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The End Of Affirmative Action?

The Supreme Court did what I expected they would do today; killed affirmative action in college admissions. I’m going to say something controversial now; I’m not actually for affirmative action, especially in college admissions. Let me explain. Affirmative action is a bad solution to a really bad problem. It’s a terrible solution because it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, it merely attempts to course correct after the problem occurs.

We have some data now that shows that affirmative action, particularly at the ivy league level is actually not a great solution. It puts students into a situation that they are in no way prepared for, and the dropout rate is pretty high. This problem is referred to as a "mismatch". There is a lot of debate over whether a mismatch actually exists. I tend to believe that it’s a thing, but here are a couple of the most compelling papers I’ve found on the subject. Here’s the yes, a mismatch exists argument, and here’s the mismatch debunking argument.

In my experience as a corporate recruiter, I’ve seen both. I’ve interviewed diversity candidates that were clearly admitted to ivy league universities as part of a quota, who did very well at those universities. I’ve also seen my fair share of diversity candidates that didn’t graduate from the ivy league university they attended.

In my opinion, the problem that needs to be addressed starts years before it’s time to apply for college. We have an institutional racism problem that starts at pre-k. Let me be clear on this; the problem I’m referring to is quickly shifting from a racism problem to a poverty problem. As with everything else, it’s about the advantages that the rich have over the poor. People who live in poor neighborhoods get shitty schools. If you’re a poor person living in a poor neighborhood, the property taxes collected to pay for education in your community does not afford your child the same resources that someone from a rich neighborhood gets. People often make the point that America’s spending on education is among the highest in the world, and we still get inferior outcomes so more spending isn’t the answer. These people ignore the distribution of that money, and the disparity that exists. Outcomes are not as poor in schools with more resources, and I don’t believe that kids from rich neighborhoods have more active parents. Didn’t we just see some really fucking rich people proclaim that their crappy parenting caused their child to develop affluenza? Which is it? Are wealthy people better parents, or are they worse parents? I tend to think that there are good parents and bad parents in all income levels. But the rich parents have the resources to outsource the raising of their children. They can afford tutors and SAT test preppers to augment their already well resourced schools. So there’s an institutional disparity in the level of education for poor kids and rich kids. And since we created entire low income neighborhoods, we have minorities concentrated in specific parts of town. This is changing, as more white people are entering the poverty class. But for right now, it’s a race thing more than it is a class thing. 

A component of the institutional racism that most people aren’t aware of, exists in how college admissions are handled. A kid graduating from Compton High School with a 4.2 GPA is weighed against a Beverly Hills High graduate with a 3.7 GPA. Why? Because the level of education at Compton High is lower. Again, we have an institutional problem that further stacks the deck.

On top of all that, the ivy league has an affirmative action program that will never be challenged; legacy admissions. If your Harvard educated parents affluenzaed you into a complete miscreant, no problem. Their donations to Harvard will guarantee your admission and further enable you to affluenza your way through the rest of your life with an ivy league diploma. None of the ivy league universities disclose the percentage of legacy students they admit every year. When I interview ivy league graduates, it becomes apparent who the legacies are. Trust me, affluenza is a thing and I’ve interviewed more than my fair share of self entitled dim wits. Fortunately for them, my recognition of their dim wittery won’t stop them from getting the job, as they frequently come to me as "must hires" since either mommy or daddy knows an executive at the company. More institutional racism.

On the bright side, aside from the must hire legacies, corporate America is not racist. Corporate America is greedy, and since racism might eventually cost them a dollar, it doesn’t really exist. Don’t get me wrong, hiring managers tend to have teams that look like them. This is true of both white and minority managers. It’s a relatability issue. It’s human nature to relate to people with backgrounds similar to your own. Since corporate America has always been majority white, the relatability issue does tend to further the racial disparity among the employee population but I also see minority managers hiring more minority employees to work under them. I have often been given the directive make minority hires for positions, so companies (at least really big ones) are aiming for diversity.

The issue I run into with these searches for diversity candidates is the lack of qualified candidates to fill them. The proportion of diversity college graduates with experience is not equal to the proportion of minorities in America. That’s just a fact. It’s getting a little bit better every year, but it’s still a problem. Two or three generations ago, black people simply didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. College is a generational thing. If your parents went to college, you’re almost certain to get a college degree so that first generation is the key to every generation that follows it. And that first generation approach college much differently than the third or fourth generation. That first generation isn’t aware of all of the different career possibilities. They’re not going for careers in publishing, architecture, or mechanical engineering because those careers don’t exist in their universe. They’re choosing from a limited field of careers and getting general degrees like “business”. Third and fourth generation college graduates have more exposure, and are getting more specialized degrees. They have their eye on a specific career as opposed to a first generation college graduates who tend to have an eye on a degree. This is just the natural evolution of educating a population, and it’s not unique to minorities.

That’s why I don’t believe that affirmative action in college admissions is the way to go. It was a nice try, but I don’t think that it produces the results we really want. We need to tear down every level of institutional racism that takes place before college application time. We need to stop tying school funds to property taxes. Each state needs to spend the same amount of money on each student in their state. We can’t have pre-k available in only certain communities. All of the students in each state must be treated equally from pre-k all the way up to their senior year of high school. If that happens, the diversity ratios will take care of themselves at the college level and we would have students that are prepared for the college in which they were admitted.

As I said, there’s no racism problem in corporate America so there’s nothing to be done at that level. Fortune 500 companies are always looking to expand their diversity numbers, and I do a great deal of diversity outreach in order to accomplish that goal. But I can tell you that I’ve literally never hired a less qualified minority candidate over a white candidate. That simply doesn’t happen, regardless of the perception. The diversity initiative begins and ends in generating the candidate pool. There are no federal quotas for companies, and EEOC doesn’t look at the ratio of white to minority candidates a company hires. When they do anything at all, they look for discrimination. This usually happens when a complaint of discrimination is reported. They look at the candidate pool to assess if a less qualified candidate was hired over a female, minority, or a more "seasoned" candidate. I have very little experience in blue collar industries, and no experience in union environments so I can’t speak to those industries.

At any rate, I think it’s time to let affirmative action in college admissions go but not without addressing the institutional problems prior to college. You can’t just get of a less than ideal remedy to a problem without doing a damned thing to address the problem. It won’t go away if you pretend it doesn’t exist. We need better, more effective solutions than what we’ve been trying for 50 years.            


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