Law in Contemporary Society

The topic we all think we understand: Affirmative Action

-- By MaryamAsenuga - 11 Apr 2021


Olympic runners Usain Bolt, Leo Manzano, and Galen Rupp walk to the starting line of their race. The gunman signals; they take their mark. 10 seconds pass; the gun goes off. It is time for all to run to the finish line, right? Wrong. Bolt is Black and Manzano is Latino; both are underrepresented minorities. They must wait for Rupp, their Caucasian peer, to go first, make his laps around, and usurp all the benefits. Time passes, which feels like a century, and it’s finally Bolt and Manzano’s turn to run in this race of inequity. While running, their feet are shackled by chains that accompany their status as underrepresented minorities in America. They are weighed down by redlining, the school-to-prison pipeline, and police brutality. But, they are expected to perform just as well as Rupp who not only started before them, but ran in the absence of impenetrable obstacles. Welcome to California’s Public Higher Education system: the race with the inherently unequal playing field.

As a native East Coaster, it may seem odd that I am writing about CA’s education system. However, comparing California's higher education results, due in part to Prop 13 and Prop 209, is interesting as it reveals an interesting comparative investigation between California's barrier to affirmative action and the lack there of in Eastern states, such as New York.

This comparative investigation left me disappointed. Firstly, California's higher education realm is unique due to Prop 13 and Prop 209. Prop 13 engendered a decrease in property taxes and restrictions to annual increases of assessed value. Additionally, it led to the requirement of 2/3 majority in both houses for future increases in state taxes. Ultimately, this lead to Prop 13 limiting the use of property taxes in financing public education. Consequently taking California from among the highest ranked states in public education outcomes to among the lowest. To make matters worse, Prop 209 created a virtual prohibition of race-conscious decision-making in, among other roles, public education. The effects of this proposition are discussed below, but what must be acknowledge is the stark similarity between California's higher education results and New York's, a state that supports affirmative action within employment, higher education, etc.

NYU was recently hailed for admitting its most diverse undergraduate class (2023) in history, with 12% Black and 22% Latinx. However, is this rate all that good and does it demonstrate affirmative action is really working? When you look at the state of New York higher education, white students still occupy more than the majority (52%). This reality seems shocking when considering that, unlike California, New York has no barriers to affirmative action. I will next discuss the current status of California's affirmative action system.

NYU is a private university, with absolutely no relationship to the public higher education systems of New York City or New York State. You say nothing in this draft about SUNY or CUNY, which are the correct comparands to the UC system.

Current Status of Affirmative Action in California

With CA’s ban on affirmative action (AA), we’re on a crusade to make America homogenous again. In 2017, Donald Trump had announced the administration'sinvestigation and potential lawsuit against universities who utilize affirmative action policies. He deemed it as a system of intentional race-based discrimination.

But it’s not.

AA simply provides equitable access to underrepresented and historically oppressed groups.

Instead of remedying historical race-based maltreatment, CA’s public universities overlook its applicants’ hardships. UCs ignore how the G.I. bill’s exclusion of black veterans still negatively impacts African-Americans’ ability to accumulate wealth and intergenerational mobility. While applying to a UC, I, an African-American, would be evaluated against overrepresented applicants who attended elite boarding schools, had private tutors, and have run in this race that I am just starting in.

This text does not match the heading. There is no actual description of how UC campuses conduct their admissions systems so as to comply with Prop 209 while building the classes they want. No sources of any relevant kind are cited, so no facts are made available to the reader; the only reference is to a blog post about a tangentially related subject. Some serious work is needed here.

How is this fair?

Thanks to the Trail of Tears, a Native-American student is unable to remedy the burdening plights of her reservation, no matter how grand the efforts. She does not have the resources to take the SATs multiple times, establish non-profits, or participate in numerous extracurriculars, like other applicants. However, UC schools do not care.

How does the forced transfer of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma in the 19th century affect the admissions practices of the University of California? Wouldn't a reference to Native Californians be more appropriate? In which case, would reservation conditions be the relevant point?

California’s public universities are saying to underrepresented applicants, “Despite shocking inequalities of opportunity, we’re still going to evaluate everyone the same. Good luck!”

California's public universities are not just the UC. There are also the Cal State system and the community colleges to consider. They are collectively much more responsible than the UC system for the education and social uplift of working-class, immigrant, first-generation college and other "marginalized" young people and returning students. The reader of this essay should learn something about them, too, I think. To characterize their admissions practices this way is completely inaccurate, because their learning opportunities are not competitively allocated. So why wouldn't it be right to describe the actual behavior of the system split between a small collection of "selective" institutions and two much larger structures of "open access" institutions?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

AA, if implemented by Senator Hernandez's SCA-5 bill, would have permitted consideration of race and its accompanying disadvantages in UC admissions. It would have given a chance to the students whose ancestors only knew a life of subjugation. But, opposition killed SCA-5 as CA’s conservatives and Asian-Americans broadcasted AA’s “reverse discrimination” shuts the door on them, but opens it for “unqualified” minorities.

But it doesn’t. Affirmative action would help all, including its greatest opponents: Asian-Americans.

Affirmative action would help all, including its greatest opponents: Asian-Americans.

AA would increase enrollment of CA’s underrepresented Asian subgroups (Pacific Islanders, Cambodians, Filipinos, etc.). This is huge as CA’s Asians has a high percentage of these subgroups. Currently, 43% of all Filipino-Americans reside in California. The state has a larger population of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders than Hawai’i itself!

AA doesn’t close any door. It simply permits opportunities to equally-qualified minorities.

But, AA doesn’t just affect some people, it affects everyone.

All CA’s residents would reap AA’s benefits. Diversity, a major goal of AA, is obsessively sought after by employers, huge corporations, universities, etc. Why? Diversity creates enriching perspectives, creativity, and progress. Studies found diversity’s lasting effects on higher education, students, and the economy. Racially diverse universities allow students to navigate in the multicultural real world without distrust and tension. This not only benefits social society, but it facilitates efficient business, something we all have a stake in.

Plus, AA creates a strong workforce and strong economy. A study found AA leads to higher graduate/professional schools enrollments, incomes, and civic participation.

This goes beyond a moral inclination to do good. AA directly impacts your pockets.

*Despite its benefits, should we rely on a system created in the 1960s to rectify racism? *

The dean of Wesleyan University stated, in reference to AA, ““I think it’s a fair question to ask: Did we really understand or know what we were doing, or could we have predicted what the issues would be?”. This dean is correct. As we see in the comparison between California and New York, it seems that a state not operating under AA and one that is elicits similar results. This may mean that AA isn't as effective. As a remedial arrangement, AA was shaped over sixty years ago and was not able to be formulated in a way that considered our changing socio, economic, political, and technological advances. All of these attributes relate to the racial gap and its widening, despite valid efforts. Due to the knee jerk reaction of 1960s political scientists and advocates of AA, it may be true that AA was a system that was influenced by "colorblind society" trying to fill quotas. However, this type of framework is dangerous when attempting to achieve racial equality, and we may be seeing this today in the effects of AA. Although the alternatives are costly, such as the lottery systems in Europe, this investigation made it clear to me that the current AA system may not be truly effective, as I once thought.

What this section needs is information. Your "comparison" of outcomes between NY and CA depended on a mistake about NYU and took no account of the actual public higher education systems of each state. No outcome information of any kind was referenced, not even a way to find basic statistical information about how many people graduate from the various higher education institutions of the two states, what the demographic distribution of the graduates is, or what happens to them.

Overall, I think it's clear that this is the right direction for the revision, but there was much work needed that didn't get done. Self-editing practices can be improved: you should have found the mistake about NYU, which would have led to an effort to understand the actual structure of NYC and NYS higher education, which would have led back to the broader picture of the education system of CA. If we are to think creatively about how to make equality in education real for young America, we need to learn more about the parts of the higher education system that your readers here aren't being helped to see.

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r5 - 24 May 2021 - 13:21:30 - EbenMoglen
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