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Affirmative Action Alleviates Symptom, Not Kills the Disease

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“Affirmative action alleviates symptom, not kills the disease”. Could JFK predict that two specific words from the order he signed would spur a social turmoil that would last for decades? The words are ‘affirmative action’, and their meaning depends on the current political regime as well as on the motivation of a person that juggles with them. The original intention behind the affirmative action was to provide qualified underrepresented minorities with government job positions and to ensure that they are treated equally regardless of their ‘race, creed, color, or national origin’. Later in the 1960s, elite universities redefined the term hanging on quotas and using it to justify racial preferences in admissions process.

The first consequential lawsuit — filed by a white student — against affirmative action, put an end to quotas, but the scrupulous racial consideration for the sake of diversity was allowed. This decision served as a guideline for admissions policies in elite universities until 2014, when several Asian-American students initiated a legal action against Harvard, demanding an ultimate abolishment of the affirmative action.

Whatever happens next to the rase-based policies, they will not magically solve the problem of unequal opportunities in higher education unless we look behind what is obvious.

Asian-American students supported by the U.S. Justice Department accuse Ivy League universities, like Harvard and Yale, in violation of civil right laws by using race as a predominant factor in admissions decisions. They particularly emphasize that the universities discriminate against Asian-American applicants, who tend to have immaculate academic and extracurricular activities records, by subjectively downgrading their personality scores. They point out that percentile of Asian-American students in Harvard is lower than in universities in California which banned racial preferences in 1996, while Ivy League universities (Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Yale) – ranging from 14-18, University of California, LA, Berkeley, Calthech – ranging 32.4-42%.

Princeton 2005 study on Admission Preferences at Elite Universities showed that elimination or racial considerations will be advantageous for Asian-American candidates — nearly four out of five places will be taken my Asians, it says. In response, the students raised the point that Asian-Americans are an enormous group representing half a globe from Japan to India to Iran, and imagining them as an indiscrete mass is another stereotype. Same study proved the existence of the so-called ‘Asian tax’ — African-American and Hispanic students get extra SAT points, while Asian-Americans have to gain 140 points higher than whites. The plaintiffs emphasized that in universities like Harvard, the admission process includes subjective rating system. Harvard rated Asian-American students lower that others on traits like ‘positive personality’, likability, courage, kindness and being ‘widely respected’.

Ivy League universities with their need to bolster diversity is on the other side of the dispute. Harvard pointed that diversity is a part of its educational mission. Diversity, it claims, enriches the educational experience, nurture open-mindedness, compassion and tolerance, promotes personal growth and healthy society. Harvard noted that academic achievements alone had never been the only criterion of admission to Harvard. It looks at each applicant as a whole and considers the full scope of factors that influence personality, such as ethnic background, place of upbringing, hobbies and personal mission.

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“A farm boy from Idaho can bring something to Harvard College that a Bostonian cannot offer”, it says.

“The quality of the educational experience of all students depends in part on these differences in background and outlook that students bring with them”.

In this way, Harvard denied discrimination against Asian-Americans.

Statistics confirm the claim, showing that comprising about 6% of the U.S. population, Asian-Americans made up (twice between 2001 and 2019) more that 20% of the admitted class in Harvard. Additionally, statistics provided by Harvard shows that share of admitted Asian-Americans trough this period was fluctuating which proves that Harvard does not use quotas.

Being a private university which contributed immensely to the society with its studies, a university that is associated with prominent minds and most progressive educational programs, Harvard is entitled to define its mission and design admissions policy in its way as long as it maintains legal boundaries. So are all the other Ivy League schools.

The question is, why do mostly elite universities need to artificially maintain racial diversity? And what about socioeconomic diversity? Why do these institutions still immensely represent privileged elite? Although I lean toward the side of the universities, I believe that by bringing up the allegations, the complainants exposed the hotbed of a serious disease. It looks like the government uses affirmative action as a destructive device to conceal the seriousness of the socio-economic situation. Likewise, it shifts responsibility to private institutions known by strict and specific selection processes.

As a possible solutions, the problem has to be scrutinized in all possible dimensions and results of studies should be public. To eliminate educational disadvantage in the background, special programs and funding need to be created for public schools to provide better education. Low income families need more support.

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Affirmative Action Alleviates Symptom, Not Kills the Disease. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/affirmative-action-alleviates-symptom-not-kills-the-disease/
“Affirmative Action Alleviates Symptom, Not Kills the Disease.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/affirmative-action-alleviates-symptom-not-kills-the-disease/
Affirmative Action Alleviates Symptom, Not Kills the Disease. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/affirmative-action-alleviates-symptom-not-kills-the-disease/> [Accessed 1 Feb. 2023].
Affirmative Action Alleviates Symptom, Not Kills the Disease [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Feb 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/affirmative-action-alleviates-symptom-not-kills-the-disease/
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