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Supreme Decision
Previous | Next by Casey 08 July, 2003 - 1:13 PM

So I know most of you have read the supreme court decision on affirmative action with the Michigan case.

I have to say, its a good thing for our country that I'm not on the supreme court. As you know, they struck down Michigan's system of awarding minorities points in an admissions system that distills a person to metrics. They did however, uphold the right of the University to use race as part of its admissions criteria. While this seemed contradictory at first, the decision goes on to explain that the main problem here isn't the admission of racial minorities to universities, but the perception of what it means to be a minority.

I had started a thread on here earlier where I was basically trying to work out a way that Michigan could make thier system more equitable while still adressing issues of underpriviledge. I basically took it for granted that a large University like Michigan's couldn't do anything else than see people as simple metrics. Numbers and figures to be formulated into a class. With this assumption I simply asserted that the thing to do is to use metrics but instead of for race (which are tough) use them for income (which is easy). You could measure a person's biological race with genetic tests, except we all know race is more complicated than that. You can't get a score for "blackness" like an SAT.

The supreme court had a better idea. They recognized the importance of diversity. They recognized that in some cases, the best qualification a person can have for a University position might be thier race. Racial diversity has value, and Universities have a right to make a diverse class even if it means passing up some of the majority who might be more qualified in every other way, except for thier contribution to diversity. The problem in my assumption is that large organizations don't have to treat us like numbers.

Of course, you can't tell if someone is black or not just because they checked a box. A person who is 3/4 black but who looks, was raised around, and is thought of as white will contribute to the diversity of a school much less than someone who is "all black". So, the supremes decide you can make a more diverse campus by preferential minority admissions, as long as the fact is recognized that such diversity cannot be boiled down to objective metrics. The realm of these decisions must stay subjective. Universities must evaluate people as actual people.

I think this was a good decision.

But it brings up some troubling questions...

We've determined that discrimination is okay when applied to the goal of diversity, but bad when applied to the goal of homogenity.

So what does this do to the concept of equal opportunity? A University can no longer be an equal opportunity institution if they have a legal and codified policy of race-based discrimination (even if well intentioned).

We've also determined that its bad to measure a person's race objectively, but ok to do it subjectively.

What does this mean for the US census? The census is a statistical study on which hundreds of objective decisions are based. Does this criminalize all the objective decsions addressing racial statistics as reported by the populace?

Just thinking...

7/9/2003 >> ben

this was a discussion we got into in an anthropology class one time... does the "leg up" opinion still hold valid, and if it's still not achieved its goal at this point, does it need to be altered somehow?

can you truly be equal if you're not in the eyes of other people? if you are the same as someone else, but needed help to be that way, are you still the same?

these questions i think don't really have a right answer, because people are going to answer them based upon their own personal philosophies, but i'm realizing more and more that it's not a question of philosophy, but of self worth...

how much do you think you're worth, and how hard are you willing to work to prove it? (warning, pop culture reference coming) a point i gleaned from "gangs of new york" that had been muddling around in my head since brian and i discussed it years ago was that the irish were, in the eyes of "americans" worse than black... they didn't speak the language, didn't belong in society... but, a century later, they had a president...

7/9/2003 >> Render

Interacting with other cultures can be a learning experience, although, if it were given a course title, it would probably be one of those liberal arts courses designed to produce 'well-rounded' but, often, painfully ignorant people. I think what the Court said was that it's fine to have admission policies that take culture into account, gave the schools discretion in judging when race and culture happen to be overlapping sets, but prevented them from making the assumption that race determines culture.

Another way of looking at it is that the school gets the benefit of the cultural infusion, rather than a racial minority getting the benefit of higher education. In other words, it's no longer, technically, affirmative action, although it will probably still look awfully similar. The mechanism is the same, but the target is different.

Any change in affirmative action would have to look similar its previous incarnation. Once you sign up to be your brother's keeper, trying to assert the morality of _not_ doing so is problematic.

[digression] For instance, there are statements going around in support of action in Liberia asserting that the US was responsible for the its creation and, therefore, is responsible for resolving the current unrest (a statement originally pushed by certain European UN members ... you can guess ... but recently picked up by Bush). It's true that the US first established the Liberia colony, with the hope and/or expectation (depending on your point of view) that freed slaves would emigrate there. This was back between 1817 - 1847. In other words, our involvement in the creation of that country was close to the creation of _this_ country. And it wasn't until 1980, when an indigenous Liberian took over in a coup d'etat, that things really began to fall apart. Yet, somehow, it is still our responsibility.

100 years from now, will we still be debating whether affirmative action is a good and useful thing? Probably. There's a saying ... "if you feed a cat, you better be prepared to be owned by it". Race-based affirmative action is a huge cat-feeding program ... it won't be going away any time soon, even if it could be demonstrated conclusively that it's actually harmful to both society and the people it claims to help. The best that can happen is a slight change in nature while keeping the original facade.

And I think that's what the Court accomplished.

7/10/2003 >> rich

An interesting point about Liberia is that the U.S. government actually had no part in its founding. A private U.S. organization founded the colony by purchasing land from African tribes. After years of the government in Washington expressing no formal interest in administering the land they eventually formed their own government in 1847. The capital Monrovia is named for President James Monroe and I think there is even a county called Maryland.

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