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Fisher v. UT Austin: Why Affirmative Action Should Be Eliminated

Rebecca Doyle |
October 22, 2012 | 11:09 a.m. PDT


A new Supreme Court case, Fisher v. UT Austin, allows for a reexamination of the flaws of affirmative action. (DB King, Creative Commons)
A new Supreme Court case, Fisher v. UT Austin, allows for a reexamination of the flaws of affirmative action. (DB King, Creative Commons)
Because of the election and the presidential debates, discussion of affirmative action in the political news sphere has been eclipsed by coverage of those of Obama's and Romney's gaffes and attacks that have resulted in more changes in the American vote than there have been in Romney’s policies. However, with Fisher v. UT Austin finally beginning to progress in the Supreme Court after months of preparation, affirmative action remains an issue Big-ger than the Bird himself.

While the case itself is peppered with nuances, complications and technicalities, its verdict will not be embraced by the American people as a single result for the isolated example of Abigail Fisher; rather, this case represents a much more significant controversy over the justice – or injustice –  of affirmative action in general. Because this is the reason the decision will be remembered, it seems only sensible to examine the reasons why affirmative action is an unwarranted and outdated idea.

The typical arguments in opposition to the policy have been asserted for decades – affirmative action lowers standards of accountability, opposes a truly color-blind society, leads to reverse discrimination, demeans true minority achievement and places students into schools with programs for which they are ill-equipped. With so many clear, logical arguments in opposition to affirmative action, one must wonder why its proponents support it so ardently.

A primary, but often unspoken, reason for supporting affirmative action is based on retribution. Advocates of affirmative action are quick to declare that its consequences are necessary because of the racial discrimination of the past. However, the ludicrousness of this argument can be efficiently summarized by American philosopher and professor Louis J. Pojman’s “Two Wrongs Make a Right Thesis.” He notes,

“Because some Whites once enslaved some Blacks, the descendants of those slaves, some of whom may now enjoy high incomes and social status, have a right to opportunities and offices over better qualified Whites who had nothing to do with either slavery or the oppression of Blacks, and who may even have suffered hardship comparable to that of poor Blacks.”

Pojman also lists a hierarchy of demographics clarifying which ethnicities and genders benefit most from this attitude. Asians fall near the bottom of such a hierarchy. However, if we are to complain about history, why is the maltreatment of Asains in internment camps during World War II so quickly forgotten? For that matter, why is the hesitation to aid the Jews left unaddressed and the mistreatment of the Irish immigrants ignored? Could it be because we are too busy tripping over our own political correctness to acknowledge the suffering of others? Could it be because - brace yourselves for THIS mind-blowingly true political incorrectness! – the people of these demographics refuse to play the victim of their trials and tribulations?

The other primary argument in favor of affirmative action focuses on the importance of diversity. That sentence in itself was flawed because there is no “importance of diversity,” at least in the way it is prioritized with affirmative action. This tends to be due to the fact that the questions, results and implications that lead to such conclusions are examined a way more juvenile than Sesame Street.

study by Professors Stanley Rothman, Seymour Martin Lipset and Neil Nevitte observed that there is no real evidence to support the idea that an ethnically diverse environment fosters a positive educational one. Those previous conclusions were usually drawn from personal surveys, which tend to contain more biased results than Romney has binders full of women. Therefore, the “correlation” between ethnically diverse presences and a positive educational environment is no more likely than the correlation between the progression of time and the likelihood of giving a politically correct answer.

In fact, these professors’ more objective study – one in which the link between the question and ethnicity was not apparent to the participant – found that there is a strong positive correlation between an increase in Hispanic presence and dissatisfaction with the educational environment. Does this directly mean that the presence of Hispanics worsens the educational experience? If the answer is no – which I would assume would be a likely response – then similar but more subjective studies also cannot be viewed as authorities on the effects of ethnic diversity in educational institutions.

It is also interesting to note that while proponents of affirmative action fight for “diversity,” they strive for hegemony once actually admitted to college. Ironically, the ratio of black-to-white student organizations, activities, and programs at the University of Southern California (USC), for example, is approximately 25:0. (Is it too late to make a “[Big] Birds of a feather” joke here?)

Why is it that, in our academic institutions, this “ethnic diversity” is prioritized, anyway? If it is really so significant, why is it not present in other areas? Why is there no affirmative action in the NBA? You’ll notice that there is no clamor to secure more professional basketball spots for the underrepresented Asians, Hispanics or even whites. This is because in sports, the coaches, owners and fans don’t care about their players' resemblance to someone who may or may not have suffered discrimination decades ago. It’s irrelevant. What matters is one’s ability to play basketball; the important thing is a player’s athletic merit. It is a shame that merit is not similarly prioritized in the institutions that are supposed to be churning out the next Pulitzer Prize winners, prolific innovators and cancer-curers. While originally well-intentioned, affirmative action only serves to promote injustice and foment disillusion within every ethnic community because of its promise of a superficial diversity.

Diversity in itself is not a negative thing. The problem stems from a definition of “diversity” that is more flawed than Candy Crowley’s fact-checking. The truth is that diversity is much more present in experiences rather than skin tones. It is insulting to infer that every black person – or person of any ethnicity – contributes the same element of diversity. It’s essentially degrading the worth of their experiences and making them homogenous in other aspects within their ethnicity, defeating the goals of both sides in the affirmative action debate.

Both Sesame Street and affirmative action share one thing: in the upcoming months, their future is on the line. While children everywhere will rejoice if the presence of Big Bird will endure, hopefully the decision in Ms. Fisher’s case will result in the ubiquitous rejoicing of the logically-minded.


Reach Contributor Rebecca Doyle here; follow her here.



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