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Widen scope of affirmative action

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments that sought to end affirmative action on college campuses.

The court this year, nearly a decade after upholding affirmative action as constitutional in 2003, must revisit the question on whether affirmative-action policies for promoting diversity on college campuses are still worthwhile.  

In the past when the court upheld affirmative action, it was because the policies help to account for and correct the adversity some students faced because of their ethnicity.

Public universities have an obligation to provide an equal chance for success to any student, regardless of, gender, ethnicity, or income so long as that student works hard to earn an education.

In the past, ethnicity certainly was a primary indicator of inequalities that needed correcting, but now, more so than ethnicity alone, income inequalities are a major factor in keeping Americans from a quality education.

In fact, low-income students, even if they are qualified to get into universities, are often unable or unwilling to apply to college, and so their talent is neglected.

Furthermore, low-income students who score well on college-admissions tests are less likely than wealthy students with lower test scores to graduate from college, according to the Economic Policy Institute. These students often are subjected to many barriers to attending college beyond just the enormous costs.

Unfortunately, income is not unrelated to ethnicity. Still, affirmative action is not the only way that colleges can seek ways to encourage diversity and offer opportunities to students of all backgrounds.

For example, the University of Iowa Office of Admissions does not consider affirmative-action policies during the admissions process, and yet diversity on this campus has been steadily increasing.

This university also has numerous programs geared toward helping minorities succeed, in addition to attracting people from wide varieties of backgrounds. In large part these programs, much like affirmative action, are geared toward helping people who have fewer opportunities find ways to successfully excel.

The principles supporting affirmative action are to promote diversity and to level the playing fields for those who are held back because of their backgrounds. That principle is not one to be ignored, but anymore, ethnicity is not the primary factor that needs to be considered.

The justices on Wednesday appeared at least somewhat skeptical of referring to ethnicity during an admissions process. Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned the defending attorney if ethnicity matters above all else for the University of Texas, and according to the New York Times, seemed uncomfortable about the practice of recruiting minorities from privileged backgrounds.

In 2003, the majority opinion of the Supreme Court ruled that the want for diversity for the sake of promoting “cross-racial understanding” and helping break down stereotypes were substantial goals that allowed for race to be considered.

The Supreme Court has a difficult decision to make. But no matter what the court decides, it is still up to schools such as the UI to use all of their efforts supporting any student — regardless of any factor but the students’ own willingness to better themselves.


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