Mike Kueber's Blog

March 6, 2014

Affirmative action, legacies, and meritocracy

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Media,Philosophy,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:16 pm
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The Rivard Report is a local on-line magazine that claims to be the embodiment of Mayor Castro’s slogan for San Antonio – “A City on the Rise.”  More specifically, the magazine aspires “to be a catalyst for urban transformation and progressive economic and cultural development.”  Sounds to me like the embodiment of liberal orthodoxy.

One of the cornerstones to liberal orthodoxy is affirmative action.  Liberals, especially the well-heeled, silk-stocking liberals, think there is so much inequality in America that they feel nobly obliged to hand out a piece of life’s spoils to a few members of groups that historically have been socio-economic losers – i.e., African-Americans, Hispanics, and, sometimes, women.

So what does the Rivard Report have to do with affirmative action?  Well, one of its recent articles revealed an interesting dilemma that confronts liberals whenever they are required to apply their abstract principles to real life, and, much like public-school advocates who send their kids to private schools, the Rivard Report appears to have concluded that real life is more complicated than abstract principles.

The article that prompted this discussion reported on the tragic death of a Minnesota college kid in an ice-storm traffic accident.  The young man had been hired by the Rivard Report to be an intern in at the magazine this summer, and though he seemed outstanding in many ways, he was the opposite of affirmative action – i.e., an Anglo male with a love of Ultimate Frisbee attending a small liberal arts school in the Midwest.

As I was reading about the young man, my internal liberalism detector started sounding out warnings that, if the hiring wasn’t based on affirmative action, it was probably based on “legacy” – i.e., selecting someone whose family belongs to the aristocratic club.  This practice was perfected by the ultra-liberal Ivy League, which for decades admitted only kids from the highest socio-economic class (legacies) and the lowest (affirmative action).  As countless studies have shown, the Ivy League benignly neglected the best and the brightest from the massive middle.

Sure enough, my liberalism detector was spot on because a few more paragraphs into the article it was revealed that the young man had outstanding breeding – “I knew writing and journalism was in [his] blood,” gushed the hiring editor.  His mom was previously a newspaper reporter and his dad, before becoming an executive at a local company, was a widely-traveled journalist and editor.  Although Editor Rivard described his immense respect for the dad, he also tried to minimize the significance:

  • For all of [his dad’s] success as a journalist, it wouldn’t have helped the [young man] at the Rivard Report. We were looking for the best available young journalist to spend the summer in San Antonio and make an immediate contribution.

“Best available?”  Count me as one of those who is skeptical of the likelihood of getting the best available if your search is limited to affirmative action and legacies.

Meritocracy is the cornerstone that the massive middle wants.

p.s., I have heard of two note-worthy anecdotes about conservative Texans who didn’t receive legacy treatment:

  1. President Bush-43 graduated from Yale college and decided to continue his education, but because of his mediocre college grades, he was denied admission to UT Law.  Fortunately for him, the legacy practices of the Ivy League permitted him to get into Harvard Business School as a second choice.
  2. Secretary of State James Baker graduated from UT Law at a time when his father’s law firm, Baker & Botts – was one of the largest in Texas.  But because of the firm’s anti-nepotism policy, James had to find work at another firm in Houston – Andrews & Kurth.



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