Monday, July 25, 2005


I have a second question for advocates of Affirmative Action: when does it end?

When I went to college (1971-1975), Affirmative Action was seen as a way to level the playing field. There is a great disparity in the quality of high schools across the state and Affirmative Action was seen as a way to give kids who had gone to substandard high schools in the ghetto or the barrio a chance to go to elite universities. (Never mind that California has an extensive community college system in place.)

The concept was then expanded to include graduate schools. A student’s ability to be admitted to an elite graduate or professional school should not be limited by the fact that the student came from a less-than-elite college. After all, the argument went, was it the student’s fault that his/her high school did not provide adequate coursework to allow him/her to attend a first-class university? S/He should have a chance to prove herself/himself with the best.

What ended up happening was that students used Affirmative Action to get into a first-class university and a first-class graduate or professional school. This is when I said, “Wait a minute!”

I can understand giving someone a helping hand up. But you should only be able to play the Affirmative Action card once. After that the playing field should be level. If you’ve got an undergraduate degree from Cal or Stanford or UCLA, then you should compete with the rest of the pack to get into Boalt Law School or UCSF Medical School or Stanford’s MBA program. And if you’ve graduated from the Haas School of Business—or Wharton or Harvard or wherever—you should be able to compete with your peers and not need “minority set-asides.”

Truly, the ultimate answer is to improve the quality of education all the way down the line so the cream can truly rise to the top. Then there will be no doubt about whether a student deserves to be at a particular college or university.