Remove all bias from academia

March 23, 2011

By Noah Glyn

On the official University website, there is a small, barely noticeable note at the bottom of the page. Despite its lack of size, it carries a strong punch: “Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.” Affirmative action is a policy that gives special preference to certain groups of people, depending on different factors, like race, sex and national origin. Admittance to the University is not simply based on SAT scores, high school GPAs and extracurricular activities, but also on these personal factors.

Affirmative action is not unique to the United States, let alone the University. Affirmative action policies have been tried in numerous countries, including Great Britain, India and Sri Lanka.

The stated goal of affirmative action policies is to create a society — in the University’s case, a school — in which different minority groups are represented according to their proportion of the total population. The problem is that proportional representation between different races within a society is a very rare phenomenon. It might sound nice to say that different races should be proportionally represented in different settings, but the reality is that this is hardly ever the case. Consider that Germans are disproportionately represented among beer makers, and Jews are overrepresented among comedians. Different ethnic groups have different preferences, and affirmative action is an attempt to mold different groups into someone else’s perception of what society ought to look like. It is not only arrogant to believe you have the insight to design a complex society, but it is detrimental to that very same society.

Also consider who benefits from affirmative action and who is hurt by it. Obviously, preferred minority groups profit the most. In the United States blacks benefit from affirmative action, but not necessarily the same black people intended by the designers of affirmative action policies. It is undeniable that blacks were denied their rights and liberties for far too long, but as economist Thomas Sowell writes in his book “Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study,” “No historical sufferings of blacks in the United States can justify preferential benefits to … [those] who happen to be non-white, but whose ancestors obviously never suffered any discrimination in the United States.”

A black high school student who is the son of a successful doctor, for example, is more likely to be accepted into the University than a poor, black student who never had access to the resources and activities that prepare young adults for higher education.

The most obvious case of someone hurt by affirmative action is a person who was not hired by a business or denied acceptance into a university because a, possibly less qualified, minority was given preferred treatment.

However, even those who nominally gain from affirmative action might end up losing from such policies, as well. For example, in Chicago, when black police officers were promoted over their white colleagues who earned higher scores on police tests, the black officers were mocked as being “quota sergeants.” Affirmative action is often considered a zero-sum game, where one side benefits and the other side loses some small benefits. But it is often a negative-sum game, whereby non-preferred groups lose and the preferred groups ultimately lose as well.

Supporters of affirmative action often point out that blacks and other minority groups have benefited from the policies. It is certainly true that many minority groups have seen improvements since affirmative action was introduced, but supporters often ignore overall trends that preceded affirmative action. The percentage of blacks living below the poverty line dramatically declined before affirmative action policies were introduced. In 1940, 87 percent of blacks lived below the poverty line, but by 1970 the number dropped to 30 percent. Affirmative action undoubtedly helped certain people, but it is impossible to say how many benefited, or whether those people would have become as successful without such policies. Supporters speak as if there was no such thing as upward social mobility for American minorities before affirmative action policies — a proposition that is contradicted by the evidence.

The University does not need affirmative action to prove itself as one of the most diverse institutions in the world  A truly diverse school would treat students as individuals rather than seeing them in a racial context. Diversity is a fine thing to strive for, but not if it is an artificial creation of politically-minded administrators. The color of a student’s skin does not reflect the thoughts in his brain or the feelings in her heart.

If the University truly wants to improve the lot of minorities in this country, it should nurture independent thinking, respect for the individual and the removal of any sort of bias that currently governs academic minds.

Noah Glyn is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in economics and history. He is the President of the Rutgers University Republicans. His column, “Irreconcilable Differences,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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