Abandon academic affirmative action

DBy Austen Morris

dr. King said it and fought for it more vigorously than anyone: One’s character is what’s important, not the color of one’s skin. Yet institutional racism – like that contained in some of the University of Michigan’s admissions policies, the constitutionality of which the Supreme Court will soon have a chance to determine – lives on. What’s more, such policies continue to enjoy substantial popular support, ironically, and sadly, from those who claim to be carrying the torch Dr. King helped light.

Affirmative action, at least its “preferential treatment” version, is a wholly wrong-headed, damaging and demeaning policy objective. Contrary to much public discourse, it’s harmful not only to the individuals who are effectively punished for being white, it’s equally if not more harmful to the racial minorities it’s intended to help.

Let’s take the case at hand. Minority students applying to the University of Michigan undergraduate program are told by implication that their skin color, a purely accidental feature, is on par with grades, extracurricular activities and work experience, i.e., criteria actually reflective of choices the applicant has made. A black student who works diligently through high school finds herself being evaluated by the University of Michigan on something as perfectly superficial as skin color. With this necessarily comes a decrease in the attention paid to her actual merit, her ability and character. This is a tremendous insult to anyone of any race. If Michelle Kwan won an Olympic gold medal in part for being of Asian descent, how angry and insulted would she feel? Indeed, how upset would all of us be?

Undergraduate minorities admitted to the University of Michigan are further told by implication that they’re there because, due to their inferiority, a set of special rules was adopted to help them along. Really, can a more demeaning message be imagined? Such preferential treatment naturally leads to the lingering doubt in such students’ minds about whether they’re attending the university without having fully earned it. “What about that qualified applicant who may have been turned down on account of me?” a Hispanic first-year student might ask himself, “What did I have that he or she didn’t, other than a different shade of skin?” Affirmative action advocates claim to want to help minorities; making people feel inferior, weak and guilty is a very strange kind of help.

Such policies obviously create racial division rather than racial harmony. Once you focus on and attach primary importance to racial differences, you’ve virtually guaranteed a rise in racial conflict. The obverse is just as true: Ignore race, and miraculously, race gets ignored. Why, after all, are professional sports organizations such bastions of racial harmony? Precisely because there race is for all intents and purposes unseen. A player wins a spot on the roster because of demonstrated ability alone. A team wins a game because it scores more points than the opponent, pure and simple. Much of the business world follows the same implicit code. It doesn’t matter who does the manufacturing or assembling or selling; just offer a good product for a good price and we’ll buy it. So much of U.S. society and culture has become colorblind and is becoming more so. Leave it to academia to try to keep us forever in the primitive muck of racism.

Affirmative action of this type should be abandoned entirely, out of respect for the dignity of human beings. The proper extent of a government’s power to forbid such policies is a different issue altogether. Whether the policies are used in state-funded institutions is, I believe, of paramount importance on the legal side of things. But the immorality of preferential treatment on the basis of race is beyond question. You wouldn’t think U.S. citizens, living in the great melting pot, would even have to think twice.

Austen Morris is a University student. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]