Professors Race to Make Affirmative Action Last Forever

A new study announced July 23 defends affirmative action on the basis that overrepresentation of minorities in the workforce relative to their proportion of their population will enhance productivity. The study, which is under review at the American Economic Journal, concludes that the United States will need “indefinite” affirmative action. 

It’s an example of the new justifications created by liberal academics to ensure affirmative action can maintain its place in American society even as the United States moves towards becoming a majority-minority country and African Americans are separated by more generations from the legalized discrimination of Jim Crow.

The scholars, Aniko Öry of Yale University and Michéle Müller-Itten of the University of Notre Dame, justify their argument for minority overrepresentation with game theory economics. Their idiosyncratic explanation has all the marks of people looking to prove a preconceived ideological notion. 

Öry and Müller-Itten created theoretical calculations regarding mentorship to justify affirmative action. In their purely mathematical equations, they randomly assigned mentors to college students who will have an enormous impact on the students’ future career success. A student who is randomly assigned a mentor of his or her same race gains an advantage in the workforce. A student who is assigned a mentor of a different race gains no advantage. Based on Öry and Müller-Itten’s assumptions, a student of a majority race is more likely to be randomly assigned to a mentor of their same race. Thus, they conclude, over time a minority race is destined to lose its proportion in the workforce. 

The authors take for granted the theory that more racial diversity will necessarily lead to greater work productivity and conclude we will always need minorities overrepresented in the workforce in order to maintain that productivity.

Of course, this study can easily be judged as terribly flawed by the glaring gaps between the real world and Öry and Müller-Itten’s fictional world. In the real world, the lack of a mentor, one mentor, or many mentors may or may not have an impact on a student’s future career. A mentor of a different race can be more or less helpful than a mentor of the same race. And students are free to select if they would like to work with a mentor of their own race or a different race. 

Moreover, the study oversimplifies the hiring process to mentorship, which is just one small aspect of a path to success in the workplace.

The professors confess that their proscription of overrepresenting racial minorities in the workplace would not be a “fair” outcome. “Our argument,” they say, “is qualitatively different from one motivated by fairness, whose objective is ‘equal opportunity for equal talent’ regardless of group membership.”

Their model would require racial engineering of the United States workforce that, for example, could ensure white non-Hispanics take up 50 percent of the workforce instead of 60 percent, which is their current share of the United States population. According to Öry and Müller-Itten, forcing white people out of jobs is totally justified because a workforce should have a disproportionate amount of minority races. 

Öry and Müller-Itten acknowledge that if the purpose of affirmative action is to remedy historical injustices, it “should render itself obsolete in a relatively short amount of time” because, as more generations are separated from Jim Crow and slavery, that justification will soon no longer be necessary. But Öry and Müller-Itten want affirmative action to continue even in the absence of discrimination, so they are driven to create an explanation to continue race-preferential policies that relies on productivity rather than discrimination. (Others would surely take a different approach, and argue for the continuation of affirmative action by moving the goalposts of discrimination towards individual actions.)

Öry and Müller-Itten’s justification for affirmative action shows that the policy has become more about engineering preferred racial quotas than correcting past injustices. It’s become a game of selecting people based on an uncontrollable trait, their race, to form a student body or workforce that matches the racial demographics an administration believes will most advantage their organization. It has turned into an ugly policy that reduces people’s humanity down to the genetic characteristics of their racial group for the sake of envisioned productivity and prestige.

The U.S. Department of Justice argued as much in its amicus brief in the ongoing case Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, a lawsuit claiming Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process. 

The amicus brief says, “Harvard meticulously tracks and shapes the racial makeup of its emerging incoming class throughout the process, continuously comparing the new class’s racial composition with that of the previous year. This overt engineering of racial stasis bears no resemblance to the flexible, non-mechanical ‘plus’ factor that the Supreme Court’s cases to date have permitted.”

The Justice Department argued that the district court’s previous ruling in favor of Harvard risks “enshrining a permanent justification for racial preferences,” which “would offend fundamental equal protection principles.”

Öry and Müller-Itten’s study is flawed and idiosyncratic, but it reveals the racial engineering which motivates affirmative action policies today. These policies have strayed from their perhaps well-intentioned origins of aiding those who were disadvantaged to become the intentional formulation of a society made up of racial proportions policy-makers believe is ideal.  

The racial engineering advocated by Öry and Müller-Itten is present in many college admissions processes today, but it is also gaining steam elsewhere. In California, lawmakers are attempting to remove the anti-discrimination clause from their constitution, which prohibits the consideration of race in employment, contracting, and public education, on the grounds that it “perpetuates inequality for women and people of color.”

Affirmative action opened the door to legally selecting people based on their race, and now racial discrimination is becoming the ideal. 

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Author: Ellie Gardey

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