Wednesday, November 18, 2009

James P. Sterba's "Affirmative Action for the Future"

James P. Sterba is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of twenty-five books, including Affirmative Action and Racial Preference: A Debate, Does Feminism Discriminate against Men--A Debate, Justice for Here and Now, and Terrorism and International Justice. He is also past president of the American Philosophical Association, Central Division, and several other philosophical organizations.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Affirmative Action for the Future, and reported the following:
On p. 99, I maintain, “If one wants to replace [diversity affirmative action] programs with a well-funded program that does help the least advantaged in society, for example, my proposed $25 billion a year equal education opportunity program, I am sure that every defender of diversity affirmative action would favor the change, assuming that it was not possible to have both programs. However, the political reality in both India and the U.S. is that we either retain these affirmative action programs with all their limitations or we have nothing. When faced with such a choice, surely affirmative action programs deserves our support.”

That is how I view the justification of affirmative action in the U.S. today. It is the best politically feasible response that we currently have to deal with two persistent realities.

The first reality is the one I mentioned in the above quotation. It is our political inability to provide the funding for a really equitable K-12 educational system that would enable minority students to fairly compete for entrance to elite colleges and universities. This political unwillingness is no better seen than in California, when after it abolished affirmative action in 1998 to the detriment of minorities, it still refused to provide an equitable K-12 education to minorities throughout the state.

The second reality is that one that I discuss at the very beginning of my book where I cite study after study showing the persistence of significant racial and sexual discrimination in U.S. today. Since direct government response to this continuing discrimination, like its response to inequitable K-12 educational opportunities, is both sporadic and weak, affirmative action programs still remains one of the more effective tools we have for undermining the racial and sexual prejudice that fuels this continuing discrimination.

In addition, building on my agreement with the 75% of Americans who are currently opposed to legacy preferences, I argue for an economic-based affirmative action program that would use slots currently given to legacies at elite U.S colleges and universities that receive tax-exempt status and governmental funding in order to make those colleges and universities more inclusive of those who are economically disadvantaged in the U.S.
Learn more about the book at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue