Goals & Quotas
To the Editor:
James Nuechterlein’s “A Farewell to Civil Rights” [August] is an excellent article. I have only one negative comment. In describing how affirmative action was an innocent enough concept that went awry, Mr. Nuechterlein says:
No one could reasonably object to efforts to seek out qualified members of minority groups for educational or occupational advancement, and it was not wrong to offer special training or remedial opportunities to disadvantaged minorities to improve their levels of qualification.
I would have less of a problem with this statement if “minority” referred to economically disadvantaged persons regardless of race, nationality, or surname. But I believe that any policy which in seeking, promoting, training, etc. gives preference to one racial minority over others is an immoral policy which is inconsistent with Mr. Nuechterlein’s subsequent statement:
[The] belief that advancement in our society should come according to individual effort and skill without regard to attributes of ancestry, class, or religion stands at the very heart of the American idea. . . .
During its early years, the affirmative-action program was described as having “goals” regarding minority hiring and promotion, but not “quotas,” which were acknowledged to be discriminatory. Goals, the logic went, were numerical objectives that did not have to be met; quotas did. In the real world, however, this distinction could only be theoretical, and, in fact, the word goal was soon dropped and replaced by the term quota.
Another element of the philosophy of affirmative action, and one that is fundamental to it, is the idea that as long as the basic job requirements are met, the choice should go to a member of a minority. Whatever happened to the concept of finding the best person for the job, not just the one meeting the minimal standards? Surely we should attempt to hire and promote the very best people we can find, regardless of race or nationality. . . .
L. M. Slavin
Rockaway, New Jersey
James Nuechterlein writes:
I agree entirely with L. M. Slavin’s argument that access to education or occupation should be based on standards of competence that disregard matters of race or ethnicity. I also agree that the differentiation between goals and quotas in such matters has, in practice, often amounted to a distinction without a difference. But I see nothing wrong if, for example, a city police or fire department, without lowering its standards of acceptance, makes particular efforts to recruit in minority neighborhoods, or if a university offers remedial pre-matriculation programs especially directed at prospective minority students who are otherwise qualified for entrance but who have been victims of inferior high-school education. In other words, while racial discrimination or exclusion is always wrong, a racial awareness that takes account of the special problems or disabilities of certain minority groups is not necessarily so.