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Time to Retire Affirmative Action

Jyoti Tibrewala

The issue of affirmative action has returned to center stage. On June 25, the Supreme Court let stand the ruling in the case Texas v. Hopwood. This ruling led the state of Texas to end its affirmative action policies at its public colleges and universities. The state’s education officials feel that this has left the state’s public education system at a disadvantage compared to states with affirmative action policies.

Two cases involving the University of Michigan are on their way to the high court; one of these involves undergraduate admissions, which rates its applicants on a 150-point scale, giving Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans 20 extra points for their race.

The University of California recently decided to give more weight to the SAT-II exam -- which test such specific subject areas as history, biology, and foreign languages -- than the SAT-I exam in evaluating applicants. This decision coincided with a new freshman class in which the percentage of Hispanic and Asian-American students increased. Many suspect that the foreign language test may have provided an unexpected opportunity to students taking the exams in Spanish, Korean, or Chinese, as these languages may be spoken in the home.

Affirmative action programs were put in place to make up for past economic and social wrongs to minorities. However, these programs need to be dropped if the nation is to move forward.

In “past economic and social wrongs to minorities,” the primary economic wrong being referred to is slavery, and the primary minority is the African-American population. But we as a nation are far past the days of slavery. We have also come out of the civil rights movement and the street riots of the 1960s which led to the establishment of affirmative action. Today, blacks and other minorities are being accepted into the nation’s top schools and making their way to the top of major corporations.

However, this is only due in part to affirmative action. Yes, affirmative action may have acted as a starting push to get minorities on the way to success. But achievement comes from a desire to succeed. One needs to set goals, and he or she must be devoted to that cause, accepting only excellence, never mediocrity; only then can goals be achieved.

Society has changed as well. Much of the racism present as late as the 1950s and ’60s is nonexistent nowadays. This is basically due to a general increased tolerance. Attributing it to the workings of affirmative action would be a stretch.

It should also be noted that the case involving the University of California should not qualify as affirmative action at all. Mastery of a language is an important thing to have, whether it is learned at home or in school. For native English speakers who may feel cheated, take as an example a native speaker of Chinese. He or she probably learned the language as a child. Then, when school began, he or she had to learn English. A native English speaker will have been introduced to English as a youngster. Elementary and secondary schooling provide the opportunity to sharpen his or her skills in English, complemented by its being spoken at home. The native English speaker will have a better grasp on the language than the foreign speaker, as it is the former student’s first language, and he or she may have had more time to master it for that very reason. And English might prove more useful attending school in an English-speaking country.

Affirmative action may have been needed to get the ball rolling, but the ball is rolling already, and it’s picking up speed as it rolls along. Affirmative action has done its job, and as such it should be retired. The Supreme Court should take advantage of cases, such as those cited above, that are heading its way and are challenging the doctrine of affirmative action, and it should use the opportunity to help the nation take another step forward. One major argument for affirmative action is that it aims to level the playing field so that minorities and the majority are on equal footing. Eliminating affirmative action, though, would encourage everyone to stand on their own two feet. That’s not to imply that some use affirmative action as a plateau from which the finish line is clearer. The goal is to eliminate the haunting question from a job or college acceptee of whether affirmative action or solid achievement is to thank. This in turn would challenge all of us to work our very hardest in everything we do, since we will be evaluated solely on the basis of our credentials. Only then will we all be on equal footing.