With Fisher v. Texas currently in front of the Supreme Court, affirmative action is a timely debate topic.
The policy, in fact, has been highly controversial ever since President Lyndon Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 in 1965, which mandated its use in government contractors’ hiring policies. Most opponents of affirmative action today advocate a colorblind model for employment and educational that rewards purely on merit. However, in The Ironies of Affirmative Action, John David Skrentny writes that a pure meritocracy is impossible in America because of other preferential systems that currently exist, such as hiring preference for veterans and college legacy admissions.
At Yale, affirmative action is not a topic discussed much, even among most politically active students. Much like legacy admissions, it’s an elephant in the room due to its direct impact on the student body. That’s why this week’s YPU debate, “Resolved: End Affirmative Action in College Admissions,” could have been a unique student forum to address the issue.
Ron Unz, columnist and publisher of The American Conservative, spoke tonight to a sizeable group. Unfortunately, he did not reference his past arguments (that Asians face reverse discrimination from the current system), nor did he explain the elements of a ‘real’ meritocracy. Rather, he focused on sweeping statements about how the system has broken down.
“There’s been an ideological struggle between meritocracy on one side and diversity on the other side,” Unz said. “But facts over the last decade indicate that both those goals have been overcome and pushed aside in favor of outright corruption and favoritism.” Unz went on to vilify the opaqueness of college admissions and the preference given to legacy students. He then proposed an admissions model in which 25% of students are admitted purely on merit and 75% on “other” factors—potentially for the sake of diversity.
Unsurprisingly, he was greeted with the YPU specialties of booing and hissing.
Unz’s first point, that affirmative action has been a mismatch of policies over the past four decades, holds true. It’s also true that the system is in need of repair. Sensitivity shouldn’t make this a topic that Yalies are nervous to discuss — students here are passionate about social equality and the tools to address it should be debated.
Bringing speakers in for the sake of argument but refusing to touch on the real issues, however, will, in the long run, only do more harm than good.