It’s time for true ‘affirmative action’

By Jordan Harp

Next week marks the 48th anniversary of Executive Order 10925. The order, issued by President Kennedy on March 6, 1961, mandated that all federal programs that received federal funding “take affirmative action” in order to ensure that all hiring practices are free of discrimination and racial bias. This order was expanded by later presidential orders, as well as Supreme Court rulings, to become the general policy that we know today as affirmative action.

Forty-eight years later, the policy still exists in many academic institutions and federal programs. This policy was originally put into place to fight discrimination and to give minorities, and eventually women, increased access to the workplace and universities.

But today, with all of the anti-discrimination laws that have been enacted and all the related progress that has been made, not the least of which the election of the first black president, why do we still feel affirmative action is necessary? Why do we feel it necessary to factor in race or gender when deciding a person’s qualifications? All this policy does is prolong our nation’s obsession with race, and it furthers stereotypes about minorities studying at elite institutions or working in the business world.

This university is an affirmative action institution, meaning it takes race and gender into account when deciding whether to admit applicants. Proponents of the policy like to point out that it increases diversity at institutions that use it.

But this is mostly just a cynical obsession with numbers and percentages that universities can then brag about, but it does nothing for students’ actual achievement at these institutions.

Several states have realized the incongruity in formulating admissions decisions with an eye on race or gender. You can’t honestly say this is a fair society when a factor an individual has no control over is taken into account when deciding that person’s qualifications.

In 1996, California became the first to ban affirmative action with the passage of Proposition 209. The proposition’s language prohibits granting “preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” Similar measures have been put into effect in Michigan, Washington, Florida and, most recently, Nebraska.

The main problem with affirmative action policies at many institutions arises when they causes socioeconomic factors to be ignored. Giving preference to a middle-class black kid over a white kid from a poor family is in no way fair.

Even then, however, it is an insufficient measure at best. It would be, in essence, an attempt to retroactively cure many of the ills faced by poverty-stricken Americans, be they white, black, Asian, Hispanic or any other ethnicity. You cannot solve the problems faced by those in destitution – whether it is a lack of quality primary or secondary schooling, a lack of a proper upbringing or something else – by giving them preference in admission to universities or the work force. A solution to those problems has to start much earlier in life. A rethinking of affirmative action is sorely needed.

Florida State University has offered an alternative. Known as the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement, or CARE, the program identifies underprivileged students in grade school in the surrounding area, and then counselors begin guiding them and their parents on how to prepare for college and succeed once there. The programs takes only socioeconomic status into account when deciding which students are taken into the program, and two-thirds end up being black.

It is such a re-evaluation that is necessary, not just for this institution, but for any institution that still uses race or gender when judging applicants.

The dogmatic adherence to diversity is what must end. It isn’t about what percentage of students is black, Hispanic or Native American, but rather being completely fair to all applicants, judging them on their merits and giving them the best opportunity to succeed.

That is truly “affirmative” action.

Jordan is a junior in MCB and needs to learn how to swim.