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Affirmative Action debates continue at the City Club

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent


Affirmative Action has sparked endless debates since the civil rights era and The City Club of Cleveland hosted another debate on April 1, 2008 between Ward Connerly, Chairman of American Civil Rights Institute, and Marvin Krislov, President of Oberlin College.


Connerly is a strong opponent of affirmative action and said using race as criteria is in fact discrimination. He is a prominent advocate working diligently to repeal affirmative action, especially in universities.


Connerly’s efforts swayed the state of California to pass Proposition 209, in 1996, to end preferential treatment based on race, gender, or national origin. “We are in a critical stage of refashioning a new approach to affirmative action, the old one hasn’t worked, we have had it for forty years,” Connerly said.


Krislov passionately supports affirmative action, saying it is a modest tool to insure equal opportunity is provided to those underrepresented, and is not an issue of race but also of gender. “The greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women,” he said.


Krislov said affirmative action provided a blue print for universities and college to recruit a diverse population and therefore provide a dynamic education and better opportunities. “Frankly I wish the City Club should be talking about what is perhaps most important, the pipeline issue,” he said.


Krislov cited recent studies that attest Cleveland has the third largest graduation gap between Metropolitan school districts and suburban schools in the country. The average graduation rate in Metropolitan districts is 43 percent compared to 78 percent of suburban school.


He said the real issues that should be debated are the educational inequities between districts and the segregated communities where people do not have access to opportunities or interaction with diverse point of views.


Connerly agreed the educational discrepancies between whites, blacks, and Asian kids are increasing and said the disadvantages begin the moment a child is born. “We were so concerned about integration that we have destroyed black neighborhoods, destroyed black schools, we do not provide the infrastructure, we do no provide equality of education for these kids because we are more concerned about a black kid sitting next to a white kid,” he said.


Connerly said he agrees with many parts of affirmative action that advocate equal opportunity and denounce discrimination but, “the race based era of affirmative action is coming to an end my friends,” he said.


Krislov said repealing affirmative action will have detrimental effects on society and noted as consequences of California Proposition 209 the representation of ethnic minorities plummeted in universities like Berkeley and has created a runabout system where scholarships can not be offered specifically to minorities.


Connerly responded that overall enrollment increased in all universities and scholarships were opened to everyone and didn’t give preference to a certain group over others.


Ward Connerly and Marvin Krislov

Krislov rejected that assessment saying it is simply reflective of California’s bulging ethnic population but representation of minorities in flagship universities like Berkeley and UCLA is consistently lower than it was in 1998.


“Let’s be clear that the California is not the future we want and it is not a future that makes a lot of sense if we are to achieve our American dream,” Krislov said.


Connerly said since preferences were eliminated, students are choosing to go to universities and region where they are economically competitive and not limited by where university administrators want them to go.


Connerly said the real problem is the academic gap and it can not be fixed with the stroke of a pen at the admission’s office.


“Get serious about closing the gap, and that means better outreach programs, it means reading to our kids at an early age to make sure they appreciate the learning process, can compete on their own,” he said. All these factors Connerly said are key to evolving a new approach to affirmative action.


Connerly stressed that diversity should not be limited just to race, but encompass intellect, talent, achievement, socioeconomic status, and interests.





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