Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles JUSTICE with Michael Sandel Arguing Affirmative Action Last time, we were discussing the distinction, that Rawls draws between two different types of claims. Claims of moral desert on the one hand, and of entitlement to legitimate expectations on the other. Rawls argued that it's a mistake to think that distributive justice is a matter of moral desert. A matter of rewarding people according to their virtue. Today we're going to explore that question of moral desert and its relation to distributive justice. Not in connection with incoming wealth, but in its connection with opportunities. With hiring decisions and admission standards. And so we turn to the case, of affirmative action. You read about the case of Cheryl Hopwood. She applied for admission to the University of Texas Law School. Cheryl Hopwood had worked her way through high school, she didn't come from an affluent family, she put herself through community college, and California State University at Sacramento. She achieved a 3.8 grade point average there, later moved to Texas, became a resident, took the law school admissions test, did pretty well on that, and she applied to the University of Texas Law School. She was turned down. She was turned down at a time when the University of Texas, was using an affirmative action admissions policy. A policy that took into account, race and ethnic background. The University of Texas said, "40 percent of the population of Texas is made up of African Americans and Mexican Americans. It's important that we, as a law school, have a diverse student body. And so we are going to take into account, not only grades and test scores, but also the demographic makeup of our class including, its race and ethnic profile." The result, and this is what Hopwood complained about, the result of that policy, is that some applicants to the University of Texas Law School, with a lower academic index, which includes grades and test scores, than hers, were admitted. And she was turned down. She said, she argued, "I'm just being turned down because I'm white. If I weren't, if I were a member of a minority group, with my grades and test scores I would had been admitted." And the statistics, the admissions statistics that came out in the trial, confirmed that African American and Mexican American applicants that year, who had, her grades and test scores, were admitted. It went to Federal Court. Now, put aside the law, let's consider it from the standpoint of justice and morality. Is it fair, or it unfair? Does Cheryl Hopwood have a case? A legitimate complaint? Were her rights violated, by the admissions policy of the law school? How many say, how many would rule for the law school, and say that it was just to consider race and ethnicity as a factor in admissions? How many would rule for Cheryl Hopwood and say "her rights were violated?" So here we have a pretty even split. Alright, now I want to hear from a defender of Cheryl Hopwood. Yes? You're basing something that's an arbitrary factor, you know, Cheryl couldn't control the fact that she was white, or not in a minority. And therefore, you know, it's not as if it was like a test score that she worked hard to try and show that she could, you know, put that out there, you know, that she had no control over her race. Good. And what're your name? - Bree. Okay. Bree, stay right there. Now let's find someone who has an answer for Bree. Yes? - There are discrepancies in the educational system. And the majority of the time, I know this in New York City, the schools that minorities go to, are not as well-funded, are not as well-supplied, as white schools. And so there is going to be a discrepancy, naturally, between minorities and between whites. If they go to better schools. And they will not do as well on exams because they haven't had as much help. Because of the worst school systems. Let me just interrupt you to, tell me your name? Aneesha. - Aneesha. Aneesha, you're pointing out that minority kids may have gone in some cases to schools that didn't give them the same educational opportunity as kids from affluent families. - Yes. And so the test scores they got, may actually not represent their true potential. Because they didn't receive the same kind of help that they might have received had they gone to a school with better funding. Good, alright. Aneesha has raised the point that colleges still should choose for the greatest academic scholarly promise but in reading the test scores and grades, they should take into account the different meaning those tests and grades have, in the light of educational disadvantage in the background. So that's one argument in defense of affirmative action, Aneesha's argument. Correcting for the effects of unequal preparation. Educational disadvantage. Now, there are other arguments. Suppose, just to identify whether there is a competing principle here. Suppose there are two candidates, who did equally well on the tests and grades. Both of whom went to first rate schools. Two candidates, among those candidates, would it be unfair for the college or university, for Harvard, to say, "we still want diversity along racial and ethnic dimensions, even where we are not correcting for the effects on test scores of educational disadvantage." What about in that case, Bree? If it's that's one thing that puts, you know someone over the edge, then it's, I guess that would be, you know, justifiable. If everything else about the individual first, though, everything to consider about that person's you know, talents, and where they come from, and who they are without these arbitrary factors, is the same. Without these 'arbitrary factors', you call them. But before you were suggesting, Bree, that race and ethnicity are arbitrary factors outside the control of the applicants. - True, I would agree with that. And your general principle is that admissions shouldn't reward arbitrary factors, over which people have no control. - Right. Alright. Who else, who else would like to, thank you both. Who else would like to get into this, what do you say? Well, first of all, I'm for affirmative action temporarily, but, for two reasons. First of all, you have to look at the university's purpose. It is to educate their students. And I feel that different races, people coming from different races have different backgrounds and they contribute differently to the education. And second of all, when you say that they have equal backgrounds, that's not true when you look at the broader picture, and you look at slavery and this is kind of a reparation. I think affirmative action is a temporary solution to alleviate history, and the wrongs done to African Americans in particular. And what's your name? David. - David. You say that affirmative action is justified at least for now as a way of compensating for past injustice. The legacy of slavery and segregation. - Right. Who wants to take on that argument? We need now a critic of affirmative action. Yes, go ahead. I think that what happened in the past has no bearing on what happens today. I think that discriminating based on race should always be wrong. Whether you're discriminating against one group or another. Just because our ancestors did something, doesn't mean that that should have any effect on what happens with us today. Alright, good. I'm sorry, your name is? - Kate. Kate. Alright, who has an answer for Kate? Yes. - I just wanted to comment and say that, - Tell us your name. My name is Mansur. Because of slavery, because of past injustices today, we have a higher proportion of African Americans who are in poverty, who face less opportunities than white people. So because of slavery 200 years ago, and because of Jim Crow, and because of segregation, today we have injustice based on race. Kate? - I think that there are differences, obviously, but the way to fix those differences is not by some artificial fixing of the result. You need to fix the problem. So we need to address differences in education, and differences in upbringing with programs like Head Start, and giving more funding to lower income schools rather than just trying to fix the result, so it makes it look like it's equal when it's really it isn't. Yes. Well, with regard to affirmative action based on race, I just want to say that white people have had their own affirmative action in this country for more than 400 years. It's called 'nepotism' and 'quid pro quo'. So there's nothing wrong with correcting the injustice and discrimination that's been done to black people for 400 years. Good. Tell us your name. - Hannah. Hannah. Alright who has an answer for Hannah? And just to add to Hannah's point, because we need now someone to respond, Hannah, you could have also mentioned legacy admissions. Exactly. I was going to say, if you disagree with affirmative action, you should disagree with legacy admission because it's obvious from looking around here that there are more white legacies than black legacies in the history of Harvard University. And explain what legacy admissions are. Well, legacy admissions is giving an advantage to someone who has an arbitrary privilege of their parent having attended the university to which they're applying. Alright, so a reply for Hannah. Yes, in the balcony, go ahead. First of all, if affirmative action is making up for past injustice, how do you explain minorities that were not historically discriminated against in the United States who get these advantages? In addition, you could argue that affirmative action perpetuates divisions between the races rather than achieve the ultimate goal of race being an irrelevant factor in our society. And what, tell us your name. Danielle. - Hannah. I disagree with that because I think that by promoting diversity in an institution like this, you further educate all of the students, especially the white students who grew up in predominately white areas. It's certainly a form of education to be exposed to people from different backgrounds. And you put white students at an inherent disadvantage when you surround them only with their own kind. Why should race necessarily be equated with diversity? There are so many other forms, why should we assume that race makes people different? Again, that's perpetuating the idea of racial division within our universities and our society. - Hannah? With regard to African American people being given a special advantage, it's obvious that they bring something special to the table, because they have a unique perspective just as someone from a different religion or socio-economic background would, as well. As you say, there are many different types of diversity. There's no reason that racial diversity should be eliminated from that criteria. Yes, go ahead. Racial discrimination is illegal in this country, and I believe that it was African American leaders themselves, when Martin Luther King said he wanted to be judged not on the color of skin, but by the content of his character, his merit, his achievements. And I just think that, to decide solely based on someone's race is just inherently unfair. I mean, if you want to correct based on disadvantaged backgrounds, that's fine, but there are also disadvantaged white people as well. It shouldn't matter if you're white or black. - Tell us your name. Ted. - Ted, - Yes. - Think of Hopwood. It's unfair to count race or, I assume you would also say, ethnicity or religion? Yes. - Do you think she has a right to be considered according to her grades and test scores alone? No. There is more to it than that. Universities need to promote diversity. So you agree with the goal of promoting diversity? There's ways to promote diversity besides discriminating against people solely based on a factor they cannot control. Alright, so what makes it wrong, is that she can't control her race. She can't control the fact that she's white. That's the heart of the unfairness to her. Bree made a similar point. That basing admissions on factors that people can't control, is fundamentally unfair. What do you say?