The case against affirmative action in college admissions

March 6, 2012 — by Grace Ma and Sanj Nalwa

Proposition 209, passed by ballot in California in 1996, amended the state’s constitution to bar public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in any publicly funded activity, including employment and education.

Proposition 209, passed by ballot in California in 1996, amended the state’s constitution to bar public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in any publicly funded activity, including employment and education.

In the meantime, critics of this proposition have been trying to circumvent it for years. For example, in October 2011, Bill SB 185 almost became law in California. It would have allowed the CSU and UC systems to give certain races preference in admission.

The only thing that prevented California Gov. Jerry Brown from signing this bill into law was his belief that it should be the courts’ decision, not his, whether such a law should reverse amendments to the state constitution.

Instead of seeking preferential treatment for certain races, critics of Proposition 209 should devote their energies to providing better opportunities for minorities to help prepare them for college.

Even if the opponents of Proposition 209 were to somehow prevail in California in the short term, they would still have to deal with the inconvenient presence of the U.S. Constitution.

Race-based quotas—the practice of reserving a percentage of admission slots for certain minorities—were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1978 in Bakke v. Regents of UC Davis.
Even though race was allowed to be one of many “factors” in university admissions by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Gratz v. Bollinger, in a 5-4 decision, that decision too is likely to be overturned this fall.

On Feb. 21, the Supreme Court decided to revisit Gratz v. Bollinger by accepting a case seeking to overturn it. This acceptance implies that five of the current nine justices believe that there is a reasonable chance that Gratz v. Bollinger will be overturned.

However, it is not just the U.S. Constitution that should give pause to critics of Proposition 209. There is also this question of what it means to be American.

Affirmative action is racist and undermines what we cherish most about our country: being a meritocracy in which the incidence of birth is relatively unimportant, unlike in some older cultures.

Lastly, race-based affirmative action should be eliminated because there are tried and tested alternatives to it that accomplish the same goals in a fairer fashion.

California’s Early Academic Outreach Program is one such example. It targets underprivileged kids and gives them the education and preparation they need to succeed academically. Unlike race-based affirmative action programs, this program is not race-based, but rather caters to financially deprived children.

Another alternative to race-based affirmative action is the 10 percent plan instated in the public education system of Texas. This plan admits the top 10 percent of each high school class to state schools, regardless of ACT or SAT scores.

The 10 percent plan is widely acknowledged to be successful since it resolves many issues simultaneously: It is not racist, and yet it gives those who are in less privileged circumstances the opportunities they well deserve.

By design, both outreach programs and percent plans reach out to all kids who need help, rather than trying to second guess how they got there. These programs and plans are proven to work. This isn’t unfounded speculation.

Affirmative action, as we know it, can be be done away with, and it will not be missed. All that is lacking is the political will to stop giving advantages to various races.

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