Letters: Affirmative action

As I’m sure you’re all aware, within a few months the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of affirmative action. If they rule the practice of affirmative action unconstitutional, as I believe they must, it will represent a fundamental change in the admissions processes of schools across the country, including Williams. Many would undoubtedly see this as a severe blow to the educational prospects of our nation’s minority population and a step away from equality. Before jumping to conclusions, however, let us look at the goals of affirmative action and the principles which create its foundation.

One often stated goal of affirmative action is diversity. The essential buzz-word for colleges around the country, diversity, has too often been associated with racial diversity. Two weeks ago in the Record, Oren Cass wrote an excellent piece on this very topic. Socioeconomic diversity, geographic diversity and lifestyle diversity all contribute to a refreshing variety of views, backgrounds and norms among the student body. Unless the administration believes that the color of someone’s skin inherently implies differences between two students, there is no justification for affirmative action with regard to creating diversity.

Another purpose of affirmative action is to allow students with limited basic educational opportunities to overcome that initial handicap and pursue higher education. Considering the vast disparities between school systems in our country, this is a noble and worthwhile goal. The thing that confuses me is why race enters the process at all. To accomplish this purpose, schools can simply award special consideration to students coming out of schools which fall below a set funding level. A system that awards students in proportion to how much money was spent per year on their education is the proper approach to correcting educational disparities.

However, the University of Michigan does not award extra points to those students attending a school with limited funds; it awards extra points to racial minorities. This policy unfairly leaves behind white students attending poorly funded schools. They receive no similar boost in the admissions process.

Along with having no ostensible base in either educational equality or diversity, affirmative action promotes the idea that there is a fundamental difference between the races. Instead of judging on previous educational opportunity and school setting, this policy unjustly differentiates students on the basis of color. Furthermore, racial lines (although always fuzzy) are increasingly disappearing. How does a student with a mix of Caucasian, Southeast Asian and African ancestry fit into their formula? How many points does he or she receive in Michigan’s system? In the pluralistic world we live in, race is an antiquated means of separating individuals.

By eliminating the current affirmative action program and implementing a socioeconomic diversity program, Williams could more effectively approach the goals of diversity while truly practicing the equality of the races.

As the Supreme Court considers this explosive issue they must ask themselves if race still separates us. Can one still draw inferences based solely on an external description? Their answer must be a resounding no.

Bryan Birsic ’05