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Letters: The affirmative action dilemma

October 13, 2012
  • The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on the University of Texas' admissions policy.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on the University… (Eric Gay / Associated Press )

Re "Race matters," Opinion, Oct. 9

Lee C. Bollinger and Claude M. Steele attempt to justify preference based on race and ethnic background. But there is no justification for giving preference to, or discriminating against, people based on race or ethnicity. To justify doing so, you have to take the position that the person's race or ethnicity makes him or her unable to compete on an equal basis. Not all people of the same race or ethnic group grow up in the same economic and social conditions. President Obama's children, for example, should not receive preferences based on their race.

What well-meaning people like Bollinger and Steele are attempting to do is to offer a hand to people who grow up in difficult conditions. And as a society, we should give some preference to high-achieving children who grow up in those conditions. But we should offer that help without consideration of race or ethnicity. An Anglo child of limited means should get the same help as children of other racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Offering help is the right thing to do, but we need to do it for the right reasons and not just because someone was born with a certain skin color.

P. Michael Henderson

Villa Park

Bollinger's and Steele's defense of racial preferences asserts that the mere presence of underqualified students provides a better educational environment for all. Acknowledging the importance of a diversity of views in education, they seem to believe that the opportunity for those students to provide a voice not otherwise heard is more valuable than assuring that all students actually hear diverse views from educators. The benefits of the latter would be immeasurably higher than any perceived benefit of allowing underqualified students to replace the qualified.

Bollinger and Steele say they are simply trying to mitigate the "identity" threat to the disadvantaged by assuring a theoretical "critical mass" so that some students do not feel marginalized. The sooner we get past identity politics, the sooner we will achieve equality of opportunity.

Scott Perley


Re "Do race preferences help students?," Opinion, Oct. 7

Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. use as a prime example of the negative impact affirmative action can have on those it seeks to help the fact that many students of color who want to study engineering and science eventually change majors. I would venture to say it isn't uncommon for students, regardless of race, to change their lofty goals as they progress in their higher education.

For Sander and Taylor to base their opposition to affirmative action on these types of statistics calls into question their entire argument. Most of our students who want to be lawyers or psychologists as they graduate from high school find their true passions in college.

Stephen Williams

Los Angeles

Those who promote affirmative action don't understand that the best way to defeat discrimination is to stop discriminating. As Sander and Taylor show, affirmative action sets many students up for failure. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed nearly 50 years ago; it's time to move on.

Bob Guarrera

Laguna Niguel


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