The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Affirmative action must be sincere

As a journalist I’ve been taught that having a bias for or against any group is wrong. When I saw the statement “Special attention should be given to women and ethnic minority professors” as one of the five selection criteria for the United Methodist Church Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award, my journalist ears perked up. It sounded like affirmative action.

I asked myself: What is affirmative action anyways? Does affirmative action choose diversity over quality? Does it advocate reverse discrimination against white men? How does it work?

Questions like these are often not asked because people are afraid of appearing racist or sexist – of coming down on the wrong side of a social issue. Questions are left unasked and unanswered. The would-be askers draw their own conclusions with little information.

But being informed is essential to drawing a fair conclusion. As a senior I will soon enter the workforce. Knowing how I will be treated is important.

I asked Beth Wilson to shed some light on the issue. As the director of Institutional Access and Equity, she implements SMU’s affirmative action programs and oversees all hires at the university.

What is affirmative action?

According to a brochure put out by Wilson’s office, “Affirmative action requires the institutions to do more than ensure employment and educational neutrality. As the phrase implies, affirmative action requires institutions to undertake additional efforts to recruit, employ, promote and admit qualified members of groups formerly excluded or limited in opportunities, such as minorities, women and persons with disabilities. SMU is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution.”

Wilson explained further: “Affirmative action is the extra effort you take to make sure they know the door is open and that they will be welcome when they come in.”

I always thought affirmative action was just a nice way of saying “we’re required to fill quotas.”

Despite SMU’s status as a private school, the university accepts federal funding for research and other programs. Because of this, the university is required to implement affirmative action programs. However, quotas are not imposed on the university. Instead, it must demonstrate a good faith effort to employ more women, minorities and handicapped persons.

“Many women and minorities do not just immediately apply where they will be a significant minority,” Wilson said.

Her office develops programs that invite women and minority candidates to apply. This diversifies the applicant pool and increases the chances that a woman or minority will be chosen.

Does affirmative action choose diversity over quality?

The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, diversity and quality may be compatible goals – good news for employers everywhere.

When affirmative action programs, void of quotas, are successfully implemented, they result in diverse job candidates applying for jobs they would not have otherwise considered. These programs increase the number of applicants applying for a job.

As I remember from my economics class freshman year, a free market economy results in competition. Competition results in excellence.

In other words, it increases the likelihood of having a highly qualified applicant. And maybe the most qualified person is a woman, a minority or both. But what if it’s a white man – better known as “the man?”

Are white men subjected to reverse discrimination in this process?

If an employer’s first and foremost qualification for a position is diversity then, yes, it’s possible. Normally, this is not the case. It is in the employer’s best interest to hire the most qualified candidate. Situations like this are often the result of meeting imposed quotas.

The winner of the UMC Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award was chosen by Tom Tunks, the interim-provost for the 2006-07 academic year. He chose Wayne Woodward, a white male, who Tunks said was “a very clear choice.”

But there aren’t always such clear-cut winners.

When quality and diversity are valued, how does affirmative action or “special attention” come into play?

In a “what if” situation where a white male and a woman or minority are competing for the same job or award, Tunks illustrated how he interprets “special attention.”

“When two candidates are close, the ‘special attention’ could make the difference,” he said. “But if someone is head and shoulders above the other person it wouldn’t be enough.”

Essentially, when there is no clear choice, “special attention” acts as a swing vote.

Dr. Camille Kraeplin, a journalism professor who teaches Women and Minorities in the Media, has a different application. Affirmative action is taking into account every aspect of a person’s life.

“Sometimes our ways of measuring a person are limited,” she said. “They may have some other remarkable traits.”

Maybe a person doesn’t have the grades, but they have endured a great deal of hardship. This may have resulted in outstanding personality traits.

Wilson also recognized the remedial aspect of affirmative action and gave this example: “It’s like a runner who’s shackled and half-way through the race you take off the shackles and let them compete fairly. But you can’t make up that handicap. You have to take that into account.”

By the same token, if every aspect of a person’s life were taken into account then it would not be fair to give blanket remedial consideration to minorities or women. If a minority came from an affluent family, then he or she had access to a good education. And a white man who has faced poverty should also be considered in these remedial situations.

Affirmative action can fairly promote diversity, but only if it is done sincerely. That means willingly, without imposed quotas.

About the writer:

Kelsey McKinney is a senior journalism major. She can be reached at [email protected].

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