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September 4, 2008
Let’s hope that as debate inevitably quickens over the proposed anti-affirmative action amendment to the Nebraska constitution, that debate can be kept at a non-emotional level which includes pertinent facts and reasoned opinions.
Unfortunately, some defenders of the status quo rarely acknowledge one pertinent fact; i.e., part of the motivation comes from University of Nebraska-Lincoln male faculty members who believe that minorities and women are sometimes given unjustified preference over more qualified white males in faculty promotions.
We have heard a great deal from defenders of the status quo to the effect that the proposed constitutional amendment would prevent state collegiate institutions from offering special help to disadvantaged minority students and some charges about the way petitions were circulated to put the issue on the November ballot.
Overlooked, it seems to me, is this obvious possibility: Continue to offer special programs to disadvantaged students, but throw those programs open to any disadvantaged student. Do university administrators seriously contend that there are no disadvantaged white high school graduates who might benefit from the worthy concept of help to disadvantaged prospective students?
As to preferential treatment of blacks and women in hiring and faculty promotions, the answer has been that the Legislature has mandated this. Well, what the Legislature has mandated can be unmandated, and faculty hiring and promotion can be based on merit, as I would think the very great majority of Nebraskans would consider to be the fairest way. This could still allow programs to bring black and female applicants for hiring and promotion up to the level of ability that would make them fairly competitive for faculty jobs and promotions.
One would hope, of course, that we will hear no more such nonsense as that from an affirmative action supporter who told a radio interviewer that banning affirmative action programs “will cut out breast cancer screening for women.”
Incidentally, the issue has been put to the voters in California, Washington and Michigan— and has received voter approval in each state.
The argument is made that because the petition proposition is largely financed through the efforts of Californian Ward Connerly and like-minded individuals living in other states, it is therefore somehow ethically unacceptable for a place on the Nebraska November ballot. The answering argument might well be that if Nebraska voters—like those in California, Washington and Michigan—think there are fairer ways to advance the cause of certain minorities and women than by discriminating against others, those fairer ways should be pursued.
Connerly is black and a former regent of the University of California system. He saw firsthand the results of affirmative action programs in what he considered to be discrimination against better-qualified students seeking admission to state collegiate institutions.
I believe that if the anti-discrimination amendment is approved by the voters, ways can be found to continue giving special help to disadvantaged students—all disadvantaged students—if we concentrate as much attention on that worthy objective as is being concentrated on trying to keep the people of Nebraska from voting on the issue.
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Incidentally, as we consider the matter of discrimination in favor of this group as against that group, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletic program comes to mind:
Sixty-one Nebraska high schools offer soccer programs for girl students and 61 Nebraska high schools offer soccer programs for boys. Thirty-eight Nebraska high schools offer swimming programs for girls and 36 offer swimming programs for boys.
At the University of Nebraska Lincoln, there are intercollegiate soccer, and swimming programs for women and no such programs for male students.
Under Federal law, gender-based discrimination is illegal at any collegiate institution which receives Federal funds.
It would seem clear that UNL’s failure to offer men’s soccer or swimming program is based on gender, so that more money can be provided to support money-losing sports, like the women’s soccer and swimming programs.
I have heard the UNL officials’ argument that discriminating against men in the case of swimming and soccer programs is necessary to help provide more scholarships for female students in certain sports, to help offset the fact that so many football scholarships are granted to male students. I haven’t yet heard a defense of an apparent violation of Federal law by discriminating against male athletes in order to provide benefits to female athletes.
To date, I would say, UNL officials have been fortunate that no legal action has been brought on behalf of those who would like to see men and women treated equally in regard to sponsorship of soccer and swimming teams.
* * *
Last week I talked about some of the athletes’ performance at the Beijing Olympics. This week let’s talk about the XXIX Olympiad as a national-image-improvement show—which clearly was the principal objective of the Chinese in hosting the games—a goal which, I believe, the Chinese failed to achieve, unless you’re especially intrigued by billion dollar-firework shows.
There was the matter of the obvious lying about the ages of several remarkable young gymnasts who helped the Chinese very substantially in collecting their largest collection of gold medals in any Olympiad. And there was the news that a total of 77 requests were filed for permission to stage peaceful demonstrations and 77 requests were denied.
And despite draconian measures to curb air pollution during the Olympics—including shutting down hundreds of factories in the Beijing area and forbidding civilian vehicles from entering Beijing—there was still enough pollution to remind astute television viewers that China’s coal-burning industries are increasing their contribution to pollution of the world’s atmosphere at a faster rate than any other country in the world. (Another growing industrial power, India, is close behind.)
On the positive side, the Chinese people were friendly and applauded the efforts of athletes from any and all countries. The applause, quite understandably, was loudest for Chinese performers, whose overall performance unfortunately was marred by the obvious use of underage athletes to collect medals in the various gymnastic events.
In summary, from the massive effort which China put into hosting the Olympic games, these were among the images which emerged:
A country capable of very sophisticated technology (unfortunately it was used to create electronic images of the fireworks displays which were broadcast around the world to be viewed as if they were projecting the real thing).
A country of growing economic power, unfortunately fueled in substantial degree by smoke-spewing factories which pollute the world’s atmosphere.
A country where, despite protestations to the contrary, civil liberties are still sharply restricted.
On the plus side, a country whose people warmly welcomed the visitors and cheered for whichever athletes were performing.
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