Aaron (ajchandler) wrote in public_forum,

Affirmative Action and Descriptive Representation

Several days ago, whilst standing around talking after the [Seattle] AIDS Walk, I got into a discussion with a friend about descriptive representation. Apparently, his boss at his former job, who was a division director in the King County [in WA] Department of Community Services, had been hired (and recruited and helped in being hired by an otherwise very good and competent King County Councilmember, Larry Gossett) not because of her qualifications, but because she was black. She even admitted during the interview process and afterward that other people who were in the applicant pool were much better qualified for the position. Meanwhile, a friend of mine who's worked under this woman in the same department, was part of a hiring committee once. There were three people on the committee, and the applicants who were selected by all three people on the committee were to be called in for an interview automatically, and the committee would discuss the qualifications of those applicants (for whether they should be interviewed) who were selected by two of the three. Now, the director of this division wanted 10 people to be called in for an interview. By the time they were done getting people called in for an interview, the composition was thus: as far as gender balance, 8 were women, and 2 were men; regarding race, 4 were Asian-American, 3 were Latino/a, 1 was Native-American and 2 were Caucasian. However, there no black people represented and because of that, the director found out--and insisted on there being African-American representation. So, they scoured the qualifications (90 people applied), and they had to go through 50 better-qualified people before they got to one black applicant. My friend (who studied civil rights law for a while at Harvard Law School) was well aware of civil rights/employment law and statutes, and informed them that this was not affirmative action and, in fact, that it was illegal under the EEOA because it favored someone covered under the EEOA's affirmative action guidelines by actually displacing other people who were not only covered under EEOA AA guidelines, but were better-qualified.

In sum, I really support affirmative action, and think it's necessary to achieve equality and a culturally representative and diverse workplace and/or educational setting. But favoring people who's qualifications are far less than those of non-minorities isn't what supporters of affirmative action had in mind when they came up with the idea. Applicants should have APPROXIMATELY EQUAL qualifications for AA to work. If the practice of favoring undeserving and under-qualified applicants is continued, then it'll also provide fodder to right-wing types who accuse AA of unfairly fostering reverse discrimination. Finally, in sum, I'll repeat what President Clinton once said about what he wants to do with AA: "Mend it, but don't end it."
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