April 07, 2020

Gracie Bonds Staples’ fine [commentary] on affirmative action was a welcome addition to the Op-ed page (BDN, Dec. 20-21). She makes the case for continuation of this policy in the face of an increasing clamor for its demise. And it makes me want to ask why we would want to abolish affirmative action, a venerable institution that has been around for many decades?

White males were given preference in employment and admission to educational institutions long before the term “affirmative action” was adopted to describe it. It was an informal, unwritten policy. It provided preferences to white males in the face of equal if not superior qualifications of women and minorities. Informally for many decades, affirmative action was taken for granted. Preferences for white males was taken for granted. With the formal institutionalization of the policy, the shoe is on the other foot and many white males don’t like it.

As a white male, I have no doubt that the fortuitous attributes of color and gender frequently enabled me to gain employment and promotion prior to 1980. Following the adoption of affirmative action as a federal mandate and institutional requirement, there were instances when I was passed over for minority candidates or female candidates for a particular position. I have no reason to doubt their qualifications were equal to mine and I have no quarrel with that. But that is the key point many people miss. The selection or preference is made from a pool of select (the pool may be only two) equally qualified candidates. This is what makes affirmative action fair.

If affirmative action is administered as it should be, preference for minority or female candidates is made with the belief that they have qualifications equal to the male minority candidates. In my experience this has been an integral part of affirmative action in employment and admissions procedures.

As long as prejudices against minority candidates, female candidates and candidates who are disabled continues to be widespread, we will need formal affirmative action policies to assure fairness and equal opportunity for disadvantaged groups. Don Pilcher Orono

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