Thursday, July 7, 2011

Vs. Affirmative Action

Because as an academic I am regularly and predictably involved in the recommending, hiring, promoting and tenuring of other faculty members, and because as an academic I also play an active role in the recruitment and admission of prospective students, I cannot avoid the issue of affirmative action, by which I mean the selection or rejection of faculty members or students on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity, for whatever good or bad purpose it might be imposed.  Furthermore, because as an academic I am honor-bound to conduct all my professional duties in the highest and most effective manner possible and to treat all persons justly, I reject affirmative action as an institutional hiring or admission policy.
I reject affirmative action because it is unjust both to students and to prospective faculty members.  As an academic, I must never steal value from my students' tuition dollar, a theft that inevitably results if I help place before them anyone other than the very best professors available.  The very best professors available are not those whose race, gender, or ethnic background most closely match those of the student body.  The very best professors available are those who, better than their academic competitors, master their respective disciplines, who communicate that mastery effectively to students in the classroom, and who embody the distinguishing marks of professionalism and humanity both inside the classroom and out, marks such as honesty, accuracy, geniality, determination, humor, courage, compassion, virtue and excellence.  These traits of professional character and expertise are the marks not of any particular race, gender, or ethnic group, but of our common, human moral and intellectual capacity.  They must be acquired and embodied by professors regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual preference, and they must be learned by students on that same universal basis.  All professors ought to exhibit these virtues and habits of mind; all students ought to acquire them.  In so far as they are able to acquire them but do not, professors and students fail as human beings -- not simply as blacks, whites, browns, or yellows; not merely as males or females; and not merely as young or old, ancient or modern, Eastern or Western.  These virtues are human virtues; they are not gender-, race- or nation-based.  They can be learned by persons of all sorts, from persons of all sorts, in conditions of all sorts.  
         Put differently, young white males can learn the various academic disciplines -- and the personal virtues and habits of mind needed to acquire those disciplines -- from old black women; modern Asian girls can learn them from dead, white, European males; short persons can learn them from the tall, athletic persons from the bed-ridden, the old from the young, the living from the dead, the married from the unmarried, the gay from the straight, and the attentive and determined from almost anyone.  Thus, when I am called upon to help select either students or professors for admission to the academy, I look for teachability from the one and for the ability to teach from the other.  I do not look for gender, race, age, or ethnicity.  To do less or to do otherwise is to do evil.
         To make the point from a different angle, when we admit students for reasons other than their demonstrated ability and willingness to learn, we admit students more likely to fail and thus to waste their limited time, money, effort and good will in predictably fruitless endeavor.  To admit students more likely to fail does them and their sponsors (whether parents or taxpayers) significant disservice.  When we academic professionals admit underqualified students to the academy, those students are falsely persuaded that they can accomplish the plethora of difficult tasks set before them when their actual academic achievements say they cannot.  As a result, those students often spend many thousands of their own or taxpayer dollars on a mission quite likely to fail.  Our well-intentioned but misguided institutional decisions helped drawn them into this impoverishing and embarrassing debacle.  Such well-intentioned but misguided admissions decisions encourage weak students to misinvest their money -- indeed to waste their money -- usually money difficult to acquire and probably better used for other purposes.  I must never consent to such ill-usage of other persons and of their limited resources, no matter how highly I regard my political or academic intentions. 

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