Why Labor Should Support Class-Based Affirmative Action
Richard D. Kahlenberg
In the press, debates over affirmative action in higher education pit liberals (who support taking race into account in admissions) and conservatives (who oppose it). But there is a third way on the issue—affirmative action based on class, rather than race—which is far more progressive than our current system of racial preferences. As the U.S. Supreme Court curtails the ability of universities to count skin color in admissions, the class-based approach is quickly gaining ground. This is a development that organized labor ought to cheer. ….
…. Some who oppose race-conscious affirmative action heartily agree that this country still suffers from the cumulative effects of discrimination and that universities benefit from diversity. In spite of this, they do not see the need for continued race-conscious policies, arguing that we can achieve racial diversity without such measures. However, we still need policies that consider race as one of many factors in the admissions process, or at minimum, the option to use them when needed. Thus, my focus in this piece is on why we specifically need the flexibility to consider race as one of numerous factors in the admissions process (alongside class and other relevant attributes) and less on the broad legal rationale for affirmative action (historic discrimination or the diversity defense). These reasons include the need to use race-conscious policies when race-neutral policies do not result in sufficient diversity, the need for diversity throughout a college campus, and the need for relative equal status among students. ….
Julie Park makes the argument that because race still matters in American society, racial preferences should continue to be employed by selective colleges and universities. Moreover, she shows particular concern about the plight of middle-class and more advantaged minority students who she worries will not benefit from class-based affirmative action. I disagree with both strands of her analysis. ….
In his piece, Richard D. Kahlenberg does a masterful job of demonstrating the emotional pull behind class-based affirmative action. Why wouldn’t anyone want to give low-income and working-class kids a leg up in the admissions race? I am in complete agreement with the need for class-based preferences in admissions. Still, I maintain my original position that universities need the additional option to consider race in combination with class and numerous other factors when they consider a candidate for admissions. ….