Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Hornet's Nest...Shaken Not Stirred...

The above is a link to the NY Times Online Edition, which requires registration, but which is free and worth it. It points to an article about what looks like it could be the beginning of the end of race and sex based scholarships at universities here in the US.

This is obviously a huge and gnarled topic, but I do wonder about a few points in particular. Back when I was in high school, considering college at Bedrock University, my guidance counselor-when not hammering home the fact I was not college material-was constantly pushing this big book in my face; a thick tome full of perhaps tens of thousands of financial aid grants and programs. The idea was that if you kept at it long enough, you would find, among all the hyper-specific criteria, the specific grant or grants that was set aside for you, a half-Inuit single mother of two blind girls from the Greater East Texas area. If these broad race and gender-based programs are struck down, what happens to these more finicky options? Do they go away? That doesn't seem right.

If I am a rich person, don't I have the right to start any damn scholarship I want?

Now that I think of it, perhaps that is the case, and perhaps some of these programs at places like Michigan University will have to be farmed out to off-campus organizations. Boy, I hate it when I talk myself into needing to reread the article!

This does bring up a view I should come clean on. I'm not a huge fan of race-based affirmative action. I just haven't heard the argument yet that has convinced me that a need-based system could not be set up that does the same thing in a color-blind fashion. If you believe that different races in this country have had different levels of opportunity, which I certainly hope 99% of people here acknowledge, then certainly it stands to reason that those with the least amount of opportunity will at this point in our history have the greatest amount of need. So a need-based system should scoop up a disproportionate amount of those from those races. (Ach! Just using that word is ridiculous in itself! In a hundred years we will be laughed at by school children as the last few generations who didn't understand genetics well enough to realize "race" was an illusion.)
Strip away all the data besides grades, activities, income, etc. Why should a college admissions board need to know the names or neighborhoods of student hopefuls? There are some interesting ideas in the story, like giving people points for being the first person in their family to go to college. That's a great idea, I think, if you want to round out the student body with different folks.

Economic diversity will bring with it racial diversity, in my mind...and now for the part where I go off the deep end...is it just possible that as long as the large percentage of people in this country who are struggling to make it day to day, week to week are pitted against each other over race, it makes it easier for the tiny percentage of people in this country who run everything to unite over cash?

(Edited to say that of course, I went out to see a friend's film last night and speaking about this subject, heard a couple really good arguments for race-over-need based scholarships.)


  1. Very interesting article. I could tell by your typos that you had a lot of thoughts just busting to get out in writing.

    So, here's what I think: Orphans deserve a free ride--allow them a scholarship, fellowship, a "free education for three years" program. Single, Eskimo mothers of two deserve a low interest student loan; African-American males in Detroit with the potential to become gang bangers but decide they'd rather "stick it to the man" legally deserve low interest loans; an Anglo-Saxon girl from a family living just above poverty level in Orange County, CA deserves a low interest loan; nothing fancy, just something easliy paid off from the annual salaries they'll earn after they "better" themselves through education.

    And yes, rich people can create any scholarship they want, it's their money to do with as they will. If they wish to set up a scholarship for cleft palate sufferers, they will; and there's always going to be someone afflicted clamoring to take advantage of that scholarship. It's the American way.

    Race will always be an issue, there's too much diversity for it not to be, but I agree that it shouldn't be the determining factor in whether or not someone gets a free education. And the same goes for gender. I don't have a realistic suggestion on what should be the determining factors for assisted education, but I think intelligence and perserverance should be more important than pigment or ovaries.

  2. Oy, what a mess, but in a way it shows progress. I think these specific programs had their place and served their purpose, and I would hope that the challenges and reconfigurations would mean that the original purpose is no longer necessary in this day and age. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that may be an over-optimistic view. I think you could look at these minority-based judgments as a check and balance on a system that could easily have been abused, and probably very often was abused by the powers-that-be, a group that was (is?) inherently untrustworthy, no? Very cynical, I know. Have we, as a country, made enough progress in eradicating bigotry to trust the powers-that-be to be fair and color and gender blind? I don't know the definitive answer to that, does anyone? I'd like to think that we have, but am I willing to bet a minority individual's future on it? This is why I'm no politician.

    Anyway, in an ideal world, skin color and body parts would have no bearing on perceptions of competence. But I do live in the real world, and it is far from ideal. I'm afraid it may be premature and overly-optimistic to take these minority grants away now.

  3. Very well-thought out comments, Don. I'm in the process of applying to PhD programs myself and had just read this NY Times article when I stumbled upon your post. I think the main thing missing in those programs, which you touched upon, is this: class. It's our nation's generally untalked-about dirty little secret.

    We have a fairly rigid class system, whether we're willing to talk about it or not. Many would say that the much-romanticized Horatio Algers ideal is a myth, and that it only feeds capitalism (and our nation's ever-rising level of individual debt).

    And in any case, how do you quantify discrimination based on race? Or on class, for that matter? We seem to be a people who want to measure and moderate everything, but race and class issues (especially where money is involved) are simply not that easy to pin down.

  4. There is a new book out called Strapped: Why 20 and 30 Somethings Can't Get By. I read it a couple weeks ago...well most of it. I forget the author. It touches on something closely related to this.

  5. Anonymous10:31 AM EST

    I sat down here yesterday and read your blog, and started to type. But in doing so, after I finished-don't ask me how or why, perhaps cause I was rushing, I erased everything I wrote. And yet here I am again and I finally read the article and my opinion has not yet changed. I feel this is a touchy subject and I can see both points of view but my view however, leans to having race-based actions are still needed to this day. Unfortunately racism-sexism or any other -isms are still very real in today's society.Until you can prove that society has "grown=up" to a point where they will not judge a person simply based on race/sex/or any other discrimination form, I cannot yet see them taking what is necessarry. I have been discriminated as such and when you say people have united over cash-it is no secret the rich run the country but there needs to be checks and balances for them. I could go on but perhaps I will write more within my blog. until then ta-ta for now.