What is Affirmative Action Worth?

Affirmativeaction2On December 9th, the Supreme Court takes on the controversial issue of affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

While I will leave it to you to research the justices’ backgrounds, views, and likely votes on the issue, the general consensus is that there is a good chance the Court will strike down UT’s holistic review practice, wherein race is examined as one of a number of factors in the admissions process. Based on a cursory examination of the process, it seems to satisfy the requirements handed down in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, but that does not mean much. The current Court, with its more right-leaning composition, has reversed a number of the 5–4 opinions handed down during the days when Sandra Day O’Connor was the swing vote. Should they rule conservatively in this case as well, though?

Leaving aside Constitutional considerations, as I am not well versed enough to fully understand the nuances and case precedents facing the Fisher case, I do not think so. First, let me acknowledge the lens I write through: I am a Caucasian male from a comfortable middle class background, so I am the exact demographic that would “lose out” if comprehensive affirmative action became the norm. While I feel obligated to be transparent about that, I have attempted to evaluate the merit of taking race into account in  admissions completely impartially and will render my own “verdict” without regard for how affirmative action could affect me.

As much as this is a tremendously simplistic argument, it seems as wrong to disadvantage students who were lucky enough to be born into comfortable backgrounds as it does that people are born with natural disadvantages. The difference is that we can control the former wrong, and as two wrongs do not make a right, we should not commit it in an effort to rectify society’s shortcomings. In addition, I think the mere act of taking race into account when determining college admissions is essentially stereotyping. For example, there was an African-American girl at my high school who had every possible advantage the world could offer. Her family was extremely wealthy, her parents were educated, and she attended an excellent high school. Then, despite the fact that she did not perform particularly well in high school or on her ACT, she was admitted into Northwestern while many students with better academic records and resumes were summarily rejected. One should not assume, when singing the praises of affirmative action, that it is righting societal wrongs. On the contrary, sometimes in our efforts to fix the world we only unbalance it further.

This article was written by A.J. Jeffries. Click here to see more of A.J.’s work.

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