The administration at Memorial University apparently thinks it’s OK to discriminate against white people.
A MUN news release distributed Wednesday was headlined, “Seats for aboriginal students at Memorial University protected by provincial human rights commission.”
Affirmative action is a racially based policy that became ascendant in the 1970s and has largely refused to go away, even though some more enlightened states — such as California and Sweden — have banned it.
The MUN release declares, “Memorial has reserved 1-3 seats or will have reserved 1-3 seats for aboriginal students enrolling in undergraduate programs in police studies, kinesiology, recreation, physical education, business administration, international business administration, nursing, medicine and commerce and graduate programs in public health and business administration on the St. John’s campus.”
Aboriginal applicants also have, or will have, reserved seats in several academic programs at the Marine Institute and at Memorial’s Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook.
The news release craftily avoids using the phrase “affirmative action” or the word “white.” Purveyors of affirmative action long ago learned to replace “white” with the euphemistic “European descent,” but such Orwellian language usage is irrelevant — MUN’s policy will also discriminate against people whose ethnicity is Asian, Latino, black, oriental or Arabic.
So, yes, my earlier use of the phrase “discriminate against white people” is intentionally sensationalistic — and it’s intended to taunt those who predictably and vehemently insist any opposition to affirmative action is automatically “racist.”
If Memorial University were so confident its affirmative action policy is legitimate and defendable on its own merits, there would be no need to exempt it from a legal challenge.
But that’s exactly what MUN has done.
“Memorial University’s Aboriginal Designated Seats Program has been granted special status by the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission,” MUN’s news release states. “The special status protects existing designated seats and the program itself from any challenges.”
In other words, any applicant who is discriminated against on the basis of not being aboriginal is prevented from filing a complaint with the province’s human rights commission.
Keep up the good work.
It would be better, and more honest, if proponents of affirmative action would say, “We are willing to discriminate in order to reach a worthy goal.”
To which opponents could reply, “We agree the goal is worthy, but it is unjust to try to reach it by discriminating against others.”
The usual catchphrase to describe this scenario is “reverse discrimination.”
Should aboriginal people be encouraged to attend Memorial University? Yes.
Would it be good if more aboriginal people graduated from Memorial University? Yes. Should any individual of another ethnicity be denied enrolment in Memorial University because a certain number of seats are set aside for aboriginal applicants? No.
This is where affirmative action is flawed. Its ends are admirable, but its methods are reprehensible.
It is a policy that appears just and can be defended in a broad social scope, based on statistics, but when it is examined on an individual basis — how it affects real people — the injustice of it becomes clear.
For instance, two applicants apply for med school. Their grade point averages are excellent, and equal. Their qualifications are the same in every respect. One applicant is aboriginal; the other is not. Selecting either one over the other based on ethnicity is, by definition, racist.
Flipping a coin would be more fair than selecting the aboriginal applicant merely because he, or she, is aboriginal.
If affirmative action were inherently right and just, MUN wouldn’t need to seek an exemption for its program from the human rights commission.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.