What Is Affirmative Action?

Podcast of the Day

In a series of public events, recorded at the London School of Economics, Michael Sandel brings his trademark style to a discussion on a current issue. This week, he delves into the thorny issue of access to universities. "Should students from poor backgrounds be given priority in admissions?" he asks. He demands a show of hands. The brave ones volunteer to explain the thinking behind their views.

The audience is swept along. "Who decides if you're from a poor background...what does that mean to come from a poor background? The way our system works right now is fair because we're just numbers" says Georgia, arguing that academic results are all that matter.

Fazal's view, reflecting his experience of American universities, is very different. "On one piece of paper you're writing down your experiences, your grades. On the other you're writing down your financial background...how much money you can potentially pay".

Throughout, Michael Sandel acts as referee, thinker and devil's advocate.

Listen to the The Public Philosopher episode: Should universities give preference to applicants from poor backgrounds

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Short Article of the Day

These policies may go by many names – affirmative action, reservations, alternative access, positive discrimination – but all are efforts to increase the numbers of underrepresented students in higher education.

A wide variety of institutions and governments on six continents have programs to expand admissions of non-dominant groups of students on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, class, geography, or type of high school. Several use a combination of these categories.

In fact, the United States’ affirmative action policies in higher education are not the oldest: India’s policies for lower caste students take that prize. But given that US policies are older than most, much of the cutting edge thinking on the topic is now coming from other parts of the world...

Continue reading Moses and Jenkins' article: Affirmative action should be viewed in a global context

Further Reading

“Affirmative action” means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and culture from which they have been historically excluded. When those steps involve preferential selection—selection on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity—affirmative action generates intense controversy.

The development, defense, and contestation of preferential affirmative action has proceeded along two paths. One has been legal and administrative as courts, legislatures, and executive departments of government have made and applied rules requiring affirmative action. The other has been the path of public debate, where the practice of preferential treatment has spawned a vast literature, pro and con. Often enough, the two paths have failed to make adequate contact, with the public quarrels not always very securely anchored in any existing legal basis or practice...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Affirmative Action by Robert Fullinwider

Related Topics

 Equality | Feminism | Freedom | Justice | Political Philosophy | Power | Sociology

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