Affirmative action is discrimination. Let’s not pretend otherwise.
University of California Los Angeles President Janet Napolitano and the UC Regents recently submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court that supports the case for race-based affirmative action. In recent rallies about racial issues at UCLA, many activists have brought up the idea of affirmative action as the antidote to UCLA’s many campus climate shortcomings. But let us be honest: Affirmative action is not only a failed policy, it is also morally wrong.
It is important to set several things straight on the moral front. I have heard many people argue that holistic racial considerations are not the same thing as quotas, and because of this, they do not discriminate. This is a complete lie. Any consideration of race is discrimination. The logic is simple. If one can accept that admissions are zero-sum, meaning that there are a set number of spaces per year at a university, then the admission of one student to a particular school is necessarily at the expense of another.
The factors going in to the choosing of a particular student are likewise zero-sum. Regardless of how little a weight race is given, it must necessarily be taking weight away from some other factor, like test scores, grades or essays. If one can accept these two facts, then even a holistic system can cause two applicants with the same qualifications to receive two different admissions decisions solely based on race.
Regardless of how forcefully politically savvy lobbyists try to say otherwise, racial considerations are by definition discrimination. In the real world context, this discrimination is particularly felt by Asian Americans applying to private schools that use affirmative action.
One study showed that at Princeton, Asian-Americans were required to earn 50 points higher than average to be accepted, reports The Economist, while African-American and Latino students were accepted with scores up to 230 and 185 points lower, LA Times noted.
If supporters of the policy are willing to accept that what they are supporting is discrimination, then we can move on to the discussion of effectiveness.
Affirmative action is usually tasked with solving two main problems. One is the problem of campus diversity. Affirmative action is thought to be necessary to expose current students to diverse types of people. It is also thought to be necessary to make individuals from underrepresented groups feel more comfortable and less alone.
The second problem is education access as a means towards socioeconomic improvement. Racial affirmative action is meant to level the playing field for individuals who may be disadvantaged by their race. Fair access to top-performing universities is thought to be helpful in working to alleviate the socioeconomic inequality among the various racial groups in the U.S.
While these goals are honorable, race-based affirmative action fails to accomplish them. While it may increase topical diversity on campus, it does not necessarily foster intellectual diversity. And intellectual diversity is the real reason universities are theoretically interested in topically diverse campus.
Race-based affirmative action policies send the message that people's self-chosen ideas are somehow fundamentally determined by race. Such monolithic thinking is what breeds stereotypes and many of the negative problems that come with racism.
And while racial affirmative action may allow easier access to top performing schools like UCLA, it does not guarantee a worthwhile education, or a worthwhile time investment.
Any policy that considers race must do so by privileging some achievement-based metric. In so doing, the policy is reducing the quality of the students who attend UCLA, and it may be placing students at the university who are not prepared to excel in a rigorous academic environment.
Although this mismatch effect is debated, there is a strong case that is exists, with an National Bureau of Economic Research, UCLA and Heritage reports documenting its existence. This effect can lead to lower graduation rates among those admitted due to preferential racial treatment, and it can also lead to students choosing majors that are not the optimal choices that would have been made at another university.
At the end of the day, this discussion of effectiveness must only be considered after our campus has resolved the moral argument against discrimination. It is my belief that a rational discussion, which considers the moral and pragmatic problems, will end with our community making the right choice.
Jacob is currently a senior at UCLA studying economics and political science. He is the president of Bruin Republicans.