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Monday, August 09, 2004

Battle Affirmative Action - Opening Argument - Challenger

I want to thank the chairman for his gracious invitation. I welcome the opportunity before the Iron Blog Green and the judges to debate this important topic.

I will say that I agree with author Catharine R. Stimpson, who pegged the debate on this issue thusly:
The historical arguments about affirmative action ... have been serious and sometimes profound. Its supporters have claimed that affirmative action is an essential tool for the pulling down of discrimination and the putting up of justice. Its opponents have claimed that affirmative action is a misguided - even immoral - piece of social engineering that will, perversely, perpetuate discrimination in the name of ending it.

Unfortunately, the arguments about affirmative action often have also been stupid and vicious. When this happens, its supporters have ignored its weaknesses - in theory and in practice. Its opponents have inflamed racial tensions and distorted affirmative action - in theory and in practice - for political gain. - "Rethinking Affirmative Action"

My hope here is to keep the debate in the range of the first paragraph, and avoid any slips into the terrain of the second.

A sad sign of the times

Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.

A part of me is saddened every time I read that phrase.

If you haven't read the employment pages lately, you might have missed that phrase. I see it a lot. Part of my job as webmaster of a professional organization web site is updating the job page. So I'm familiar with it. This site has the most complete version I've seen so far:
Women, minorities, persons with disabilities, Vietnam-era veterans and disabled veterans are encouraged to apply. 

It's the last thing. Always the last thing that people put on the announcement, below the EEO/AA symbol.

It saddens me as much as would seeing a "Whites Only" sign in the window of a restaurant. It says to me that I'm not welcome.

Because I have a dirty little secret. I'm a white male. Now, I'm actually 1/8 Cherokee, which qualifies me under federal definitions to be considered a minority. But I don't "look" like a native American, so I've always been loathe to engage in a policy of self-victimization. I've never lost a job because of Affirmative Action. I've been accepted to every college I've applied to, so I have no personal connection to the recent University of Michigan cases that were a split decision on affirmative action.

But It is my settled conviction that affirmative action programs as set forth in this day and age are counterproductive to the achievement of a truly diverse society. Programs which elevate race (or other genetically determined attributes like sex) as a preference in determining access to the promise of the future are a profound affront to the philosophical underpinnings of the U.S. Finally, rather than promoting equality, affirmative action in fact builds up walls between races and sexes.

Defining Affirmative Action
Just so we're clear on what we're discussing, I'll call upon the Washington Post for a helpful definition:
Born of the civil rights movement three decades ago, affirmative action calls for minorities and women to be given special consideration in employment, education and contracting decisions.

Institutions with affirmative action policies generally set goals and timetables for increased diversity – and use recruitment, set-asides and preference as ways of achieving those goals.

In its modern form, affirmative action can call for an admissions officer faced with two similarly qualified applicants to choose the minority over the white, or for a manager to recruit and hire a qualified woman for a job instead of a man. Affirmative action decisions are generally not supposed to be based on quotas, nor are they supposed to give any preference to unqualified candidates. And they are not supposed to harm anyone through "reverse discrimination."

It is the qualifiers in the last paragraph that concern opponents of affirmative action, myself included. Because at the heart of it, affirmative action has led to forms of reverse discrimination and "quotas" like the Michigan undergraduate admissions standards that were overturned by a 6-3 decision in Gratz v. Bollinger. In that case, the Wolverines' admissions crew gave 20 points to every minority for their race (out of a total 150), regardless of other factors.

These are not the hard quotas that the Supreme Court addressed in its Bakke decision (in which 16 spots were "reserved" for blacks), but "soft" quotas that achieve the same non-egalitarian aim through less obviously discriminatory means.

It is ironic that Affirmative Action causes such varied reactions among people, given its origin in the rather innocuous (for once) phrasing of President Lyndon Johnson:
The actual phrase "affirmative action" was first used in President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Executive Order 11246 which requires federal contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." (the sex of the employee would be added to non-discrimination clauses soon after)

Sounds like a noble goal, right? But what initially was meant to take race (and other irrelevant factors like creed, color or national origin) OUT OF the employment equation ended up as a method of making sure that race (and later sex) was INCLUDED IN the hiring equation.

Race-based decision-making is contrary to the American ideal
I would start off at the beginning. The Declaration of Independence spells out a clear foundation for political thought in the U.S.:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," (emphasis added).

I believe that statement has merit today. I realize that the U.S. hasn't been perfect in its implementation of the ideals expressed in the Declaration. I am more than a little aware of our shortcomings in this area, but I believe the ideal is the best expression of the fundamental thing - the essence - of the greatness that is the United States. When we depart from that ideal, we do further harm in the name of redresses past wrongs.

It was just such a bedrock that served as the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, when he looked back and saw that the U.S. had not lived up to its vision. Dr. King dreamed that the vision would come.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

It is my belief that the very institution of affirmative action has made such a dream impossible. Rather, our society has moved to a point where such purposeful use of race and sex in hiring decisions should become a thing of the past. In this, I only disagree with the Supreme Court with relation to the timing of the sunset of such biased decision-making.
Justice O'Connor: "race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time. The Court takes the Law School at its word that it would like nothing better than to find a race-neutral admissions formula and will terminate its use of racial preferences as soon as practicable. The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today." - Grutter v. Bollinger

Affirmative Action causes further division, rather than unity
Consider this definition of minority from Michigan State University (don't want to discriminate among Michigan universities):
(6) "Minority" is defined by the Federal Inter-Agency Committee on Education as one who is a member of one of the following groups: a. American Indian or Alaskan Native; b. Asian or Pacific Islander; c.Black (African-American); and d. Hispanic.


So Middle-Easterners, Europeans, Africans (such as Teresa Heinz-Kerry), and Indians (real Indians) are not considered "minorities"? What about New Zealanders? Aren't they in the Pacific?

I'm sure that comes as news to many of those minority group members, since they make up significantly small amounts of the U.S. population. But so often, "minority" is really a code word for "underrepresented minorities," who apparently are not able to make it into good schools and good jobs on their own merits. So we learn that it's better from an AA standpoint to be a member of one minority than another minority. Which is confused by the fact that Asians actually outperform whites on standardized tests and are represented quite well in admissions.

And not only are some minorities better than others, but being a certain minority is sometimes better than being a woman. Or so it would seem from the Michigan cases.

It is one of the ironies that few discusses with regards to the Michigan cases: both the undergraduate and graduate school cases were filed by women. Women who happened to be the wrong color, according to the Michigan admissions standards.

And the preferential admission of blacks and hispanics has fueled resentment among asians as well (as referenced above).

In fact, rather than seeing opportunity as something that is an expanse that each student can be able to achieve in one way or another, affirmative action positions opportunity as a limited pie, where one group must lose for another to gain. If you aren't in one of the preferred groups, tough luck.

Affirmative action doesn't address real diversity
The current Republican president has one of the most racially diverse cabinets in history. And yet those on the left paint him as indifferent to the concerns of other races.

Clarence Thomas is the second black to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, a man who grew up in extreme poverty in rural Georgia. And yet, he is considered a traitor to his race.

In fact, blacks who have expressed opposition to - or even questioning the wisdom of - affirmative action and race-based policies have been labeled with similar epithets.

Affirmative action is an affront to real diversity, which occurs in the mind - beyond the confines of the color of ones' skin. For a true appreciation, perhaps Michigan Law School should strive to accept more libertarians or greens into its hallowed halls, rather than judging by the color of skin.

In conclusion, let me state for the record that I am not here arguing against anti-discrimination laws. I am all in favor of enforcing the laws against discrimination in hiring and admissions practices. But I do not think it wise to set up another set of discriminatory policies is helping us to achieve the goals of ending racism and ensuring equal opportunity.
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