What about affirmative action?

July 13, 2022 • 11:00 am

I often say on this site that I favor a form of affirmative action for admission to schools and colleges (not necessarily for hiring above that level), and I favor this as a form of reparations. I’ve received a lot of pushback from readers who either think we shouldn’t have any affirmative action, or, if we retain it, it should be based on class or even on “viewpoint”, not race.  I keep thinking about these counterarguments and I see their merits, but I’m not yet ready to give up on affirmative action.

I do remember, though, that when it was instituted when I was younger, it was said to be a temporary expedient, perhaps lasting 50 years or so.  It’s clear that that’s not going to happen, and the DEI bureaucracy that pervades universities will insure it won’t happen, for the employees would be out of a job if we achieved equity (equal representation of groups). But they wouldn’t be out of a job if they adhered to my notion of equality (“equal opportunity”), for equal opportunity, given cultural differences and preferences, will never produce perfect equity. DEI initiatives are thus aimed at achieving not equality, but equity. This ensures they’ll be permanent.

And even arriving at equal opportunity will take years and tons of money and social engineering and public will and commitment, and we’re nowhere near that. Ergo, we should get used to affirmative action as a fact of life—unless the new Supreme Court gets rid of it, which is not unlikely.

What do I mean when I say we need affirmative action as a form of reparations? I don’t mean that someone who’s African-American or Hispanic should get extra points simply because of their ethnicity. An upper-middle-class African-American, for instance, presumably has about the same advantages and opportunities as those of other ethnicity in their income group, and needs no thumb on the college-admissions scale. Rather, I favor those minorities who were disadvantaged by bigotry and racism in the past, and may not have achieved because of that racism. It’s indisputable that bigotry has held down generations of minorities, and if everyone had equal opportunity, we’d have substantially more equity than now—though perhaps not the degree of equity that people want.

I thus connect ethnicity with class, and there’s no doubt that that’s also true. Thus the race-based affirmative action I’d like to see is also class-based admission. “Why not, then,” you will ask, “don’t you just call for affirmative action based on class?”  Well, I do, but even the impoverished and disadvantaged admitted to schools should, at least for a time, be weighted a bit more towards minorities. There’s something about having elite colleges almost totally lacking some minorities that disgusts me.

Asking for some race-based admission will of course mean lowering standards so long as these minorities perform less well than whites or Asians, and I admit this. I simply ask that all those who are admitted be deemed qualified to succeed at a school and be able to benefit from what a school has to offer. (John McWhorter appears to oppose affirmative action completely, and argues that “not everyone has to go to college”).

We already have affirmative action for other groups: for example older students, veterans, and so on. (I oppose preferential admission for the children of alumni—legacies—or for athletes.) This too may involve lowering formal academic standards, but you also get some students whose experiences may add to the educational experience of their fellow students. So why not throw some disadvantaged minorities into these groups? Wouldn’t their own experiences enrich the learning experience of the entire student body? I’ll admit that I have no evidence that diversity of a class makes for a better learning experience or even more learning, and I seem to recall some counterevidence, but if there’s simply a lack of evidence I’ll stick with my impressions.

Evaluating racial diversity as an inherent educational “good” was one rationale for the U.S. Supreme Court to allow preferential admission of minorities (without quotas) in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case (1978). But four of the justices (Marshall, White, Blackmun and Brennan) also wrote “”government may take race into account when it acts not to demean or insult any racial group, but to remedy disadvantages cast on minorities by past racial prejudice”. That is reparations.

Many schools like ours also have “need-blind admissions”, in which students are admitted based on their qualifications alone, and then if there are financial problems the University helps out with scholarships, jobs, and the like. This, however, is not affirmative action, for admission is still based on meritocratic criteria. Any financial disadvantages based on class are rectified after admission.

I throw this question out to readers because it’s a tough one for me. Clearly nobody wants a college in which every student is identical. How can you learn without at least a variety of viewpoints among students? (And that, of course, brings up the question of whether we need politically-based affirmative action!). Does not affirmative action help bring about that diversity, while at the same time trying to rectify historical injustice? Or is rectifying historical injustice not what universities are supposed to be doing? (I could make an argument for that view, too.)

So, weigh in below. Should we have affirmative action for admission to elite secondary schools and to colleges? If so, on what should it be based: race, class, viewpoint, experience, age, or some other criteria?

To me this question is a most important one, for it bears directly on calls for equity that are ubiquitous in America—not just in schools, but in every field of endeavor.

57 thoughts on “What about affirmative action?

  1. By its very definition, affirmative action IS discrimination. A truly level playing field means that race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. should NEVER be considered in hiring, firing, promoting, university admissions or any other venue. This is 2022, not 1922.

    1. This is 2022, not 1922.

      That’s for sure; in 1922 WASPs in the US had the greatest affirmative action program ever created — non-whites need not apply, and the admission of Jews and Catholics was limited by strict quota systems.

      It’s those WASPs whose great-grandchildren benefit today from legacy admissions.

    2. I agree. All the excellent people who enter a company or university under these policies must wonder whether they truly deserve the job or position.

  2. I am not in favor of affirmative action, in general. I am in favor of it in discrete situations where there has been discrimination recently. For example, there have been fire departments which were found to have discriminated against blacks in hiring and promotion, and a court ordered affirmative action measures in response. I would not say that in 150 years those measure should still be in place.

    1. I am no legal scholar or ethicist, but it seems to me that the laudable position of helping those who have been done down by history comes at a cost. That cost is borne by the able applicants who are denied a position that is, instead, given to someone less able for social engineering reasons. Why is it right to place that cost on their shoulders? We may assume they are innocent of any racism and may even be accepting of the doctrine that says they must give up anything asked or else they are insufficiently anti-racist. Even so, they must find it unfair that they work hard and give up childish and youthful pleasures for the sake of that work, only to be pipped at the post through no fault of their own.
      The second issue with AA springs from that wastage of some of our most meritorious minds. Good brains are not just an individual blessing (or otherwise); they are a societal good, a resource as rare as a precious metal, and society has an interest in exploiting them fully. We want their inventions, their insights and ideas, their novels, compositions and poetry.. I don’t hold the human race as being so dreadfully clever that it can afford to fail to extract every last bit of goodness from our clever young minds. This is not to say that AA should not proceed – surely it lets some young minds flourish that otherwise would not – but that it should be in addition rather than instead of the normal admissions procedure.
      You may be aware of the “Martians” of Hungary, where a combination of inheritance, culture, wealth and education produced an amazing number of intellectual giants, many from a single high school, all in a few short years. “You may call me Mayr” (to punnily misquote the odious Goering), but incubating minds like that is a real interest to a species that is in danger of causing self-extinction through short-sightedness!

  3. I stopped reading when I saw no clue of what “DEI” is.
    Yes– I think I am I favor of some forms of affirmative action.
    Providing funds for students with ability but no $ would be my priority.

    1. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – the new buzzwords used to justify a lot of recent policy changes. Whether the policy changes actually produce diversity, equity, and inclusion is up for debate.

  4. Sub

    Off the top of my head, other writers – and, yes, talkers – that make sense of reparations, IMO, are Coleman Hughes and I think Glenn Loury.

    Hughes testified paired off with Ta-Nehisi Coates – also a good writer and speaker : https://youtu.be/F5AQyWAWHU4

    My impression was Hughes made the most sensible case, but Coates is compelling as well.

  5. I think that there should be affirmative action to achieve equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes. Should the “action” (in affirmative action) be taken based on race, or class, or some other variable? I don’t know. Should one think of affirmative action as a form of reparations? I don’t know about that either, but I wouldn’t *limit* affirmative action to those deserving of reparations.

    Consider the following thought experiment. Let’s imagine that there never was slavery or Jim Crow or racial discrimination—and therefore no need for reparations. Would the fact that reparations are not needed negate the need for affirmative action to achieve equality of opportunity? No, I my view. Affirmative action to achieve equal opportunity should be a permanent fixture in society. Changing attitudes will often tend toward reducing opportunities for some and increasing them for others. Consequently we should forever and always strive to bring opportunity back into balance, thereby seeking to offer everyone the same chance to achieve. This is the basic fairness that Americans have always purported to champion. With equality of opportunity in place, the right outcomes will follow.

      1. Norman Gilinsky’s first sentence.

        “I think that there should be affirmative action to achieve equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.”

        Incidence of “equality of opportunity” and similar, 4, arguably 6.
        Incidence of “equality of outcomes”, 1, which was preceded by “not.”

    1. There is already equal opportunity without affirmative action–all that means is that universities, for example, do not discrimnate against applicants based on their race (or gender0. Affirmative action is there to ensure equity, not equal opportunity.

      1. As I think you noted earlier, the problem is that equality of opportunity is either granted or denied in early childhood, after which in many cases no amount of good parenting, good neighborhoods, good schools etc. can alter an individual’s life trajectory very much. Affirmative action to impose equity for things like entry into colleges or jobs happens way too late. Perthaps with the exception of athletics, substantive differences in merit are long since baked in. I think by and large affirmative action or other efforts to pretend otherwise, while well meaning, may do more harm than good.

        Any answer to the inequity problem needs to attack the roots of the problem. By the time the tree is bent, there’s no going back to assist the sapling.

  6. I would prefer affirmative action based on factors less subjective than self-identified race, something like parents income and/or educational attainment.

  7. I dislike all the efforts the schools make to hand-pick students based on what they think they will “contribute” to their fellow students. I would eliminate the essay, the personality assessment, the geographic balancing, the talents, the obligatory community service – all of it. Why does everyone need to be well-rounded? There is nothing wrong with having some people who are very focused on something. And there is nothing wrong with having some people who haven’t bloomed yet – that’s what college is for.

    If you determine a cutoff of grades and test scores that ensures the students will be capable of doing the work and select randomly from there, you will have a diverse student body.

  8. I would support affirmative action on the college level under this type of scenario.

    Suppose a college admits 1,000 students for a fall semester out of 3,000 applicants. These students are ranked on a non-affirmative action basis from 1 to a 1,000 where the 1,000th ranked student just squeezes in. Now, suppose that out of the next 100 ranked students, those that just missed admittance, 30 are minority students. I would support that those 30 students should be admitted, replacing students 971-1000 (presumably all white in the scenario) since the difference in qualifications to get in are marginal between the two groups, and therefore minority students would have an equal potential to succeed as the bottom tier of white students that would have been admitted without any affirmative action in place. Again, these numbers are hypothetical and perhaps different ratios would work better. Of course, minority students would have no special advantage in class evaluation, although those that are struggling, as with all students, should have access to tutoring and mentoring.

    1. I don’t support this kind of solution because the costs of implementing it today seem to outweigh the marginal benefits. In 1978 this made sense because those 30 students were likely to have been held back by actual discrimination and bigotry. But today it’s much more likely that those 30 students were held back by culture and parenting.

      The relative cost of this kind of affirmative action in 2022 is high. It creates resentment among others, suspicion of minority students who might not have been qualified, and self-doubt among those minority students themselves (I know specific instances of this self-doubt, it’s a real thing).

    2. Historian, you make two unsupported assumptions that undermine your proposal:

      1. The quality of the 30 Black* students pulled out of the next 100 is equivalent to the bottom 30 of those who got in on merit. It might well be instead that all 30 cluster at the bottom of the 100. In that case, the 30 Black students would now be much more than marginally worse than the 30 they’d be replacing. Indeed you might not find 30 Black applicants in the next 100 and would have to go father down the list if you were trying to meet an unwritten quota, which of course you are.

      (If you were trying to do this with Indigenous students in Canada at a school that admits only the top third you would have to go all the way down to #2571 to get your 30, if there were even 30. We really struggle with this.)

      2. You further assume that the bottom 30 admitted on the first merit round are all non-Black and so your affirmative action replaces non-Black with Black. But surely there are some Black applicants able to make it in on merit. It would be perverse to replace any of them with your quota Blacks, so you have to go up the list until you find 30 non-Blacks to exclude, which might take you up uncomfortably high. What if the bottom 300 were all Black?

      The falsity of these assumptions means that the academic ability of the class would be strongly bimodal as you replaced people who were far above the cut line with people who were the right race but alarmingly near the bottom of the barrel. You wouldn’t actually be replacing people with only small marginal differences. There would still be hurt feelings and resentment.
      * I have used “Black” instead of your “minority” in the interest of clear thinking.

      1. You have failed to notice in this hypothetical example that I posited that there were 3,000 applicants. Thus, it is unlikely that there would be a big difference in the quality between students ranked 971 to 1000 as opposed to those ranked 1001 to1100. Also, you failed to notice that the hypothetical 30 minority students would be drawn from the cadre of students in the range 1001-1100, not below that number. Therefore, those minority students would not be very different in quality from the lower ranked students that were replaced.The difference would be marginal.

        In addition, I made no mention of quotas because I was describing an affirmative action program that I could reasonably accept, which probably is not in actual use today. No students would be considered for admittance below the rank of 1100. The number 30 of Black students I used was purely arbitrary. There could be any anywhere from 0 to 100. Whatever the number would actually be would be the number of lower tier whites that would be replaced.

        For the simplicity of the example, I posited that the students were white or perhaps Asian in the ranks of 971 to 1000. Of course, a Black student that got into the top 1000 would not be replaced by an affirmative action student.

        I thought it would be obvious, but perhaps not, that when students are admitted because of affirmative action they would not be sent a letter saying “Congratulations, you got in because of affirmative action.” You seem to think that Black students admitted in this scenario would only be so because of affirmative action. I would think it much more likely that out of the 1,000 students admitted there would be Black students that did not need affirmative action to get in. Thus, it would be impossible to tell which got in because of affirmative and which didn’t. There would be those that would suspect all Black students got admitted because of affirmative action, but there is nothing we can about that and it is a necessary cost to provide opportunity for minorities.

        1. Of course I noticed there were 3000 applicants. I alluded to the number in my reference to Indigenous students. Don’t tell me what I did and didn’t notice just because I disagree with you. Your proposal would lead to a bimodal class for the reasons I outlined where who was merit and who was affirmative (AA) would be obvious.

          It’s because there would be Black merit students in the first cut immune from displacement that the AA Black students would end up displacing non-Black students higher up the rank than #971. The more merit Black students there were, the higher up you would have to go displacing the merit non-Black students in order to accommodate the AA Black students.

          I don’t think in real life that a program that actually took the risk of admitting zero Black AA students —because there were hardly any in the next 100 below the cut—would find favour with the DEI overseers. Not your fault but administrators would want to see more AA students—they would know who was who even if the students were clueless—and there would be pressure to go down the list as far below 1100 as necessary to get the “right” number of AA Black students. Not just Black students in general but AA Black students in particular, because this is how the success of the program, and the virtue of the administrators, would be judged.

  9. The only affirmative action needed is a wide scholarship program for poor students, unconditional (other than the poor part) in first year, then tied to an expected minimum academic progress. Affirmative action is in a big part (not alone, but a big part) responsible for the current ideological rampage and the anti-science backstabbing from within the colleges. That alone should be a strong argument against them. (And it was foreseeable too, years ago there was a post on WEIT about an academic, who foresaw this half a century ago.)

    And other than that, as I mentioned this here before, for me affirmative action has an eerie resemblance to the quota system introduced by the fascist Hungarian government in 1920 to limit the ratio of Jewish students. One could defend that law the same way as affirmative action, after all they just tried to enforce the ratio of the population on the universities, just like affirmative action. Those fascist missed the opportunity to sell it as an ultra-progressive move.

    1. Interesting you mention the “anti-quotas” in Hungary. Reminds me of the complaints of many Asian Americans, who argue that the quotas for various other groups are in effect quotas against the scads of Asians who occupy the top tiers of the achievement scale. In other words, Harvard and Stanford would be about half Asian if they accepted on achievement alone, but they skew their admissions to get the Asians down to about their percentage of the population. Asians thus feel that they are essentially being discriminated against for their hard work and diligence. And it’s hard to deny that they do have a point.

      1. My public university in British Columbia samples some of the same population as Stanford wrt culture and geography (but not wrt wealth – we are way downscale). We do not have affirmative action wrt race or ethnicity. Our undergraduates are about half Asian (including China, Korea, India, Pakistan). Anecdote but consistent with the expected effects of affirmative action elsewhere.

        The sad part is that the only folx (ha ha) at my university who care about this are the senior administrators, who have adopted US concerns about anti-Black racism and are working to recruit more Black students. So far the results seem to be an uptick in new students from Nigeria and west Africa (who tend to be smart, hard-working, and from wealthy families).

  10. I support some forms of ‘corrective’ affirmative action but any of these should have clear termination dates. Don’t think children of alumni should receive preferential treatment but do support admissions for well qualified students who are later given assistance to obtain financing. Actually there is a lot to consider when you really start to think about this topic.

  11. I agree that we still need some affirmative action, although I hope it can be handled better than in the past.

    When we look around, it seems pretty obvious that African-Americans do poorly in some school subjects (math and science, for example), and that east Asians tend to do pretty well. As far as I can tell, the differences are mainly due to culture. Affirmative action cannot cure all cultural issues. However, for African Americans, their culture developed in an era of segregation. So we must accept some responsibility for that. The hope of affirmative action, is that it will improve the economic status of African Americans, and that their culture will then adapt and eventually lead to students with better academic achievements. But the evolution of culture is slow, so change will not come overnight.

    Overall, the universities have done reasonably well in their affirmative action, though fault can easily be found. The advertising industry seems to have done well, in the sense that much of the advertising we see is reasonably integrated.

    I suspect that it is still difficult for African Americans to break into some professions (plumbing, electrical work and other such trades).

    1. Just a slight addition to your “However, for African Americans, their culture developed in an era of segregation.” In fact, their culture developed inter alia through the eras of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, civil rights and into modern still far from perfect times. And I think it is easy for those whose families have not gone through that history to gravely underestimate what a serious multi-generational impact that can and does have on their culture and on individuals, not to mention their finances.

      1. Yeah, I think “culture” and “history” are inextricably intertwined.

        Let’s do a little Gedankenexperiment here: Imagine that tomorrow, all white people in this country were suddenly jerked from their homes, shipped across the country, and put in involuntary servitude for a few centuries, where the wealth of non-white people was wrung from the sweat of their brow by the lash. Imagine further that white women during these centuries could be raped at will by non-white men. Also that white people had to watch as their “spouses” (and I put that word in quotations because slaves were not allowed to have de jure spouses) and their children were sold in chains on auction blocks, never to be seen again.

        Then imagine that this period was followed by another century of reverse-Jim Crow, in which white people could be lynched for slight offense with relative impunity and white people were expected to avert their eyes and walk on the other side of the street when approached by non-white people. And imagine that those who escaped this life to another section of the country were redlined into the worst neighborhoods and denied access to well-paying jobs, decent education and healthcare, and made to overpay for inferior goods.

        Just how many generations do you suppose it would take “white culture” to recover from this? ‘Cause from what I see when go back to visit the working-class neighborhood where I grew up, and from what I gather from reading around a bit in books like Hillbilly Elegy, all its taken is a couple generations of high-paying industrial jobs being shipped overseas and one hell-banger of an opiate crises for American white working-class culture to go down the shitter, with soaring rates of illegitimacy, school dropouts, roiling frustration, and the like.

        We all like to flatter ourselves that we could overcome such history by Herculean acts of will, of course, but, really, how realistic is that?

        1. OK, guilt is good for the soul, plays well up north here, too, (hence my interest) but how does affirmative action in the form of admitting the less able to succeed at the expense of those more able fix any of that?

          At least the white left-behinds in your home town don’t demand preferential admission to Stanford in illusory compensation.

          1. My comment above wasn’t directed specifically at affirmative action, Leslie; it was directed at the notion, one I hear espoused by some, that a dysfunctional black culture somehow arose from the ether, unbidden. Whereas, it’s a function of history.

            I’ve got no strong ideological commitments regarding affirmative action (and, in any event, I think its demise, in the current legal climate, a fait accompli). But this nation is still pretty goddam far from an even playing field for minorities, and I wouldn’t take any tool off the table. I’m open to pragmatic solutions from any quarter.

            And, as for the left-behinds in my hometown, they’ve lost their working-class consciousness. I blame that in large measure on the waning influence of organized labor. Even for the workers who didn’t belong to a union when I was a kid, collective bargaining served as rising tide that lifted all wages. And the unions also provided an educational function.

            The folks back home may not be “demand[ing] preferential admission to Stanford.” But they are, some of them, filled with an undifferentiated angst about losing ground to the other. And instead of blaming those actually responsible for their plight, they’ve taken their eyes off the prize of their own economic wellbeing, in favor of distraction by culture-war issues.

  12. A case like our host’s could be made for modest preferences in favor of African-American candidates for academic situations. This policy might be called “positive racial quotas”, describing what it is. But “affirmative action”, a pair of words devoid of precise meaning, is a perfect example of the use of “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness” that George Orwell discussed in a classic essay on political language. I am therefore entirely opposed to “affirmative action” as language.

    In fact, following Orwell’s line of thought, I might suggest that widespread deceptive language is related to other features of the present academic landscape, such as the use of the word “inclusion” to mean exclusion.

    1. Yes. All too often, Diversity, Equ(al)ity and Inclusion boils down to Conformity, Heirarchy and Exclusion. And the DEI bureaucrats have to be incredibly active in order to justify their appointment. People in academia, or anywhere else come to that, can be trained or educated to be sensitive to societal disadvantage issues without having to put up with the huge deadweight of the Commissariat squatting on top of them.

  13. While I do favour “affirmative action” if done in a sensible manner, it seems to me that having great affirmative action programs at the college, university or career stage is a bit of a lost cause when most people of colour and/or poorer people go to shitty elementary and high schools and most white and/or wealthier people go to good or great schools. We really should invest massively in our schools, in every way. Unfortunately, this seems to be rather low on the priority list in the current political landscape.

  14. I’ve always been against affirmative action. Same with reparations. While an argument can be made for both to make up for past abuse, there are big problems they both share:

    – It doesn’t really make up for the past abuse. Nothing really can.

    – It continues giving special status to the group receiving the benefits and reinforces separateness. Instead, race shouldn’t matter.

    – It drives attention and resources away from fixing the real problems.

    – It seems more about assuaging white guilt.

    – Anyone in the group that succeeds will always have a check against their name, even if it is only in their heads. They will always wonder if they could have succeeded without the help.

    1. Sowell :

      “The prime moral illusion is that preferential policies compensate for wrongs suffered.”

      Interesting piece, thanks. The word “prescient” comes to mind.

  15. … when I was younger, it was said to be a temporary expedient, perhaps lasting 50 years or so. It’s clear that that’s not going to happen …

    As to public universities, SCOTUS is going to declare affirmative action in all forms unconstitutional the first chance it gets. In the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the majority that racial preferences would be unneeded in 25 years, and the Court’s most conservative members took issue with her on even on that much. The Court’s rightwingers have been itching to do away with affirmative action ever since, and now they have more than enough votes to do so.

    The vote will be 6-3 — numbers that should look familiar by now, and will become even more so in the Court’s upcoming terms.

  16. Affirmative action is very appealing at the macro level – because it makes us feel like we’re contributing to correcting past injustices by giving members of a disadvantaged group preference over members of a privileged group. And I support that notion.
    However, affirmative action it is carried out at the individual level – like the students in Historian’s scenario above. Even if we could assume that all the 30 minority students in that scenario have suffered from a class/race disadvantage and that all the 30 regular students (assumed to be white in Historian’s scenario) have gained from their race/class advantage – it is still morally questionable to offer up the future of those those 30 regular students as payment for past injustices (that were carried out before they were born).

    And then of course there is the question of whether all those 30 minority students have in fact suffered from a class/race disadvantage; and whether all those 30 regular students have gained from a class/race advantage – they could just as easily be from a disadvantaged socio-economic background and worked their butts of to get to the top 1000.

    As long as admissions is a zero-sum game affirmative action will be unfair to someone.

    1. Your comment and others here (especially Ken K.) made me compare my views on AA to my views on transwomen in sport etc. In the case of transwomen and sport, I think the exclusion of transwomen is unfair but is justified by the greater need for fairness to female athletes. In a similar way, I think rejecting AA and putting Black and other students on the same level playing field for admissions is unfair (for reasons Ken articulated) but is justified by the greater need for fairness to non-Black applicants.

      But I feel more strongly about the first case and am ambivalent about the second case. Why is that?

      In both cases there are alternatives for the individuals involved (transwomen can participate in men’s sport; Black applicants can have a safety school application). Maybe bc one involves a claim to an identity that is not real, while the other involves a claim to historical harms that were (but are no longer) potent?

      IDK and it’s making me think I don’t know why I have these views. Help?

      1. Just say No, Mike.
        A No can always be turned into a Yes, if you have a change of heart or mind, or if the beatings intensify. But once you’ve said Yes…..

        1. Ha ha yes morale will improve I’m sure. Thanks for the encouragement!

          I’m truly trying to understand my own thinking about these things. I oppose both of these woke initiatives (TWAW, AA), but one much more strongly than the other. Why is that? Is one really more objectionable? Or am I biased somehow?

          1. Since you ask…
            My take as to why TWAW grates so much is that it recruits (through Canadian Human Rights law) the state’s monopoly on force to compel me to accept a lie as true. Even if they abandoned that extreme claim and argued that, OK, TW aren’t W but, still, men who affect to appear as women should have the right to be housed in women’s prisons, it would still be wrong because we have duties to the vulnerable. Letting violent men bunk and shower with women in jail lets those women down. But at least then it would be just a matter of adjudicating colliding rights claims. When the trans activists go one further and say there is no debate at all because TWAW, and the state agrees with them, that sticks in my craw: it’s a lie, not an argument. They aren’t playing fair.

            I don’t think excluding XY-trans from women’s sports is unfair at all. It’s the only fair thing to do. Reject the lie and the unfairness of someone like Lia Thomas becomes obvious.

            AA on the other hand is just one of those competing-rights public-choice controversies that political science is full of. It ventures into lying territory only when it claims falsely that discrimination against Asians to favour Blacks need not compromise merit. But at least those are its lies, not lies it forces me to believe. Usually its supporters are matter-of-fact about it: yes we are discriminating against Asians to favour Blacks. Because we can. So it might well lead to scarcity or lower quality of private and public services. We don’t care. Suck it up.

            If it actually worked as intended, you could argue about whose rights should prevail, what we mean by a just distribution, reparations for the residua of past wrongs done by and to people long dead, what about the need for merit to make society work, etc. The problem with AA is that it doesn’t work, at least as measured by accomplishing the goals it was intended to achieve back in the 1960s. The underclass is still with us, the frequency distributions for Black and other household wealth barely overlap except in the tails. The likelihood of a child born into the richest 1% of Black American households ending up in prison is the same as that of a child born into the poorest 30% of white households. This is not the signal that affirmative action at colleges is working and that the only argument left is whether or not it’s worth the inherent unfairness, and the opportunities foregone by the merit students who were displaced. Can someone be entitled to receive a perpetual benefit, like a reparation, when 50 years of experience shows that it does not make him any better off yet makes other identifiable people worse off? Apparently yes.

            It’s like the drunken sea captain who ordered the anchor dropped to prevent the ship being blown onto a lee shore and wrecked. Informed by the mate that the crew had stolen the anchor rope and traded it for rum at the last port of call, the captain replied, “Well, drop it over anyway. It canna’ do any harm, can it? And the log will show I did the right thing.” AA rewards its proponents and beneficiaries the same way, by studiously not counting outcomes that actually matter to customers of the enterprise.

            But at least it’s honest about it. Most of the time.

  17. The idea to base it on class, wealth, etc. rather than race makes sense. The overlap will be large, but it will exclude Black millionaires who don’t need it and include poor white hillbillies who do.

  18. There is a great disadvantage to affirmative action that Paul in 14 already, but fleetingly, alluded to.
    A deserving, brilliant, minority student will always be under suspicion: (s)he only got there because of affirmative action. That is a seriously negative burden to carry.
    I think the ‘affirmative action’ should be focused on kindergarten and primary schools, not on college admissions.

  19. I really think the resources would be better spent on making sure that elementary school kids have the basic skills and work ethic to succeed.
    That would give kids the skills to achieve wherever their personal potential leads them. The later you try such interventions, the harder it will be to succeed, and the more resources will be required for any chance at success.
    I bet you could change the lives of a lot of disadvantaged first and second graders without doing measurable harm to the kids who show up on day one with the will to succeed. It probable saves resources in the long run.
    If you choose instead to use AA in college admissions, you inevitably admit students with lower academic potential. As long as resources remain finite, that means turning away some kids who are actually qualified, and have worked hard for the opportunity. Those kids that end up rejected because of their race are being punished for things that happened without their consent, even long before they were born.
    Once you have admitted a group of less qualified students, you have to address the issue of retention. You could send them to a bunch of remedial classes to teach them the study habits and prerequisite knowledge that would ordinarily be a requirement for admission.
    I see some colleges taking another route, by designing programs that are less challenging for the students, which require little or no out of class studying, and are even pretty forgiving about things like attendance or completing assignments. Then you present them with a degree that is of no value.
    I am positive that it would be much less expensive to have just taught them to enjoy reading then they were seven.

  20. I am against affirmative action. I wouldn’t want to be treated by an affirmative-action doctor, fly with an affirmative-action pilot, inhabit buildings designed by affirmative-action engineers, or have my children taught by affirmative-action teachers. To me, the right of the populace to receive good services far outweighs the dream of a young person with suboptimal performance to become a provider of said services, even if the suboptimal performance wasn’t his fault. Life can never be made 100% fair. If there simply aren’t enough qualified people, we’ll put up with this; but to put up with suboptimal or poor-quality services because the good performers have been deliberately kicked out due to their melanin content, is a disgrace.

    1. Glenn Loury has made the point that if you’re picking a surgeon to operate on you, you should pick an Asian-American. Because you know they must have made medical school on merit, with some to spare.

  21. I’m with Jerry here – affirmative action is needed for reparations. My wife’s dad went to college on the G.I. Bill’s dime. Black soldiers generally didn’t get that benefit. My wife would have gained the legacy advantage, as Ken K. mentioned above, had she applied to the same school. That doesn’t make her guilty, but it’s not about guilt or innocence. It’s just about repairing some injustices, to the limited extent possible.

    Affirmative action is a crude tool for measuring racism’s impact on an applicant. Unlike grades and SAT scores, which are perfect measures of academic ability (sarcasm alert!). It would be better to overhaul K-12 education in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods. It would be best to do both. Once students are treated in actually race-neutral ways before college, AA won’t be needed on entering college. At the rate we’re going, that will be a very long time.

  22. Is it just me or does every second time anyone brings up a post on this website, the “share to FB” button is labelled with what looks like Japanese or Korean characters, while the other times it simply says “share”? Does Jerry want us all to learn Korean or Japanese?

  23. I guess the problem I have with affirmative action is that it is arguing that, at least in some cases, it is OK to discriminate for and against people on the basis of race.

    It sort of reminds me of the following exchange:

    “Churchill: “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?” Socialite: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course… ” Churchill: “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?” Socialite: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!” Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price”

  24. Affirmative action does not solve the root cause. If kids are given substandard elementary education opportunity, sending them to an elite college is no blessing. Give these kids the best elementary education we can offer and get the best teachers there and attract them by paying them a large premium to work with kids you want to help. Don’t break someone’s leg and tell them they get to run in the Olympics as compensation.

    1. What makes a substandard education opportunity?

      Many Black students in tough chaotic neighbourhoods in Toronto struggle and drop out into drugs, guns, and serial fatherless pregnancy. (One of my wife’s friends taught math and physics in a tough high school where many days only the same three students showed up for her class.) But schools in Ontario get equalizing funding from the province so underfunding isn’t to blame. They can all hire teachers and computers and stuff needed to teach the provincial curriculum. Tough schools are in low-rent neighbourhoods where legions of new immigrants get their start in a new country. Their kids are often learning English as a second language and “Western values” are a work in progress. Yet they fly past most of their Black classmates in the same school within a year. Their parents might struggle with skills transfer and language deficits, engineers working in Amazon warehouses and driving Uber, but they will go to med school.

      There is no legacy of slavery or Jim Crow in Canada. Almost all Black Canadians are descendants of 1960s immigrants from majority-Black-ruled sovereign nations in the Caribbean and British Guyana in South America. Many have been highly successful in Canada, as you’d expect of people who voluntarily pulled up stakes and moved to greener pastures. Yet there’s an underclass who just didn’t latch on to the dreams and achievements of their parents and seems to ape the rap-gangsta culture of Jamaica and America. Their activists tell us we are systemically racist especially when we arrest their children for carrying guns and shooting their rivals…and when we try to teach them math and physics.

      I don’t know how to fix that substandard education opportunity.

  25. If any of you have ever worked on an admissions committee, you understand that it is, well, messy. First, re meritocracy – merit is not defined solely by academic achievements. If we would draw some line for minimal academic achievement, other factors come into play for granting acceptance for admission – you’re a top athlete, join the group; likewise for gifted musicians, accomplished thespians, and so on. And then there is the problem of trying to have some semblance of balance of the ratio of females to males, and proportionality of intended majors as well as ethnic and racial distribution. Committees must also grapple with legacy admissions as well as denominational membership if there is an affiliation with a particular faith. Then there is the annual problem with the “harvest” yield – how many and who amongst the admitted cohort will chose to attend a different school, e.g. where I last worked, the acceptance rate was about 35% but the enrollment rate was less than 10%

  26. [c]alls for equity … are ubiquitous in America — not just in schools, but in every field of endeavor.

    My pessimistic view is that education has been and will continue to be the preferred arena for AA because dumbing education down near the bottom does not noticeably affect society, rather like having a somewhat lower quality of cannon fodder would not noticeably affect a Napoleonic-era army.

    For situations where individual competence does matter, such as piloting an aircraft or performing surgery or wiring a building, there are rather more stringent performance-based licensing criteria.

    Relatively-low-social-cost AA (via just the education system) does adequately serve the current political need to appear to be doing something serious about racial inequity, and thus contributes to inhibiting destructive social unrest.

    (Please note that I am in no way advocating such a morally-bankrupt performative policy; but I also have no constructive alternative.)

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