The controversial program, commonly called affirmative action, is a policy that encourages colleges and companies to enroll or hire African-Americans (and other ethnic minorities in general) with a policy commitment to leveling the playing field because of the historic problems created by racism in our society. There can be no serious doubt that racism, and its attendant and persistent problems has impacted education and educational opportunity on a significant scale. No one in their right mind should deny this fact.

In theory there is much to commend the idea of affirmative action and racially based admission to colleges and jobs, at least to my mind. The problems have always been two-fold: (1) Is it the right solution to the obvious problem? (2) Does it really work? And the common assumption of white people in America is that the practice of affirmative action in college admissions hurts white students the most, since more of them are left out while more less qualified Student_black
African-Americans, and other ethnic groups are favored, and thus get into college and grad school or chosen for available jobs. This has all been tested in our courts and in 2003 a decision was rendered with regard to the practices of the University of Michigan that left the situation still muddled to some extent. Increasingly affirmative action is being proven to be a failure in the larger picture and thus this is a case where a good solution has proven to create more problems that should call into question the long term goodness of the solution.

This is what makes a recent study published by the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) so very intriguing. The study, published in a respected scholarly journal, suggests that it is mainly Asian-Americans who are most directly hurt by affirmative action. Asian-Americans are expected to score higher where top colleges use affirmative action. Asian_student_2
But where institutions have not used affirmative action standards as rigorously it is the same Asian-Americans who benefit the most, and by a considerable amount. Intuitively this does not surprise me since Asian-Americans are often coming from stable two parents homes where they have been encouraged to excel with their academic studies and to advance themselves by the use of their minds and social skills. 

The Asian-American share of enrollment increased at the University of Texas in Austin by 15% after a 1996 court ruling barred consideration of race for admissions. And it increased 15% at the University of Florida after Governor Jeb Bush persuaded the state university system to end race and ethnicity admissions in 2000. In 1996 the voters of California passed a ballot measure to bar the use of racial preferences and the Asian-American enrollment share increased by 20% at UC-Berkeley, 10% at UCLA and over 30% at UC-San Diego.

The authors of this study, just to make this very clear, believe affirmative action is a good practice. But they conclude the numbers show, "Asian-Americans were discriminated against under an affirmative-action system."

Research suggests that Asian-Americans are "over-represented" on American campuses and thus they are being held to "higher standards" in order to keep their numbers down. Interestingly the white applicants fared Graduattion
no better in the absence of affirmative action than before! Efforts are underway at a number of public universities to ban affirmative action. I think this is a wise effort and the more we have evidence like this—showing that other minorities are harmed by the practice—the more these bans are needed.

This recent study predicts a white backlash against Asian-Americans if affirmative action is lost. That is a novel twist. In order to keep down racial reaction we should thus retain the practice of racially-based admissions. Some kind of institutional racism will help check racism. I guess I didn’t take the right logic course in college. 

But even more interesting here is the history of Asian-American advocacy groups, who have consistently argued for affirmative action. One wonders what these spokespersons will now do with this kind of hard evidence?

So, will this new study help promote fairer uses of race-based admissions policies? Some think so but I have my doubts. If we dropped all such standards the number of Asian-American students would plainly rise, in terms of campus student percentages, and the number of white and black students, as a percentage of the total campus student body, would likely decrease. Would this be bad for America? I do not think so at all.

I thought we were the land of the free where you earned you way forward through hard work, a productive lifestyle and the proper industrious and legal use of your real freedom? Little_boy
The facts seem to be that Asian-American students have had more stable homes and better academic preparation for college and thus their percentage of the total student body on major campuses will increase without affirmative action. I for one do not see a problem with that increase. It seems to me those who play by the rules, get the good grades, and qualify for college work ought to be the very ones who get in, regardless of their ethnic background.

Our immigration problems are far deeper than on the southern border of the U.S. We are a racially divided culture and trying to fix it with government mandates will not make us a true melting pot. What we need is the kind of freedom that promotes accomplishment and commitment, regardless of color. Martin Luther King argued for a "color blind society," at least for such a society before the law. I still think he was profoundly right!

I would love to hear the voice of my Asian-American brothers and sisters, who are forced to accomplish more in this society to get ahead than the rest of us may have realized. What we should strive for is not a race-based level playing field but the kind of changes in the family and in our schools that would prepare all students for their future as productive Americans, whether or not they go to college or not. Isn’t this what freedom under the law really means?

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  1. Steve Scott February 21, 2008 at 11:21 am

    John, I was a student at Berkeley in the early 80’s and affirmative action certainly had an affect on the perceptions of other ethnic groups, whether good or bad. But one development here in California over the last decade or so is that many people are going BEYOND Dr. King’s dream of different colors living side by side. They are marrying each other and having children. And their “mixed” children are growing up to marry others who fit neither ethnic group of their parents. I know many of these people. They don’t fit into traditional affirmative action race categories and there is diffictulty in making the system “work” for these people. Who’da thunk it?

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