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New York City

Guest Editorial
Affirmative Action and the Politics of Race
By Stuart Dunn

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 efforts.

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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