Monday, April 17, 2006

The Daily: Affirmative Action for Male Students

So it now appears that the absolute worst subgroup to be if one wants to apply for a place in University is to be a middle-class, female, Asian-American from a private school?

This is one of those issues I really hate to deal with in debates because it revolves what is essentially a very empty concept of a supposedly substantive word, "Equality". Without going into the philosophical discussion of why it is empty (essentially it doesn't add to our understanding and rapidly becomes tautological), perhaps the simplest way I have seen put it across to me is this. Every argument made on the basis of equality can be countered on the basis of equality.

At its heart one can more or less divide equality into two different subcategories i.e. equality of outcome (egalitarianism?) and procedural equality.

But even then, when one talks about procedural equality, one inevitably has to come with the stark problem of Affirmative Action. At its heart, it is a form of discrimination, but it is a legitimate form of discrimination (putting aside for now the problems of implimentation and criteria) on a principled level? I think most of us if given the appropriate context will probably agree that it is. The clearest example would be that of post-Apartheid South Africa where a mechanical application of the rules would see the continued dominance of the privilleged class over the rest by virtue of their prior eminence and dominance. So Affirmative Action CAN in a manner of speaking equalize the playing field.

But as should be apparent to any observent reader, this does not address the issue of what the outcome is suppose to be. Basically, is it/can it be said to be presumptive true that ceteris peribus there would then be an equality of outcome? While acknowledging that Asian-Americans and Asians in general never suffered the sort of direct discrimination that the African-Americans did, at the same time, they are a much more substantial minority, relatively new migrants and generally did not possess either a felicity with English nor the same sort of prior establishment that earlier migrants could claim to have. But despite that, Asians are so overrepresented and have dominated University campuses to such a degree that Universities are beginning to discriminate against them in applications.

But let's put away race because of its very complications and focus primarily on gender instead because at least there are a lot less genders to have to actively consider. I'm not really sure about transgendered applicants but as far as I'm aware it's not been raised as an issue.

So let's rephrase the issue: should schools be discriminating in favour of males despite worser grades? But then we hit a hitch, because the since genders are spread through socio-economic-political environments in almost equal and similar proportions throughout, the presumption underlying the University's form of AA MUST necessarily be that of the notion that diversity is good and that too many females is not good or not as good as it would be the case if there are a more proportionate balance.

I'm really of two minds over this. To put this into context, I think most Universities in this issue are generally keeping to a 60:40 female:male ratio. So while I generally believe that diversity is good but at the same time, I believe in meritocracy. And I personally think that at some time I will probably think that the environment of the University is so irrevocably changed by the skewed gender ratio that I probably will agree with such a policy.

Where that magical ratio is however, I have no idea. But then again, I enjoyed my two years in JC under the Humanz Programme which had a gender ratio of 75:25 female:male. But I wouldn't have minded more male classmates I suppose.



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