What is Affirmative Action?

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Race riots and demonstrations have been in the news lately and have added new fuel to the fiery debate over Affirmative Action. Although no one would argue that the United States has overcome the problem of discrimination, many disagree on how to deal with that issue. In addition, America is not the only country that employs this legal remedy.

What is Affirmative Action?

The website Lawyers.com says it is “giving special consideration to minorities and women in an attempt to prevent discrimination.” The policy originated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under President Lyndon Johnson. It was established as the law of the land when it was ratified as the 14th Constitutional amendment.

This consideration is interpreted in different ways in schools and in business, and consists of three levels. At the lowest level businesses and educational institutions merely increase the number of applicants for a job or school acceptance but they give no special consideration to gender or race. The next level, limited consideration, gives gender or race a slight preference. It is often used to decide between two equal applicants as a tie-breaker. The third level employs quotas to ensure a specified ratio of minority applicants or women are accepted.

How it is Applied in Schools and in Businesses

Some universities have interpreted the law in a quota system that mandates a certain ratio of minorities or women in the general student population. There have been several lawsuits filed against schools that have chosen applicants with lower SAT scores than white or male students, for instance, in order to meet that quota. In other schools the racial or minority issue is employed to decide between equally-qualified applicants to ensure the ratio.

Businesses usually do not have quotas, however they may have a written policy of hiring regardless of gender or race for some jobs. In other cases, a business may be unintentionally discriminating in its hiring protocols. The website U-S-History.com notes that in 1971, in the Griggs V. Duke case, the courts found that a business which used an academic exam to screen applicants was discriminating because the test did not directly relate to the job and because minorities generally did not have access to educational opportunities that would enable them to pass the test. In other words, a hiring practice routinely excluded minorities even though it was not intended for that purpose.

Arguments For the Policy

People who support the policy argue that it makes up for centuries of oppression or discrimination. They say that it makes certain that minorities have equal representation in jobs and in schools, creating equal opportunities for everyone. A reason given in support of the law is that discrimination is still present in our culture and must be addressed. In addition, studies seem to show that people work best in diversity.

Arguments Against the Program

The major negative argument is that this policy is actually reverse discrimination; people who are well-qualified for a position or for admission to a school may be overlooked because they are non-minority. This results in a degradation of quality in the workforce and in universities because it makes judgments based upon race or gender instead of qualifications.

Another point made against the anti-discrimination program is that the people who are helped by the law are privileged minorities and that lower classes are not affected at all. In addition, opponents say that selecting applicants based upon race or gender degrades the actual accomplishments of the population sector and add that diversity in gender or race in a group does not equate to diversity of ideas.

Whether or not people agree upon a solution to the problem of discrimination, few dispute the existence of the problem. Affirmative Action is one approach that has both positive and negative consequences.

See also: 15 Best Value Online Human Resource Management Degree Programs

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