The subject of affirmative action in college admissions has been hotly debated since its inception. Although affirmative action was originally supported by the vast majority, that same majority is now starting to wonder if there is a better way. Commonly asked questions include: "Is affirmative action still working?" and "Is there an alternative?" The answers to each of these questions will provide insurmountable evidence that affirmative action in college admissions no longer fulfills its intended purpose and that the only viable alternative is to focus more attention on primary schooling for the underprivileged.
The most common question that arises in contemporary debates over affirmative action is, "Does affirmative action still work as intended?" The original purpose of affirmative action in college admissions was to eliminate racial bias in the applicant selection process and provide a helping hand to disadvantaged minority students. Has this happened? The simple answer is "No", but a more precise answer requires more elaboration. Richard Rodriguez, the Mexican-American author of Hunger of Memory and a direct beneficiary of early affirmative action policies, puts it this way, "I think as I thought in 1967 that the black civil rights leaders were correct: Higher education was not, nor is it yet, accessible to many black Americans" (Rodriguez 144).
In 1967, civil rights leaders of all types began to pressure universities and colleges all over the United States to admit more minority students and hire more minority teachers. They claimed that racial bias was the nefarious culprit responsible for the low numbers of non-white students and teachers at these institutions and that these low numbers were unrepresentative of the surrounding populations. Affirmative action policies were born in a drive to better represent minorities in institutional America.
However, all has not gone according to plan. In an effort to avoid the label of Racist, colleges and universities sometimes give preferential treatment to minority applicants. This preferential treatment means that promising majority (white) applicants are often passed over for less promising minority applicants. The term Reverse Discrimination has been applied to this phenomena and the flaws of affirmative action policies have become apparent. "Most folks today, with unintended irony, mean by affirmative action' that very preference by skin color that affirmative action was devised to eradicate," as Carl Cohen states in his article "Affirmative Action in Admissions Harms College Students." The article "Affirmative Action is Racist," by K.L. Billingsley, goes a step further and says, " . . . there are three kinds of racism: the David Duke and Adolf Hitler brand based on hatred, the Archie Bunker strain based on ignorance, and, last but not least, the racial bigotry born of patronization." By its very nature of benefiting one race over another, affirmative action failed in its primary goal of eliminating racism in college admissions.
Additionally, affirmative action policies also failed the secondary goal of providing a helping hand to disadvantaged minority students. Some will point to the increased numbers of minority students as evidence to the contrary, but does increased representation of the disadvantaged mean that they are any less disadvantaged? Not at all, there are simply more minorities present. Richard Rodriguez describes the influx of disadvantaged students to university life like this, "Cruelly, callously, admissions committees agreed to overlook serious academic deficiency. I knew students in college then barely able to read, students unable to grasp the function of a sentence" (Rodriguez 154). Affirmative action policies are guaranteeing the college experience for students that are ill-equipped to reap the full benefits from it. Even if help can be provided to those that need it, is it right to do so?
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