Action and the Politics of Race
The President’s Commission on Race Relations has reopened discussion
in this sensitive area in a civil and realistic way. People who
differ dramatically came together to talk about the issues and
problems. It is good to see this subject elevated from a dirty
little secret to an open and meaningful dialogue.
Affirmative action is at the top of the agenda. This program,
designed to ensure equal opportunity for all, has become the most
divisive issue among the races. Initially conceived as an outreach
program, intended to eliminate racial and other bias in college
admission and job entry, affirmative action was soon reinterpreted
into quotas and preferences. It was far easier to measure outcomes
than to determine “good–faith” efforts. Afro–Americans and Latinos
feel it is essential to continue these programs if they are to
have an opportunity to better themselves. They don’t trust good–faith
Caucasians who have been denied jobs, contracts or entrance into
schools feel that they are the victims of reverse discrimination.
School and personnel administrators rationalize preferences as
the way to assure diversity.
We are here most concerned about education. It does not seem that
the way to provide educational opportunity for one group is through
deprivation of another. This must inevitably lead to friction.
The solution rather, is to offer opportunity to all. CUNY addressed
this question with open admissions.
So have many state universities. This seems a far better solution
than preferences. The challenge is to admit all who wish to attend,
but do so without diluting the quality of the education provided.
Again, CUNY would seem to have the answer. CUNY requires all freshman
to have taken a full complement of academic courses and to take
skills assessment tests in reading, writing and mathematics. Those
who fall below the threshold for admission to a senior college
are admitted to a community college. Here they do remedial work
if required, and upon qualification, are permitted to work for
an associate degree. Those who demonstrate the ability to do baccalaureate
level work may transfer! into the senior colleges.
The difficulty is that students must be made face the harsh reality
of doing quality work. By the time a student reaches college,
it doesn’t matter whether the student is not fully prepared because
of the failure of school system, a poor home environment, or the
students personal shortfalls. Students that are not fully prepared
must become prepared. All too often in a misdirected effort to
move students along, or due to a desire to protect programs and
faculty jobs, unprepared students are allowed to take college-level
courses and given passing grades for inadequate work. Students
that can’t write a decent sentence or do simple arithmetic are
admitted to college level courses when they belong in remedial
courses. This is the road to the destruction of the university.
It is not fair to the unprepared students who ultimately must
compete in the commercial world, to the qualified students who
do not want their courses watered–down, or to the public which
is asked to pay a portion of the educational cost.
Racial prejudice and hatred is not likely to be easily overcome.
It is exacerbated when any segment of our society feels it is
being left out or deprived of opportunity. Diversity is a wonderful
thing—our society grows more diverse each year. Given the chance,
it will happen naturally at the university level. But it must
be accompanied by honesty and responsibility. Whether that is
politically possible remains to be seen.
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