Affirmative Action: Don’t Amend It, End It!

In my last post I argued that anti-discrimination laws could not, absent extraordinary circumstances, be countenanced under natural rights principles. A similar argument applies to the affirmative action programs instituted by all of our leading public colleges and universities.  In both cases, social policy is pursued by impermissible means, violating basic moral principles.

Anti-discrimination laws contravene our right to associate (or not) with whom we please, while affirmative action offends every person’s right to be treated justly  under the rule of law. If a state is going to undertake the production of certain goods, say roads and highways, it must–if it respects the rule of law–do so in a way that does not consciously favor one group of citizens over another.  It can’t build safe, well-engineered roads in communities where one ethnic group predominates, and shoddy, unsafe roads in others. By the same token, public colleges and universities must apply the same criteria for admission to all citizens.[1] 

Despite this, our academics have for the last four decades doggedly pursued their pet social engineering project, i.e. achieving a sufficient diversity of skin tones on their campuses to satisfy the demands of “diversity.” But the fatal flaw in this policy is that it commits an obvious injustice against those denied admission as a consequence. The white college applicants of today cannot possibly have any responsibility for the Jim Crow South of the 1950s and 1960s, or other abuses of the minority groups that now receive admission preference.  And the circumstances that might have justified affirmative action in order the rectify the after-effects of the Jim Crow South have thankfully faded into history.

Accordingly, affirmative action constitutes a textbook case of impermissibly using innocent persons simply as a means of accomplishing the “greater good.”  It clearly wrongs some people in order to benefit others.  But, as I’m sure your mother instructed you long ago, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Note that affirmative action is based solely on the race or ethnicity of the applicant, not his or her individual circumstances.  Accordingly, it is racist at its very core. It assumes that the groups in need of affirmative action can’t compete on even terms, regardless of their socioeconomic status. In other words, even black or Hispanic children from affluent households, with well-educated and accomplished parents, still need racial bonus points to gain admission.

Of course, institutions of higher education can and should take into account the educational obstacles overcome by applicants. A child from a hardscrabble background can be “forgiven” for not scoring as well on the SAT as kids from privileged backgrounds. Perseverance in the face of adversity should count as a plus factor in securing admission. But this consideration would apply to applicants of all races and ethnicities, not just to the chosen ones.

Finally, affirmative action also unjustly cheapens the accomplishment of those minorities that would have been admitted to elite schools without the “benefit” of racial preferences. A black job applicant with a degree from an elite college or graduate school will always labor under the suspicion that he or she received this credential not on the merits, but by virtue of skin color.  Now is the time to end this barbaric policy.


[1] I hold that the state should have no involvement at all in higher education, but since it does, it is obligated to ensure that the institutions it supports observe the rule of law in their admission practices.

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