Yale University

Sound Off !

Stop Affirmative Action

Ronald Parlato

July 29, 2013

Category: Society > Campus Issues

Affirmative action is a technique of social engineering which has long overstayed its visit. It does more to promote racial suspicion and intolerance than discourage it; and displaces real diversity in higher education. Strengthening lower-tier educational institutions, e.g. community and 2-year colleges allow students to find their own level and do well.

There is no reason why affirmative action programs should continue in higher education.   Many colleges and universities base their admissions policies on the assumption that racial diversity per se is important — that the more the institution reflects the real racial world, the richer the university environment will be.  There are two basic fallacies to this argument: First, of all the possible ways to represent diversity, race is the least advantageous.  Certainly students selected because of talent in mathematics, science, dance, or the visual arts create a richer learning environment than one in which color alone is the basis for acceptance.  Universities define 'diversity' uniquely in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation because of a socio-political agenda left over from the Sixties.  Forcing or engineering diversity on these grounds, they say, will help to create a more just and equitable society.

However, affirmative action programs tend to increase racial intolerance, not decrease it.  Since racial preferences lower the bar for admission, white students see only under-performing minorities.   Their prejudices are then confirmed — these students must be dumber and must come from dysfunctional environments.  Moreover, this reconfirmation of prejudice is compounded by resentment.  These under-qualified students have been admitted when many more qualified non-minority applicants have not.

Affirmative action programs also do few favors for minorities who struggle to keep up, and drop out at rates much higher than whites or Asians.

Completion rates for first-time, full-time students who sought a bachelor's degree in fall 2004 also varied by race/ethnicity. Asian/Pacific Islander students had the highest 6-year graduation rate (69%), followed by White students (62%), Hispanic students (50%), and Black and American Indian/Alaska Native students (39% each (U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2012).

Many observers have noted that affirmative action negatively affects minority performance. Racial and sexual discrimination tend to rob their victims of self-confidence and self-esteem, and to sap the motivation of those who suffer them. Certainly qualities such as self-confidence, self-esteem, and a high level of motivation are relevant to one's ability to compete.

The greatest damage [of affirmative action] might be to blacks' self-esteem and sense of their own potential, already battered by a culture of poverty.  The direct message of race-norming to blacks is 'You don't quite measure up, so we're going to lower the standard for you' (Helen Lipson, Talking Affirmative Action).

The real way to racial equality in this country is through equalizing performance, and education is clearly the first step.  The entire public education system needs to be reformed so that minority students from poor neighborhoods have the opportunity to select the schools most appropriate for them. Not everyone has to go to Yale.  School choice should be encouraged through voucher programs in younger grades, exam-based competitive secondary schools, and strengthened multi-tiered systems of higher education.  As in all aspects of American life, not everyone is equal; but everyone should have equal opportunity.