January 5 2012

The End of Affirmative Action?

Hadley Heath

As Anna noted, a new year means a lot of new laws.  

Interestingly, one of those new laws in New Hampshire will bring an end to public universities’ affirmative action policies in admitting students and hiring staff.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

The measure prohibits New Hampshire's university system, community-college system, postsecondary education commission, and other state agencies from giving preferences in recruiting, hiring, promotion, or admission "based on race, sex, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation."

The Granite State saw little opposition to the law, but other states that have also recently abolished affirmative action policies have had bigger battles.  Arizona passed a similar law as a referendum measure in 2009, and last year Oklahoma’s legislature voted to put an affirmative action ban on the ballot in fall 2012.

For women, affirmative action - and the attitude it represents - is long outdated.  Especially when it comes to college admissions.  Female students don’t need any help getting into or completing college: Among young people, more women than men have college degrees, and the majority of degrees being earned - bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD’s - are going to women.  Even when it comes to work, last time I checked (although there should be updated numbers tomorrow) men faced a higher unemployment rate.

I don’t have a problem with it: I say, may the best man... or woman... get the degree or the job.  Of course, as we’ve written time and again at IWF, this doesn’t have to be a zero-sum, us-versus-them situation.  No one wants to see men or women struggle to get the education or employment they need.  We should celebrate the success of women - but not cheer that men lag behind.

It’s no secret that women and men face different challenges in finding the kind of work that’s suitable to their skills, preferences, or work-life balance.  And there’s a good argument to be made for the value of diversity on campuses and in the work place.  But often affirmative action-style quotas only serve to undermine women, to call into question whether they were selected for their value or for their gender.  That’s simply based on a bad idea about women - that we need special help because we’re unable to compete on a level playing field.

This state law in New Hampshire isn’t the end of affirmative action everywhere.  But it is encouraging that the law passed without any uproar.  We can hope that perhaps this is the beginning of the end, as measures on other states could follow.  It’s common sense that the person best suited to attend college or take a job placement get it.  We all benefit when this happens, because our economy works best when competition is based not on demographics, victim-status, or special favors, but on merit.

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