Thursday, October 26, 2006

And now for something completely different...

Not that Trin's Phil Science discussion hasn't been interesting...

Tuesday night at reading group there was a discussion regarding the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. This, of course, led into a discussion regarding affirmative action. Very briefly, for those of you that don't know, the MCRI would end affirmative action in Michigan. The bill was proposed by Ward Connerly, who has already been victorious getting similar measures passed in California in Oregon. Our discussion on Tuesday night centered around what this meant for universities. When California was no longer required to admit a certain number of minorities into its state universities, the percentage of minorities admitted dropped considerably. However, the success rate of minorities that were admitted seems to be higher. (I won't pretend I've looked up all the stats on this, so I'll just stick with weak claims based on hearsay from Fritz, Joe, and Mike.)

What are everyone else's thoughts on this? I'm inclined to say that even though the system of affirmative action is inadequate, we should keep it until we can come up with something better (ie. better public educational systems). I am, however, far from decided on the issue.

More info on the MCRI:
Citizens Research Council of Michigan (MCRI info is down the page a bit)
propaganda in support of the MCRI
Links to propaganda against the MCRI
John Conyers on the MCRI
Editorial from Kazoo Gazette


At 7:25 PM, October 28, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, am very divided.

(From Dr. Larry Hauser)

"Affirmative Action: A policy seeking to compensate victims of previous racial and sexual discrimination, to remedy lingering effects of such discrimination, or to combat ongoing institutionalized and unintentional discriminatory practices by providing reverse preferences favoring members of classes previously disadvantaged."

Although I have no doubts that affirmative action helps some people, it seems that it still comes down to preference based on race.

Although I think education reform is the real solution - I still think that racial discrimination, helpful or harmful, still leaves people out of the loop.

I am very tough on the bill of rights and constitutionality - perhaps so much so that I cannot bring myself to vote on a (apparrently) "beneficial inequality."

What are good reasons to vote against the measure?

- Philosophy major at MSU.

At 3:17 PM, October 29, 2006, Blogger Sarah said...

Well, one can argue that we have gotten to a point where legislation against discrimination is not necessary- because surely we don't discriminate anymore. I think that we don't discriminate in the same ways we once did- but it doesn't mean there isn't inequality. Most of this inequality seems to come down to schools and teaching methods. I do not see these things changing any time soon. Affirmative action is an imperfect system. It is going to allow some people to get through that really shouldn't. But it will also (and does) give some people an opportunity they would not have had otherwise, and they absolutely thrive. I think it's a question of getting rid of an imperfect system without having a better one in place. Surely we can agree that something is wrong with the system somewhere.

I personally have some issues with affirmative action- If I get into a PhD program or get a job because I am a woman, that tells me absolutely nothing about my philosophical abilities and/or the confidence that my department and/or employers have in my abilities. Of course without such legislation, would I even be given a chance? I would really like to think so- I would like to think we've come far enough that it doesn't matter. But I don't know either.

By the way- it's really good to see people from other departments commenting :-)

At 7:40 PM, November 02, 2006, Blogger Marcus Adams said...

Here's my opinion. I think that affirmative action was initially a necessary system put in place to guarantee equal access to those previously excluded from services or benefits (e.g., education, job opportunities). I'm not sure what to think about employment issues or other areas, so I'll just share my thoughts on affirmative action as it relates to education.

I grew up in an area described by Newsweek as the highest concentration of affluent African Americans in the U.S. (Prince Georges County, MD -- right outside of D.C. for those of you unsure where that is). Many of my friends (who were African American) were able to afford prep schools in downtown D.C. costing 10-12K per year just for tuition. After attending such a school, they still received the benefits of being from a traditionally under-represented ethnic group & thus had an edge on everyone else in the admissions process. Because their education and training was superior to most, they also tested well on SATs.

Here's the problem. Although it still seems that we have not reversed the many many issues resulting from segregation, it doesn't seem like race *ALONE* is any longer a sufficient determining factor for affirmative action. I do support a policy of affirmative action (for education) but only one which is based on an applicant's socio-economic status.

Imagine if this were the case in college admissions. Those applying to colleges would be judged on a combination of merit and socio-economic status. Anyone who proceeded beyond a bachelor's degree would then be judged solely on merit (ideally). This seems like the best of both worlds to me.


At 8:11 AM, November 03, 2006, Blogger Sarah said...

First I'm going to say that I haven't finished a cup of coffee yet this morning so this may not be quite as coherent as I would like it to be.

I agree that socio-economic factors are at the base of the reasons that affirmative action would, in any way, be necessary. There seems to be a link between individuals with low socio-economic status and substandard education which could potentially keep them from being competitive when applying to college. One could argue that this could also be a factor when one is attempting to get a job, as one with a lower status may attend a lower university (and have to work while acheiving that education, thus leaving less time for studying) and would be less competitive when attempting to obtain employment.

However, there is something about determining one's socio-economic status and then using this as a determining factor for a sort of "affirmative action" program that makes me uncomfortable. Opponents of affirmative action have long argued that the only people that benefit from affirmative action are middle-class people of color. (I think supporters of affirmative action would admit of this as well- at least to some degree.) So it's not that it is not a valid concern.

I'll be sure to post more thoughts on this later, but I think it comes back to the issue I brought up earlier: Yes, affirmative action is flawed, but do we have something better? Is socio-economic status the best way to determine one's need for assistance? Or does tagging people as a member of a specific socio-economic status create more problems?

I need more coffee...and more time to ponder this...

At 7:29 PM, November 06, 2006, Blogger Jo said...

Hmmm. This certainly is a gigantic can of worms. AA actually came up in my Race and Gender Class today (and last week, and the week before... actually, it's basically a recurring theme).

We've been looking at the historical context in which certain educational opportinities were denied to minorities. If you think about how slaves were forbidden from learning how to read back in 1800-whatever, that already put an entire race at a disadvantage relative to another race, and then put on top of that 50+ years of segregation in schools until the Brown decision in 1954, where the court acknowledged that minority students were competing in an inherently unequal system, to the voluntary resegregation of schools which is happening now based on economic status and where one lives, and the 2003 case of Grutter (the U of M one)... and well, there certainly is a lot at work here against minorities.

However, I do not know if affirmative action (in its current form) is the best way of remedying these past injustices. While it is important to acknowledge what has happened in the past, I don't know whether AA still has the spirit of what it was intended to do, with such claims that people are either unfairly discriminated against because they are white, or that undeserving minorities are taking up places in schools. Even if it started out with good intentions, I think the effect of it has evolved.

So the question now becomes: how can we fix this? What should be changed? I don't think there is any hard and fast answer to this. Simply having people not state what race they are won't work, because (and this has been shown through a study at MIT) people are more inclined to react favorably to applicants with "white" sounding names. However, taking names and races off applications won't work, if you have to specify what school you went to, because schools in particular areas may lend themselves to being of a certain racial distribution. Academic merit alone will not work either, because there are still latent inequities between, say, the quality of education at a private grammar school and an inner city public school. Marcus' idea of having academic merit AND socioeconomic status sounds promising, but the question arises as to how much each one is weighed. Is academic merit more important than where you're from? Might this lead to the risk that certain individuals might divest their funds in order to meet some sort of socioeconomic threshold? (If you don't think this would happen, consider the number of people who gain scholarships under the 1/32 rule for native Americans, who prior to entering college had no real ties to any native american community.) Or should it be acknowledged that you can achieve something *despite* your background? (And that kind of claim seems to stem from a prior bias towards people of certain backgrounds... but that is an argument I will save for another day.)

Further, and to reiterate Sarah's point, academic merit and socioeconomic status are intricately connected. Where you go to school affects the quality of education you have, which affects where/if you go to college, which in turn affects where you can get a job, which will affect how much money you make, which affects what areas you live in, which will affect where you kids go to school... and so on. A disadvantage at any point in this cycle will obviously have a far reaching negative impact on future generations. Granted, some will be able to break out of this cycle, but it seems that they are not in the majority.

I hate to be a pessimist, but I cannot think of a way to solve this problem that will not leave some sort of inequality. The heart of the issue is that the entire system that we live in is inherently racist because of its historical origins. Nothing we can do now is going to fix the injustices of the past. Of course, this does not mean that we should have to give up trying, but I think the problem is much larger than simply that of how we decide who gets to go to what schools.

That said, even if we were able to overhaul the entire social system, I am completely torn on what we can do for the next couple of generations while this is going on, because it means that there will still be people who are missing out.



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