According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, affirmative action is defined as “an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women” (Merriam-Webster). The intent of affirmative action seems to be a sound, ethical decision to allow minority groups the opportunities that otherwise would not be afforded to them such as acceptance to a prestigious university. It seems straightforward from the Utilitarian Approach when considering a large number of applicants that the most “good” that can be done includes giving the opportunity to attend university to those of a minority group, in this case, based on race. However, the education institutions that adopt these affirmative action policies may not be doing the most good and therefore may need to reconsider their decisions. At what point does the opportunity provided by affirmative action for one group become discriminatory practices for another making the policy unethical?
A case currently in the media is the lawsuit against Harvard University, where students are claiming that Harvard’s use of affirmative action discriminates against Asian-Americans. When utilizing the non-consequentialist theories, it’s apparent that the affirmative action policies may not be the most ethical decision in determining college acceptances. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination” (Benner). That perspective speaks directly to the duty approach. As an institution that receives public funds, Harvard should follow the law and not show prejudice in its acceptance policies and practices. This duty framework would allow for applicants of all races to receive equal consideration for acceptance based on their merit and performance in academia. The race component, by law, should not be used to determine who should and should not be accepted. The use of affirmative action, if found to be discriminatory would be against the law and unethical.
The Justice Department stated “Harvard has failed to carry its demanding burden to show that its use of race does not inflict unlawful discrimination on Asian-Americans” (Benner). Using the fairness or justice approach, those making the acceptance policies and decisions need to put themselves in the shoes of the applicants and consider that all applicants should have equal treatment when being considered for acceptance or rejection. The requirement for college acceptance should not differ because of the applicant’s race. Asian-American students who excel academically should not be held to higher standards and overlooked for African-American, Latino, or other groups; all applicants should be treated equal.
Bonde, S., Firenze, P., Green, J., Grinberg, M., Korijin, J., Levoy, E., Naik, A., Ucik, L., & Weisberg, L. (2013, May). A framework for making ethical decisions. Retrieved from http://www.brown.edu/academics/science-and-technology-studies/framework-making-ethical-decisions
Benner, K. (2018, August 30). Justice Dept. Backs Suit Accusing Harvard of Disciminating Against Asisan-American Applicants. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/30/us/politics/asian-students-affirmative-action-harvard.html
Affirmative Action [Def.1]. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster Online . In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/affirmative%20action