Affirmative Action Is Obsolete

by Danika Vittitoe | 11/21/96 6:00am

The hottest political topic of the moment is no doubt affirmative action and the passing of Proposition 209 in California. The discussion of this issue on the Dartmouth campus has been a particularly predictable one to me. The outspoken liberal community at Dartmouth has been vigorously working to "raise awareness" of California's decision to abort its affirmative action policy in its governmental and educational institutions. Any good liberal believes the following equation to be infallible: affirmative action=liberal=good.

As I identify myself as neither a liberal nor a conservative, I tend to examine issues on an individual basis rather than adopting the platform of the left or of the right without further deliberation on the matter.

My opinion of affirmative action is that, in the past, it has helped to provide better opportunities for those groups for whom it was designed to help. In 1972, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was passed, women and minorities were in need of public policy to help them gain access to universities and the workplace. The original premise of affirmative action was that an employer or university admissions officer, when presented with two candidates of equal qualifications, one being a woman or minority, should choose the woman or minority in order to help balance the predominance of white males in the labor force and in institutions of higher education.

The stipulation of "equal qualifications" made this an essentially fair policy. However, then came the inception of quotas. Having to meet specific numbers of women and minorities, government employers and universities were forced to abandon the original policy of choosing between equally qualified candidates and instead hiring or accepting on the basis of meeting quotas. Affirmative action soon began to have a negative impact by undermining quality in the workplace and in universities.

Not only has affirmative action become ineffective due to quotas -- it is misguided in to whom its benefits are directed. In today's society, though I readily admit women and minorities are not accepted as equals everywhere and by everyone, I believe Americans have come a long way from where they were in 1972. Americans are prepared to choose the best person for the job, despite their skin color or gender.

The real problem today is that some people are less qualified than others due to their socio-economic situation. Those who deserve the benefit of the doubt, especially in the case of university admissions, are those that have had to overcome poverty, absent or uninvolved parents, and inadequate educations received at poor quality inner-city schools. This may describe the situation of any American, not necessarily only that of minorities and women.

I believe that my fellow Californian's voted to abandon affirmative action because it has become an obsolete policy. I do not fear or regret the loss of affirmative action in my state. I do, however, worry that there seems to be no discussion of creating a new, more timely policy to replace the function of affirmative action. There is still a repressed population in the United States that is in need of aid from public policy. California needs to begin debating the best method for elevating the opportunity of the socio-economically disadvantaged.