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Phoenix Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board Socrates Cafe Philosophy Discussion in Tempe Discussion Forum › Socrates Cafe Summary: Does America Need Affirmative Action?

Socrates Cafe Summary: Does America Need Affirmative Action?

David W.
Tempe, AZ
Fellow Philosophers -

My thanks to everyone who participated in Wednesday evening's meeting and gathered afterwards at Doc & Eddy's for drinks and socializing. A special thanks to Jason who moderated, which allowed me to participate. Below is a summary of the discussion. It's not a precise narrative but rather an organized description from my notes and impressions.

1. QUESTION: At the start of the meeting, each participant offered an initial answer to the question: "Does America Need Affirmative Action?" From the fourteen in attendance, seven said no, six said yes, and one was undecided. Those who answered no gave such reasons as: a) It promotes racism because it grants preferences to individuals based on their race. b) It's ineffective for university admissions because it admits unprepared students who eventually drop out. c) It's illegal because it discriminates based on race. Those who answered yes gave such reasons as: d) It fairly compensates those hurt by past discrimination. e) It grants equal opportunity to those hurt by current discrimination.

2. DEFINITIONS: Participants first tried to define affirmative action by listing the groups that should be granted preferences because they have suffered discrimination: a) Blacks. b) Minorities. c) "Protected Groups" under the law; like the elderly, disabled, religious, and homosexuals. Rather than debate who should benefit from affirmative action, the group agreed to accept the American Heritage Dictionary definition from "A policy or a program that seeks to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity, as in education and employment." In addition to redressing past discrimination, the group agreed to include policies and programs that address current discrimination.

America was defined as the United States of America. Need was defined as ethical obligation.

Given the above definitions, the question "Does America Need Affirmative Action?" was understood to mean "Does the United States of America have an ethical obligation to implement policies and programs that redress past and current discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity in education and employment?"

3. ASSUMPTIONS: Participants debated some of the judgments made in the initial answers above, that affirmative action was ineffective, illegal, and racist.

Regarding the assertion that affirmative action programs are ineffective, one participant who was an army officer recounted that when he began his career in the 1950's, blacks were not promoted because of bigotry. But after President Kennedy's executive order in 1961 that required federal agencies and contractors take affirmative actions to eliminate discrimination, opportunities opened up and today the army is an equal opportunity employer.

By contrast, another participant gave the example where billions of dollars were wasted and months of delays experienced in the construction of Dallas International Airport because of the requirement to hire minority owned enterprises (MBEs) and female owned enterprises (WBEs). Though no one was familiar with that story, the participant insisted it was true because she had found it on the internet.

In addition to the above "fact" about affirmative action, the following other assumptions were stated by participants: a) Black applicants to law schools are given an additional 300 points on their LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). b) The "Four-Fifths Rule" to identify workplace discrimination is a quota. c) Only 33% of blacks graduate from high school.

The prior assertions raised an unstated assumption: Can you have a philosophical discussion when the facts are unknown? Unfortunately, as is the norm for Socrates Cafe discussions, most of the participants came to this meeting without researching the topic, which resulted in much confusion and dissatisfaction as debates led nowhere because of disagreement on the facts. This is why the organizer of the group chooses topics in advance, links to preparation material, and moderates a structured discussion that requires definitions and assumptions be clarified before debating what is good, right, fair, or best.

The organizer requested that those who submitted the above facts email him their sources. Here are his findings: d) There were no construction delays at Dallas airport due to affirmative action programs. The 1994 article "A Quota by Any Other Name: The Cost of Affirmative Action Programs In the Construction of DIA" blames affirmative action for the problem-plagued automated baggage handling system that delayed the opening of the Denver International Airport. The baggage system was finally shut down in 2005 because it didn't work. e) No source could be found that being black adds 300 points to the LSAT. Feel free to read through this current discussion that couldn't find proof that being black is worth 20 points on LSAT? f) The participant who claimed the "Four-Fifths Rule" was a quota clarified his assertion on the comments section after the meeting and agreed it is not a quota. g) The assertion that 33% of blacks don't graduate high school only referred to black males in New York City.

The proven facts about affirmative action programs are: g) In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, (1978) the U.S. Supreme Court declared that quotas in college admissions were unconstitutional but allowed affirmative action programs like Harvard's, which look at more than just test scores in rating candidates. h) In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, (1995) the U.S. Supreme Court declared that all racial classifications imposed by federal, state, or local government must be analyzed by a reviewing court under a standard of "strict scrutiny," which means that it must be the least restrictive means to accomplish a compelling governmental interest. i) The University of Michigan grants 20 points to underrepresented minorities in undergraduate admissions. By contrast, 80 points are given for a 4.0 GPA and 10 points are given to residents of Michigan.

4. OBJECTIVES: The group debated which of the five ethical approaches discussed in every meeting of our Socrates Cafe was best suited for evaluating the question "Does America Need Affirmative Action?" As usual, arguments were made in favor of considering all of them: Utilitarian, Rights, Fairness/Justice, Common Good, Virtue. For details on the approaches read "A Framework for Thinking Ethically" at­

In addition to considering the ethics when evaluating affirmative action programs, one participant suggested that the group consider President Clinton's 1995 executive directive, which declared that any federal affirmative action program must be eliminated or reformed if it: (a) creates a quota; (b) creates preferences for unqualified individuals; (c) creates reverse discrimination; or (d) continues even after its equal opportunity purposes have been achieved.

5. OPTIONS: The options for answering "Does America Need Affirmative Action?" were yes, no, or it depends on what you mean by affirmative action. Despite his best efforts, one participant could not get the group to agree that affirmative action can be other than race-based preferences in employment and education. In support of his argument, he proposed the non-racial affirmative action options from the National Urban League’s latest annual State of Black America report : a) Universal Early Childhood Education. b) Greater Experimentation with All-Male Schools, Longer School Days and Mentoring c) More Second Chance Programs for High School Drop-Outs, Ex-Offenders. d) Restore The Federal Summer Jobs Program to Its Previous State. e) Drive Home the Message That Education Pays Dividends in the Long Run.

6. COST BENEFIT: The group strongly favored early childhood education programs to address the socio-economic problems of minorities. It was agreed that early education would be more effective than "holistic admission programs" to increase minority representation in colleges and professional schools.

7. ANSWER: At the end of the meeting, participants gave their final answers to "Does the United States of America have an ethical obligation to implement policies and programs that redress past and current discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity in education and employment?" Except for a few participants, all were against race-based preferences in hiring and admissions but everyone was in favor of early childhood education.

You can post your comments to this discussion on the Message Board under the topic "Socrates Cafe Summary: Does America Need Affirmative Action?" at http://philosophy.mee...­ You can also suggest a question for a future meeting by posting it on the message board under the topic "What Question Should We Discuss?"

The question for the next meeting on Wednesday, March 11th, will be "Was the American Civil War Justified?" You can read an event description below my signature and RSVP here http://philosophy.mee...­

Hope to see you there.


Was the American Civil War Justified? - March 11th
At a recent event commemorating the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, President Obama upheld Lincoln's commitment in keeping the country together as an inspiration for us today as we strive for unity over partisanship. While President Lincoln is admired by most for his decisions to free the slaves and resist the declaration of independence by the Southern states, was it worth an estimated 620,000 lives from a population of 32 million, which would be the equivalent today of close to 6 million dead?

At the next Socrates Cafe, we will discuss the question, "Was the American Civil War Justified?" Why was it acceptable for the American colonies to declare independence but not the Southern states? Was war necessary to free the slaves? What would America look like today if the states hadn't fought? To prepare for the meeting, read the Wikipedia entry on Origins of the American Civil War at http://en.wikipedia.o...­ and "A Jeffersonian View of the Civil War" by Donald W. Miller, Jr. at http://www.lewrockwel...­

Only 25 people can attend. RSVP now at http://philosophy.mee...­
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