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Affirmative action – its history and relevance today

Mike McGee | 6/9/2019, 12:11 a.m.
“I believe that this is one of those very difficult topics we need to take on in this series,” Jim ...

“That’s the thing of the merchant using lighter stones. What began as racial preferences has become racial bias. Admissions officers at Harvard have begun to use stereotypes of Asian American personalities. They rated them less likable, less courageous and less kind – all of these things have come out in the Harvard lawsuit,” indicating that all non-White students are not looked upon equally in a system intended to advance equitable treatment toward minority students.

Dr. Richard Anthony Baker, assistant vice chancellor, vice president, and chief diversity officer at the University of Houston, and president of the board of directors at the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, shared his thoughts on how race and merit coexist in the affirmative action concept when it comes to jobs.

“When you look at merit, most people focus on test scores,” he offered, using the LSAT and GRE as examples. “And if you received less points than this other person, that you were more qualified, and I think that’s the flaw.

“So I think merit does matter, and I kind of look at affirmative action this way, at least as it relates to employment. We’ve decided to open up a position, and I am looking for diverse candidates.” Baker would then consider the representation within his company, study the firm’s affirmative action plan for the year, and begin recruiting while being mindful of possible barriers to employment.

“So I say, ‘Listen – we’re having a race on Tuesday. We would love for you to apply.’ [He] shows up on Tuesday. The race begins. Starter pistol goes off. The person who finished the race as the most qualified person for the position, and that’s how we make the decision, right? The question is, how do you determine whom wins the race?”

Baker stated that many people tend to focus on the “score” when considering people for school admissions or hiring for a job positions, however, there are other factors that should be considered, as well.

“So, in Texas, you have the top 10% rule, where basically we’re saying regardless of where you graduate from, 75% of the first we admit in our class will be in the top 10% of whatever school they graduated from.

“And I think that’s really important because we’re saying in the community that you came from you were in the top 10%. … That’s a race-neutral way of making that decision, but we understand that we still have segregated communities, and that’s why this is an important topic.”

While the debate in the courts and in private continues, the full video of the civil discourse panel discussion is now available online on the museum’s Facebook page.