades and better scores are passed over. This means that students are being selected or rejected based primarily on the color of their skin. The motivation for such an admissions policy may be very good, but its result is discrimination and that discrimination is wrong. Some states are using innovative ways to diversify their student bodies. Recent history has proven that diversity can be achieved without using quotas.

Systems in California and Florida and Texas have proven that by guaranteeing admissions to the top students from high schools throughout the state, including low income neighborhoods, colleges can attain broad racial diversity. In these states, race-neutral admissions policies have resulted in levels of minority attendance for incoming students that are close to, and in some instances slightly surpass, those under the old race-based approach. We should not be satisfied with the current numbers of minorities on Americans college campuses.

Much progress has been made; much more is needed. University officials have the responsibility and the obligation to make a serious, effective effort to reach out to students from all walks of life, without falling back on unconstitutional quotas. Schools should seek diversity by considering a broad range of factors in admissions, including a student's potential and life experiences. Our government must work to make college more affordable for students who come from economically disadvantaged homes.

And because we're committed to racial justice, we must make sure that America's public schools offer a quality education to every child from every background, which is the central purpose of the education reforms I signed last year. America's long experience with the segregation we have put behind us and the racial discrimination we still struggle to overcome requires a special effort to make real the promise of equal opportunity for all. My administration will continue to actively promote diversity and opportunity in every way that the law permits.

Thank you very much.

kaytay says the following:
Of all people to come out and say it, this man was the last I expected to confront the issue of U of M's admissions policy. But good for him. Someone had to say something in a public fashion instead of allowing the blind support of inequality in the name of equality to continue.

And he didn't say the word "evil" even once.

Thank you very much.


2003.1.28 tdent says

  1. Quota systems have been illegal for decades. U-M does not have a quota system. Good for Bush for confusing something that is not a quota with something that is?
  2. Legacy admissions 'perpetuate our divisions' since they favour those (overwhelmingly white) whose parents got in. Good for Bush for faulting race-based action but ignoring legacies?
  3. GPA is 80 points in Michigan's system. Total possible score from academic factors 110 points. Total possible from racial factors 20 points. Good for Bush for deliberately omitting to mention GPA?
  4. Texas system relies on high schools being effectively segregated, and since different schools have very different standards, good applicants from better schools who happen not to be in top 10% may get excluded in favour of worse applicants who make the top 10% of worse schools. If Texas schools were racially integrated, the scheme would not work. Good for Bush for pushing a scheme that's based on segregated high schools? All in all, a masterly piece of selective factual omission. Did you even look at the U-M points system in its entirety?
    actually, one more point
  5. the 20 points that Bush said were 'solely' for race can in fact be awarded for socioeconomic disadvantage, to applicants educated at a school predominantly attended by an underrepresented minority, to scholarship athletes or at the Provost's discretion. It's the same 20 points, but they get awarded to the poor of whatever race and to athetes as well as to minorities. Another deceptive misrepresentation.
kaytay says
  1. I don't know so much about quotas being official, but the minority population at U of M remains at a constant percentage year to year - how would one explain that without a quota system? I am sure an explanation exists, but a quota system is a possibilty.
  2. The issue was affirmative action, not legacy. I understnad how it fits in with the argument, but then again the children of U of M alumni are awarded 4 points at most, not 20.
  3. GPA is worth up to 80 points. Take an above-average white kid with an A average and an average minority with a B average - they are now "equal," both with 80 points.
  4. I know nothing about schools in Texas, although I am sure you have a point. And yes, I know a lot about the U of M admissions policy, I would not have opened my mouth if I didn't. Node what you know. For those who are interested, here's a breakdown of the point values awarded:

    The admission criteria at U of M are ambiguous. The total is supposedly 150 points, with a minimum of 100 points needed to be considered for acceptance.

    Up to 80 : is based on one's high school GPA. 80 points for a 4.0 (A) average, 60 points for a 3.0, 40 points for a 2.0, and so on.

    20 : the number of points an applicant receives for being African-American, Hispanic, or Native American (ethnicities that do not receive the 20 points: Asian, Caucasion, and Arab). Being otherwise "disadvantaged" is also taken into account.

    Up to 16 points : awarded based on where the student lives. In the words of U of M, these points go to students "coming from a geographic area that is less well represented on our campus."

    Up to 12 : the total amount of points that can be earned for a perfect standardized test score (e.g., 1600 on the SAT or 36 on the ACT).

    Up to 10 : awarded for attending a competitive high school.

    up to 8 : the maximum number of points that can be earned for taking a difficult high school curriculum.

    5 : the number of points awarded to "men in nursing."

    Up to 5 : points an applicant can earn for personal achievement or leadership on a national level.

    4 : points an applicant receives for being a son or daughter of an alumnus.

    3 : points that can be earned for an outstanding personal essay.

    Total possible points for a Hispanic/African-American/Native American who lived a disadvantaged life, who has a 4.0 GPA, scored 1600 on the SAT, is the son of a U of M grad from a competitive high school in an under-represented area of the world where he took a difficult course load, who wrote a perfect essay and has demonstrated "personal acheivement" and is a male going into nursing: 163.

    But then some of those criteria are somewhat mutually exclusive, so I bet that total is nearly impossible to obtain.

  5. That's very true.

I've always wondered why admissions people just didn't swap out affirmative action utilizing race and replace it with affirmative action utilizing the applicant's (and their parent's) financial net worth.

The logic of affirmative action in regards to race is that minorities may not have the same educational opportunities as white people in the United States because they live in a crappy neighborhood. They presumably live there because their parents have a crappy job, because they themselves did not get a good education. The cycle they are stuck in is crappy education leading to a crappy job, which leads to a crappy education for the next generation. The idea is that they got stuck in this cycle because of past prejudice leading to reduced financial and educational opportunities.

So instead of introducing new opportunities for disadvantaged people by their race, why not do it by their financial status? It is not that a person needs opportunity because of their race - a person needs additional opportunities because of their current financial situation, regardless of their race...

This seems more fair to me than other attempts to help out people with limited educational opportunities. No racial bias in either direction. The government already helps out poor people with various welfare programs, so preferential treatment of poor people is apparently legal under the Constitution. And if some rich kid doesn't get in to a school, it's not because he was white, but because he was dumber than all the other rich kids. It can't be because he/she was rich, because he had access to resources that a poor applicant did not.

George W. Bush's statement on the Michigan Affirmative Action case, confronted with facts

I am not going to argue here for or against affirmative action. I will examine in detail some points in the statement of President Bush made at the time of filing (mid-January 2003) of the amicus curiae brief in the cases against the University of Michigan, and compare them with what I understand to be the relevant facts of the case.

I find that the arguments presented in the statement are seriously compromised by the omission or outright distortion of certain facts concerning the admissions systems at U-M and other universities. Since these deficiencies all have the effect of supporting the argument, I conclude that they cannot be coincidental, and that the statement is a deliberately misleading one. There is a case to be made against AA, but it cannot honestly be made in the way that George W. Bush does.

1. First, he said that the Michigan system "amounts to a quota system". Later, he expressed the admirable and factually impeccable sentiment that "quota systems that use race to include or exclude people from higher education and the opportunities it offers are divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution." In arguing against the U-M system and introducing his preferred system, he also said that "diversity can be achieved without using quotas." In closing, he referred to "unconstitutional quotas". Now, it is well-known that quota systems, in which a certain number of places are set aside for those of a particular racial minority are unconstitutional, by precedent of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (decided 1978).

If the U-M system were a quota, there would have been no reason to refer it to the Supreme Court: the case would have been decided in a lower court. In fact, the system is a points system in which all students are awarded a points total and those with higher points are preferred. To avoid future confusion, here is the system for the LSA (Literature, Science and Arts) school:

The Michigan LSA System

Counselors evaluate applications aided by a "selection index" worksheet listing factors the University believes important (...) and select a numerical value for each factor, up to a possible total of 150 points. Academic factors account for up to 110 points. Eighty points are available for academic GPA from tenth and eleventh grades, and 12 points are available for standardized test scores. Every applicant from the same school receives the same number of points -- up to ten -- for the academic strength of that school. In addition, counselors subtract up to four points for an applicant who chose a weaker curriculum when a stronger one was available, and add up to eight points for an applicant who selected more challenging courses.

Applicants receive up to 40 points for other factors (...). They may receive 20 points for one of the following: membership in an underrepresented minority group, socioeconomic disadvantage, attendance at a predominantly minority high school, athletics, or at the Provost's discretion. (...) Counselors assign ten points for Michigan residency, six additional points for residency in underrepresented Michigan counties, and two points for residency in underrepresented states. Applicants receive one or four points for alumni relationships. The personal essay can earn up to three points. Based on an applicant's activities, work experience, and awards, counselors may assign up to five points for leadership and service, and five more points for personal achievement.

(Source: http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/faqs/uapolicy.html. I do not know why male nurses are not mentioned here.)

Why would Bush say that a system that is not a quota "amounts to" one, and proceed to speak against quotas? He is either misinformed, or trying to plant the false idea in people's minds that U-M operates a quota system. On a related subject, lower courts have found that the U-M policy is not "functionally equivalent to a quota" and does not violate Bakke. (Further, the majority in Bakke agreed that it was not unconstitutional to use race as a factor, provided that quotas were not used.) (Source: http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/faqs/comply.html.)

2. Second, he said that "(...) the University of Michigan's admissions policies (...) award students a significant number of extra points based solely on their race, and establishes (sic.) numerical targets for incoming minority students (...)." In fact, 20 points can be awarded for race, but the same points can also be awarded for "socioeconomic disadvantage, attendance at a predominantly minority high school, athletics, or at the Provost's discretion". It is incorrect to say that these points are awarded "based solely on race". If we imagine four students, one a white non-athlete, one a black non-athlete, one a white athlete, and one a black athlete, the first would not receive 20 points (assuming that the other factors do not come into play), while the other three would receive the points. It is also impossible to say whether the black athlete had received points for race, or for athletics, or for both: compared to the white athlete, he or she receives no race-based advantage. If the points were awarded solely on race, the white athlete would not receive them. Further, there are in fact no "numerical targets for incoming minority students". (Sources as above.)

3. He said that "At the law school, some minority students are admitted to meet percentage targets (...)". This is not correct. In fact, there are no percentage targets, which would imply a quota system unconstitutional under Bakke. Also in the case of the Law School, he said that "(...) students are being selected or rejected based primarily on the color of their skin." In fact, the Law School explicitly says that it would not admit candidates who were academically unqualified for the courses. This requirement, along with others unrelated to race, excludes a large majority of their applicants of all races. Further, the number of successful applicants identifying with racial minorities is about a quarter of the total number of admissions. Further, the admissions procedure does not take into account skin color: it asks the applicants to optionally specify racial or ethnic identification. Can you distinguish Native Americans by "the color of their skin"? Bush said that the Law School is doing it. If it were taking photographs and measuring skin color, such an inflammatory statement would be justified.

If "the color of their skin" (which we are charitably interpreting to mean race) were the primary reason for selection or rejection, then one would expect many minority students to be selected who were academically inadequate, and few (academically adequate or otherwise) white students to be accepted. In fact, most minority students are rejected, on many factors including academic ones, and most of the accepted students are white (by a margin of three to one). Bush grossly overstated the importance of race in the procedure by saying that it was primary: more important than all other factors.

Also referring to the Law School, he said that "other applicants with higher grades and better scores (than some minority applicants) are passed over." This is evidently true. However, this is not evidence of race-based preferential treatment, since the Law School openly says that "grades and (...) scores" are only one of many factors, even when race is excluded. I quote: "Even as predictors of academic performance (...) those numbers must be considered in conjunction with such information as the rigor of the undergraduate course of study, the quality of the academic institution attended, the progress observed in the applicant's undergraduate academic performance, recommendations, and essays." Compare a minority student obtaining certain grades from a rigorous, top school, with a white student with better grades from a mediocre school: you can easily see how the example that Bush is presenting as evidence could come about, without the least racial bias. (Source: http://www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions/faqs/lawqa.html.)

4. He describes systems in place in California, Texas and Florida which guarantee admission to a certain percentage of students at the top of their high school class - in Texas, the top 10% - with the implication that this is a better system than the U-M one. I will not immediately attempt to argue which system is better. Rather, I will draw attention to certain facts which undermine Bush's argument why his preferred system is better.

Clearly, this is a quota system, since a certain number of places must be set aside for these top 10%. Further, since high schools differ widely in academic standards, some applicants from mediocre high schools will benefit from being in the top 10%, at the expense of more able applicants who attend better schools but are not in the top 10%. Further, the high school system in Texas is segregated by race to an unusual extent; not because of any racial prejudice, but as the result of historical and socioeconomic factors. When the plan (called "affirmative access") was being devised, everyone in Texas knew that the school system was effectively segregated to a large extent. The plan was approved in the knowledge that it would enforce 10% admission from minority schools, no matter what their academic credentials. The effect of "affirmative access" in Texas was almost identical to what the effect of a 10% race-based quota would be. If you are going to agree with Bush that the U-M system "amounts to a quota", you must agree that the system he favours also "amounts to a quota"; a quota introduced via the back door of segregated schools. If high schools were predominantly racially mixed, the Texas plan would be useless in its aim of achieving racial diversity at U-T.

It is also worth remarking that "affirmative access" gives bright minority students an incentive to stay in low-performing schools where it's easy to make the top 10%, rather than academic high schools where the chance of making the top 10% are much lower, and is a disincentive for low-performing schools to improve, since their top 10% will get into U-T regardless. To descend to rhetoric for a moment: "George Bush's brilliant 'race-neutral' plan actually encourages segregation in high schools." (Sources: http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh012403.shtml, http://slate.msn.com/id/1004097/.)

And I didn't even mention legacy admissions.


Regarding kaytay's points above. This writeup, rather than my hastily-written msgs, is my considered view of the Bush administration's position. On the quota question, I have seen figures showing that the total minority intake at the Law School was approximately 24% in two consecutive years. I do not know the figures in other cases. I find it difficult to believe that the total percentage of minorities has been constant throughout the period of application of the current U-M policy, particularly when the figures for different ethnic groups, taken separately, show wide fluctuations - 7% Latino one year and 4% the next. An accurate and extended set of figures would be welcome.

The current U-M President Mary Sue Coleman has said: "We do not have, and have never had, quotas or numerical targets in either the undergraduate or Law School admissions programs. Academic qualifications are the overwhelming consideration for admission to both programs." Now unless she is incorrect, and U-M is operating a clandestine quota system, (and unless some proof is found of this!) we must accept on current evidence that there is no quota.

I admit that legacy admissions are little more than a debating point in the U-M case. In other universities (Yale?) they may be more important and skew admissions away from minorities.

I suspect kaytay would not have mentioned GPA if I had not brought it up. What I found objectionable was comparing the possible 20 point bonus for race or other factors, with the 12 points for SAT, without mentioning the other 98 points that may be awarded for academic factors. To cheaply answer the example, if the white A student were better than the minority B student (assuming that neither of them were poor or an athlete, and all other things being equal), he or she would get a better SAT score, would write a better essay, and would come out ahead.

Regarding the facts of the admission system, I don't think it is possible to get 163 points. If you read the version at http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/17/bush.affirmative.action/ carefully, you will see that the 5 points for being a male nursing applicant are not added to the 20 points potentially awarded for race, since one can only gain points from one option out of the two. And crucially, non-academic factors are explicitly limited to 40 points maximum. So, assuming my information is correct, 150 is indeed the maximum.

America is the land of plenty, justice and equality for all. Despite prolific statements about the virtues of American society, these claims of equality have little basis in truth, fact or practice. Throughout history, discrimination has bloodied the tides of time at the hand of the government, in the forms of racial discrimination and substandard women’s rights. The United States has made progress in the endeavors involved in more closely resembling the aforementioned statements of equality, by improving women’s equality, and outlawing segregation or discrimination on the basis of race. In recent years the United States has attempted to become more equal through the implementation of affirmative action. Due to the setbacks caused to women and racial minorities by previous government discrimination, the purpose of affirmative action is to give these groups an advantage, in order to accommodate the disadvantage experienced previously.

Redress for prior offenses is a large part of the American legal system. In general, this compensation takes two forms, negative action, or positive action. A negative action requires that party at fault not perform an action, or cease an action. A positive, or affirmative, action compels a concession or action on the part of the party at fault. In the case of affirmative action, the terms are exactly as such, American businesses, and schools that are contracted by the government, are compelled to give a concession to minority groups in race or gender as redress for past misconduct. Unlike a straightforward case where there are concrete parties involved, the whole of America is affected with requirements that lack clear guidelines (Peterson). Affirmative action presents several problems as it is currently applied to the society of the United States. These problems exist on several levels, from an economic standpoint, as well as that of education. These two areas have been increasingly regulated by the government, including the arena of affirmative action.

The history of affirmative action dates back as early as the 1930s, long before it was made an executive order by President Kennedy in 1961. The Public Works Administration Created a policy in 1934, which mandated that in cities with “an appreciable Negro population” employ “a fixed percentage of skilled black workers” (Lawson). This action was later considered in a 1941 decision by President Roosevelt to create the Fair Employment Practice Committee. This committee was created by executive order, and was designed to foster equality in the work place. The organization itself was relatively weak, mostly relying on businesses and organizations to voluntarily follow recommendations. The nightmare of quantifying equality was just beginning to rear its ugly head, when in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and broadened the scope of the government’s role in equality, marking the conception of the concept that would come to be known as affirmative action.

Originally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended to insure equality, but not through the use of quotas or preferential based on race, according to its supporters such as Senator Hubert Humphrey (Lawson). Lyndon B. Johnson came in to presidency in 1963, and along with him came great changes concerning race, gender, and equality. In 1965, Executive Order 11246 was signed into law by Johnson, requiring that government contractors take affirmative action in regard to prospective employees. Later this order was amended by order 11375, which included the phrasing, “to correct the effects of past and present discrimination.” The actual mandate of the order requires that institutions that have greater than 50 employees and revenue of greater than $50,000 from a single government contract per year must have a written plan of affirmative action; including goals and timelines as to how women and racial minorities would be hired and used in the work force. Affirmative action is primarily focused on government contractors; however, any business can be sued for discrimination in actual cases where minorities are discriminated against. By the same token, there have been lawsuits won by majority members who felt that they were victims of reverse-discrimination.

Affirmative action in universities began in the 1970s when students held mass demonstrations demanding the minority students be recruited into universities. Most concessions regarding scholarship and admissions that are made by universities are justified as trying to compensate for previous discrimination or hardship by a group. In university admissions processes there are sever factors that can play into admission, such as race, gender, social status, and geographic status when schools are attempting to judge the applicants grades and test scores. Affirmative action is sore point in many universities today, one such example ‘affirmative action bake sales’ in which those against affirmative action sell baked goods with different prices according to the buyer’s race. White males typically pay the most, and black females typically pay the least.

There have been several important Supreme Court cases involving education and affirmative action. Two of the most notable cases originated in Michigan State University. In the first case, Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled in 2003 that race could in fact be a legitimate factor in admissions (Hocker). Later that same year in Gratz v. Bollinger the supreme court ruled that Michigan’s point based admissions system that distinguished applicants by race was too mechanical and therefore unconstitutional (Wikipedia).

The issue of forced racial equality in tertiary educational facilities is still hotly debated, amidst evidence that it is not having the intended effect. A 1990 to 1991 study found that 21 percent of black students failed to achieve a degree in law school, as opposed to a 9.7 percent failure rate among white students. Among those students given preference by affirmative action, a 42.3 attrition rate was observed (Leo). This evidence suggests that those students who are admitted under affirmative action do not perform as well as their peers; however, the exact reason is undeterminable, it may be that law schools themselves are unfair to minorities, resulting in a lack of performance not because of lack of qualification for admission, but because of the institution itself. Another reason for this disparity may be that through decades of racism, the overall qualifications and education of the race was harmed. Regardless of the reason, there is evidence that suggests that affirmative action is not fulfilling its intended purpose.

Recently, the Supreme Court's actions have stepped back in the power and influence of affirmative action. During the Regan administration, the court kept affirmative action to a regulation of strict scrutiny. Some states in the union have actively passed legislation that forbids preferential treatment based on race, these include California, Florida, and Washington. In California, any preferential treatment is banned according to proposition 209. In Florida legislature was passed forbidding colleges to allow race as a factor in admissions. Washington state proposition 200, acted much like California’s legislation (Brunner).

Affirmative action has, and still has a holds a highly controversial position within American society. The issues inherent in trying to quantify race have made rulings and requirements of affirmative action problematic at best. Although it is widely known which minority groups are protected by the government, no lists are kept, mostly out of fear of violating the Equal Protection Act. Affirmative action is a result of an American public that desires equality for all, yet is not informed or interested enough to actively try and solve the problem outside of legislation. A tough balance is required, trying to elevate some, while at the same time avoiding lowering the bar to the point where everyone occupies the same lower standard.


Works Cited

"Affirmative Action." Wikipedia. 18 Mar. 2004. 20 Mar. 2006 .

Brunner, Borgna. "Affirmative Action Timeline." InfoPlease. 2006. 22 Mar. 2006 .

Hocker, Cliff. "Affirmative Action Upheld." Black Enterprise 34 (2003): 23-25. ProQuest. Christopher Newport University Library, Newport News. 17 Mar. 2006. Keyword: Affirmative Action.

Lawson, Steven F. "The Pursuit of Fairness: a History of Affirmative Action." The Journal of Southern History 71 (2005): 745-746. ProQuest. Christopher Newport University Library, Newport News. 17 Mar. 2006. Keyword: Affirmative Action History.

Leo, John. "Let's Attack Merit." U.S. and World Report 123 (1994): 21-22. ProQuest. Christopher Newport University Library, Newport News. 17 Mar. 2006. Keyword: Affirmative Action.

Peterson, William H. "A Cure Worse Than Disease: Fighting Descrimination Through Government Control." Ideas on Liberty 50 (2000): 50-51. ProQuest. Christopher Newport University Library, Newport News. 15 Mar. 2006. Keyword: Affirmative Action.

NB: This is NOT about American affirmative action, of which I have no experience and about which I do not know enough. This is about affirmative action in South Africa, where slavery ended very recently indeed. Any parallels you may or may not find are a just nature of the beast

Also NB: some of the feedback I got led me to understand that my sarcasm is vague. I wrote this as a parody of the arguments most commonly made by those against affirmative action in South Africa. It was made to be lambasting - I thought that was perfectly clear. I'm sorry if it wasn't.

I agree with the people who say that there needs to be a realistic time limit on affirmative action. The time limit should be completely rigid, and completely fair.

Let's say the government gets 48 years to finish what they're doing with affirmative action. After all, that's how long the apartheid government spent building the whites up at the expense of the blacks.

Oh, no. Wait. The apartheid government didn't make the white people richer than the black people. The white people were already richer. Maybe it was the Brits who did it. Yeah, that must be it. So we'll give the government 92 years to fix the problem. Sound good?

Oh my. Today is just not my day. I forgot about all the land seizures, extortion and unfair, coerced trading that went on from, oh, about Jan Van Riebeeck's time. Silly me. So that's... 342 years. That's how long we'll give affirmative action to do its thing.

Except, now that I think about it, the ANC government - being all, y'know, democratic and stuff - isn't killing white people. Or oppressing them. Or even, like, taking their stuff. They're fixing things a lot slower than the white governments messed them up (because the white governments did that so well, you see). At least twice as slow. So we'll give them proportionately longer. 684 years. We're not unreasonable people, though. We're pretty generous in nature. Let's make it a round 650 years.

Fabulous. That's settled, then. Call us in 2644 AD (you might be familiar with it as 650 ATRGGTOOICA*), you reactionaries, and we'll glady call the whole affirmative action thing off, secure in the knowledge that we've settled the score. Except, save up a little first - you'll probably be calling us from Australia anyway, and that won't be cheap.

Love and kisses.
</rant>


*After The Racist Government Got Thrown Out On Its Collective Arse


The colour of my skin shouldn't matter in a discussion like this. Nor should my sex. They shouldn't matter at all. Ever. Nonetheless, let's get them out there, so there aren't any conclusions jumped to: I am what is known in South Africa as a Pale Male.

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