The debate on affirmative action has recently ignited once again, this time on the campus of the Unviersity of Michigan. The university is currently trying to answer a question of monumental proportions: should race-conscious admission policies be eradicated? President Bush spoke out about the affair, urging the Supreme Court to do just that, citing new and improved ways to deal with the situation of racial inequalities in institutions of higher learning.
What is Bush’s bright idea you ask? Well, following the example of the great state of Texas and a few others, Bush is backing a program that would grant the top five to twenty percent (the numbers are estimated and would most likely vary from state to state) of a high school graduating class admission to a university regardless of S.A.T. scores and other such scholastic measurements.
Now, with a president like Bush, Americans should be happy that he is coming up with any ideas at all. However, many people are finding major problems with his proposal. The program, which has been tried in Florida, Texas, and California, has failed to lift the number of minority students in undergraduate programs, and has done virtually nothing for graduate programs. In fact, after the decision in Texas, the percentage of African-Americans enrolled in law schools dropped from 8.1 percent to 0.9 percent, and since then has not gone above 4 percent.
The percentage plans have another major flaw. While it is in large part a reaction to the Supreme Court’s 1978 Bakke decision, a decision that struck down numerical quotas and endorsed the use of race as one factor in a host of criteria aimed at promoting diversity, the percentage plans only look at one factor. In essence, they are closer to a quota system than the current one. Moreover, the percentage plans do not take into account the fact that not all high schools are equal.
And therein lies one of the main problems. Although many so-called “Washington insiders” would like to implement such a plan that treats all high schools as equals, they do not want to provide equal funding to all high schools. In essence, their plan asks poorly funded, understaffed inner-city schools to put their students in competition with rich, upper-class high schools. And you don’t have to be in the top ten percent of your graduating class to know who is going to come out on top of that competition.
Of course, to be fair, the present affirmative action laws in this country are flawed as well. The current system of admissions has not cured all of our society’s ills, nor has it created a completely level playing field. Thus, Bush is right for pushing for a change in the way we handle such delicate affairs.
However, Bush is wrong for pushing for a system that promotes change in the wrong direction. Granted, affirmative action doesn’t even approach perfection, but it is a better system than the one that is currently being advocated. To recognize that a system is flawed and to actively work to change that system is one thing. To attempt to replace that system with an even more flawed one is another thing entirely. So until someone can come up with a better way, let affirmative action stay!