Affirmative action is not the solution

Avi Kodnuri

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Affirmative Action – “an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women” according to This policy of preferential treatment has had a long and repulsive history. The irony is that though the purpose of this policy is to correct a set of historical biases and injustices, and empower the affected minority groups, this preferential treatment mindset has led to the problem in the first place. Hence this policy in a sense is the problem as well as the solution.

Minority groups and women have faced, and continue to face, an uphill battle to get into prestigious universities, schools, and the workforce. But this should not lead governments or private institutions to accept more applicants of these groups or genders, who wouldn’t have been accepted without this special intervention. It defeats the purpose of meritocracy, which free-market democratic societies are built on. Furthermore, the policy can and has led to less qualified applicants occupying positions that more qualified applicants would otherwise occupy. It should also be noted that in the case of admission to prestigious universities, race plays a huge factor; for example, an “African-American” student who scores 1000 on his SAT would have the same chance of admission as a “Caucasian” student who scores 1310 or an “Asian-American” student who scores 1450 on the same test (No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, Thomas J. Espenshade & Alexandria Walton Radford). This fundamentally flawed system can also lead to a mismatch.

A “mismatch” occurs when an individual who has elected to take a certain subject or career at a level that is over their ability by a considerable factor and, hence, abandon that career or subject due to their inability to cope with the workload. Case in point: “African-American[s] who start college interested in pursuing a doctorate and an academic career are twice as likely to be derailed from this path if they attend a school where they are mismatched” (Stephen Cole, Increasing Faculty Diversity: The Occupational Choices of High-Achieving Minority Students). This result is deeply disturbing and calls into question whether affirmative action benefits those it was created for. In addition to this point, the affirmative action policy fails to address the real  threat to the creation of ethnically diverse colleges – the legacy system.

The legacy system is a system that benefits students, by giving them a higher chance of receiving a placement at school or a university which they are applying to if their parent or grandparent were alumni of that school or university. This system is the primary reason for a lack of diversity at universities. According to data submitted by Students for Fair Admissions, over a six-year period, 33.6 percent of legacy children were admitted to Harvard, compared to 5.9 percent of non-legacy applicants. Unsurprisingly, most of the legacy students were of the same race, Caucasian, and that leads to a lack of diversity in the schools or colleges. This proves that affirmative action fails to achieve its goal, so there is a lack of diversity in higher education.

Conclusively, affirmative action is a non-merit based and ineffective method to solve the problem of the lack of diversity in college and the workforce. Affirmative action also leads to mismatch, which hurts rather than helps the people who attempt to serve, minorities and women. And crucially, the real issue, the lack of diversity in colleges can only fairly be solved if colleges get rid of the legacy system, not by implementing affirmative action. Hence, in the words of John Roberts, a Chief Justice of the United States, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”