Listeners Take Stock Of Affirmative Action

Oct 10, 2012
Originally published on October 12, 2012 12:53 pm

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that could put an end to policies that take race into account in college admissions decisions.

NPR's All Things Considered recently asked listeners if there is still a place for affirmative action policies in America today. Below are just a few responses from among the more than 50 received.

'Still A Need'

"As a white college instructor who has been on plenty of hiring committees over the years, I can say that my mostly white colleagues push for colleagues whom they know, and thus with whom they feel comfortable. And, because of these biases, even with the mantra to hire a diverse workforce, they mostly hire people 'like themselves' — white, middle-class professionals. To balance out the diversity of our staff, affirmative action is necessary since it gives faculty of color a fighting chance. I think naive white instructors think 'the most qualified person' should get the job — as if there aren't all sorts of biased ways in which this 'most qualified' person is decided in the first place by the hiring committee. Oh, one more thing — our students we serve are much, much more diverse than our faculty. What kind of message does that send to them if 95 percent of their instructors are white?" — Bryan Hull, Portland, Ore.

"Absolutely yes! But more should be done prior to entering the colleges and universities. I am a Chicano who went to school in the early '70s in a racist rural South Texas town. It goes without saying that the education for Chicanos was very bad! That is around the time that affirmative action was beginning. I was accepted at a private Catholic institution of higher education with a lot of loans and grants, etc. The problem was I was not prepared in our local 'rural and racist' school district for a college education. Yes, I was given an opportunity to attend college without the tools to succeed there! The problem was, and still is, that minority students were and are not prepared to succeed in high school much less in college! Although higher education is very important, it's just as important, if not more so, to prepare students in the first 12 years of education." — Mario Trevino, Irving, Texas

"There still is a need for affirmative action. In many states, local property taxes are still the major source of funding for local schools. Which means there still is enormous disparity in primary and secondary educational opportunities for minority populations in the United States. Until the playing field is leveled for educational opportunity, accommodations in the workplace and higher education need to remain. We can fix this — if we want to." — Jean Vollrath, Staley, N.C.

"Yes, there is a place for affirmative action if there is still a place for the question of race on a census form. I think race is irrelevant, but if that's not what people experience in their lives, then it must be tackled. I would like to see a time when race is less significant than hair color (I'm a redhead). I like to think we are getting there, but until then, America has its history, so it cannot, and must not be denied." — James Cawthorne, Cincinnati

'Financial Need, Not Race'

"Minorities participating equally in our society is to everyone's benefit. Affirmative action is used to achieve that laudable goal because it is fast and cheap, if not very effective and not very fair. Poor whites need help too, and rich minorities don't. As a country, we need to spend more money on (and may wait years for) effective programs that solve the underlying economic social and cultural issues that inhibit the success of both minority and majority poor. Remedial action is better than affirmative action." — David Uttermohlen, Granger, Ind.

"Affirmative action should be based on financial need, not race. As our society becomes more and more diverse, it is hard to tell which race someone belongs to, but since affirmative action provides a financially related advantage, the correct parameter should be financial need." — Michael Stewart, Poquoson, Va.

"There is absolutely no need to continue basing admissions on skin color — as our Asian-American and first generation African-Americans have proved. What may well have a valid role to be weighed in school admissions is family income. It has been well documented that poverty impacts standardized testing." — Lee McGinnis, Flint, Mich.

No Longer Needed

"As we continue to divide and classify ourselves into different groups it seems we just prolong the problem of racism. If we gain entrance to some group, school, etc., based wholly or partially on our gender or race, then what happens to our morals? Being denied entrance may turn out to be a great gift because if a group, school, etc., will not admit us for who we are, then maybe they don't DESERVE to have US at their establishment — it is actually their loss, not ours, because of their shortsightedness. I believe we will only get rid of racism when we allow ourselves to not be defined by our race. I believe we as Americans can still enjoy our diversity by JUST being Americans and being our best!" — Darlene Schulthess, Kemmerer, Wyo.

"Affirmative action was never needed. This country was formed on equal rights for everyone, special rights for no one. With affirmative action, the best and the brightest do not get hired and promoted, especially in the government. Political correctness is hurting the country and the people." — Steve Garrison, Huntsville, Ala.

"I am a high school senior currently applying to colleges. And as a white female, I feel discriminated against in the admissions process. I do not believe that affirmative action has a place in colleges today; I prefer to be judged based on my accomplishments, not the color of my skin." — Casey Crownhart, Birmingham, Ala.

"Unfortunately, racism still exists in this country; more so in some states and less in others. However, I feel that it is wrong to fight racism with racism. Affirmative action allows for the possibility that a less qualified person will be hired or granted school admission than another person, simply based on the color of their skin. Instead of forcing companies and organizations to have a minimum percentage of minorities, there should just be more oversight of the hiring process. Also, and more importantly, the minority community should step up and urge ambition in the young population. More often than not, organizations that don't have a minority percentage that reflects the community population are not discriminating; there are just fewer minority applicants." — Justin Vacca, Rochester, N.Y.

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At the Supreme Court today: oral arguments in the case of Fisher versus the University of Texas at Austin, a case that could put an end to the use of affirmative action in college admissions.


Last week, we asked you this question: Is there still a place for affirmative action in 2012, and why? Here's what some of you had to say.

EVAN GARNER: Having grown up as a white, upper-middle-class boy in Alabama, I went to college with good intentions but little experience.

CORNISH: This is Evan Garner(ph) of Decatur, Alabama.

GARNER: When a discussion in a philosophy class turned to affirmative action, I surprised myself at how emotionally opposed to the practice I was. The professor asked: Do you think you would have had the same level of opportunity, if you had been born as a black woman? My silence answered his question. I dream of the day when I wake up and realize that my race, and class, would not make a difference in my opportunities. But we are not nearly there yet.

SIEGEL: Betty Dong(ph), of Arcadia, California, writes this: I don't believe affirmative action at the university level is necessary. My son is a Chinese-American and worked very hard throughout high school. He took honors and AP classes, and studied himself into a frenzy, causing great stress.

She goes on: I think this kind of competitiveness should be started early, and be instilled in children earlier; to not assume that by sex or race or ethnicity, they should be guaranteed entrance into any program.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, J. Hawley(ph) of Huntsville, Alabama, says yes, we need affirmative action.

J. HAWLEY: When African-Americans are unemployed, and under-employed, at double the rate of European-Americans - yes, we need affirmative action. When African-American business owners are under-capitalized, and only own about 3 percent of the businesses in America - yes, we need affirmative action. When there are very few African-American reporters, even on programs such as NPR...

LAURIE MARHOEFER: We still need affirmative action.

SIEGEL: This is Laurie Marhoefer(ph) of Okemos, Michigan. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Marhoefer is from Syracuse, New York.]

MARHOEFER: I'm a white woman in my 30s, and I work as a history professor. My profession is very white. History, however, is not white, and not only white people are interested in history. The fact that most history professors are white, is due to a legacy of discrimination and institutional bias against people of color. This is not only unjust; it is a disservice to our students.

CORNISH: Walter Steiner(ph) of Youngstown, New York, tells us he believes the time for racial preferences has long passed. He's white, and grew up in a lower-middle-class family in Southern California, alongside a Latino majority that he says was considerably more privileged.

In the next few decades, he writes, it is predicted that all whites will be a minority in the United States. I am 44 years old and have no memory of the civil rights movement. But I do have distinct memories of swimming upstream against racial preferences, at every stage of my caree - starting with college.

SIEGEL: Maria Torres Villa(ph), of Lawrenceville, Georgia, tells us that both she and her husband are college-educated Hispanics who've been able to provide ample opportunities for their children.

MARIA TORRES VILLA: Our children do not need any help from colleges, for admission. The same is true for the children of our African-American, white and Asian friends who are in our same situation. On the other hand, the student who has been able to succeed in high school despite the limitations that poverty bring - that deserves help from colleges and universities, in admission.

CORNISH: And one, final word from Jim Cunningham(ph) of Austin, Texas. He believes his daughter was initially denied admission to the University of Texas because she is white. He understands the push to have a student body that reflects the population of the state. But...

JIM CUNNINGHAM: The answer isn't to turn away qualified students. The answer is to enhance other schools within the state system, so that no one school is so overwhelmed by applicants that they must select based on a criteria as singular as skin color. In this instance, choosing through race treats a symptom, not the cause.

SIEGEL: Thanks to all of you who wrote us with your comments. Elsewhere in today's program, we have a full report on today's arguments before the Supreme Court; a report from NPR's Nina Totenberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.