Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Affirmative Action: The University of Texas at Austin's Policies Put to the Test

              Richard Kahlenberg, a Harvard graduate, novelist, and fellow at The Century Foundation, utilizes this commentary to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case challenging affirmative action at the University of Texas at Austin. Here, Khalenberg provides background to those unfamiliar with the case, while also providing a liberal perspective on how Obama could use such an opportunity to redefine affirmative action. The case of interest revolves around Abigail Fisher, a white female who was denied admission to UT, after barely missing the top-ten percent cut, and falling short on the University’s subsequent review process. In a lawsuit, she claimed that the University’s policy, using race as a factor of admission, violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, arguing that if not white, she would have likely been admitted. The University claims, however, their decision falls in line with the precedent decision made in Grutter vs. Bollinger, allowing race to be one factor, among many, in influencing acceptance. The University also argues that the case should not even be heard, as interestingly enough, the plaintiff just graduated from Louisiana State University.
              Throughout the article, I agree with Kahlenberg’s points. I found particularly interesting the potential breakdown of the decision. Based on political tendencies, and past statements by the judges, the decision will likely be left to the swing Justice, Anthony Kennedy, as Elena Kagan (due to past involvement in the case) has rescued herself. Up to him, Kahlenberg argues that Kennedy will side with the conservatives, standing against affirmative action. Such a prediction is based on Kennedy’s writings after dissenting in Grutter vs. Bollinger, penning: “force educational institutions to seriously explore race-neutral alternatives.” In tune with such statements, and his liberal tendencies, Kahlenberg argues that diversity is needed, with which I agree with, but should be done through a class-based system, instead of a race-based scheme. In support of his argument, he provides statistics from the University of California system, which, in spite of banning race affirmative action in 1996, has increased diversity through adoption of a class-based system. In addition, he includes studies from The Century Foundation and the University of Colorado – Boulder, finding that if structured properly, class-based affirmative action can even generate more diversity than race-based. This point I found particularly intriguing.
              Kahlenberg also states that “It’s not whether we should have affirmative action or whether we shouldn’t, it’s what kind of affirmative action should we stress: race-based or race-neutral?” And I agree with latter. Race, in my opinion, is a poor factor to include in admission. Individuals should be granted entrance based on test scores and performance in the classroom, particularly the latter. Race should not be a factor, as it continues to promote society-generated stereotypes, and focus only on visible differences. Such obsessions with tangible, aesthetic qualities continue to suggest different-looking individuals are worthy of varying levels of respect, an idea completely nonsensical. Such policies, in my opinion, continue to promote racism, rather than bolster diversity and equal opportunity. Something needs to be changed.
              At the same time, I understand that not everyone has the same opportunities in the classroom, especially in states with low amounts of funding for public education. Thus, I find Khalenberg’s suggestion as a better way to produce diversity, without simply relying on race. This could help avoid acceptance of ethnically diverse individuals who slacked, despite the opportunity to succeed, and were rewarded anyways, simply by pulling the race card. Such a policy would also likely please Fisher, though I really have no pity for her. If she wanted in, she could have tried harder in high school (though I do not know her circumstances), reapplied, or transferred. Giving up and suing is not the only option.
              Kahlenberg’s last point, challenging Obama to help lead the way for the Supreme Court by supporting such a system, is an interesting one. Although I approve of switching from a race to a class-based affirmative action system, I am not sure the President should endorse one or the other. With the election coming up, I think it is best for him to sit back, let the Supreme Court decide, and make a statement from there. If the public agrees with the decision, support it. If not, speak against it. At this point, Obama is smart enough to stay out of any unneeded controversy. Overall, I found Kahlenberg’s argument compelling, I look forward to seeing what the Supreme Court decides this fall (hopefully).

Source: Kahlenberg, Richard. "Time for class-based affirmative action." The Dallas Morning News.

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