OP-EDS

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May 13, 2014

Constitutional but still disputable

Affirmative action mistakenly combats one form of preferential treatment with another.

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision on affirmative action in Schuette v. Coalition, many articles on the issue have appeared in the Maroon. These articles have argued everything from the need for affirmative action based upon vacuous assertions about institutionalized racism to complaints about public participation in public universities (see “Diversity, not Democracy” [5/9/14] by Elizabeth Aditeba).

First, I think it is important to consider the catalyst of all of the articles: the Supreme Court’s decision in Schuette and an apparent fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Supreme Court by the authors of those articles. The 13 colonies united and wrote the Constitution to allow states vast leeway in deciding what their governance and society would look like and specifically reserved certain “inalienable rights” to be protected from a simple majority democratic process. The Supreme Court’s job was codified to decide the constitutionality of legislation, not whether or not the justices think it is a good law (see Justice Robert’s opinion on Obamacare).

Upon reading David Grossman’s article, “A Poor Constitution” (5/9/14), I was floored by his claim that the Supreme Court justices should willfully impress their views on legislation—instead of determining its constitutional validity—because they are “on average” smarter and more “forward-thinking” than everyone else. I believe our Constitution and consequently our Supreme Court was founded to prevent this kind of monarchism.

In the case of Schuette v. Coalition, the Supreme Court decided that the State of Michigan was not in violation of constitutional rights when it passed legislation specifically barring racial preferences in admissions decisions for publicly-funded universities. Was Michigan’s law a good one? That is certainly debatable. Was it constitutional? Yes. And people who disagree with the law should level their complaints with the legislature and people of Michigan, not complain that the Supreme Court wasn’t activist enough.

So then, was the law a good one? I don’t think so, but not because I think we need affirmative action. Public universities’ admission decisions currently involve various forms of favoritism or preferential treatment (aside from affirmative action), including donations and legacy appointments. One of the problems is that many of the affluent “name-on-the-building” mega-donors can and oftentimes do buy their children’s way into school. Yet this problem was not addressed by Michigan’s law, which was primarily aimed at eliminating racial preferences.

Perhaps we should concentrate more broadly on the fact that public universities base their admissions on criteria other than merit, but the solution to this unequal treatment of college applicants is not affirmative action. As a response to the issue of preferred classes, affirmative action only creates further preferred classes and disadvantages Americans who do not belong to any of those groups. We need to resist the temptation to balance one form of favoritism with another. Instead we should collaborate to create objective admissions standards that do not include points for belonging to the “good ol’ boys’ club” or having a certain skin color.

This solution would still allow for diversity in the student body, which does not simply mean, “having more [insert any racial category here]’s around makes me learn more.”

The most critical aspect of diversity in a college classroom need not be based on a person’s race, but rather on the worldview she brings to that class.

If we want to live in a truly postracial society, we need to start looking at things differently. Rather than letting racial differences color our worldview, we should stop assuming that race is a primary factor in all problems and fitting our facts to those assumptions. Policies should be completely race-neutral, so that we do not unintentionally disadvantage any group. In order to move toward a postracial society, we need a more postracial response to issues—not trite condemnations.

Nathan Howe is a third-year in the College.

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