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Response to affirmative action debate

Elliott Pearce | Friday, November 2, 2012

It has come to my attention that my article on affirmative action that The Observer published Monday has created a huge controversy. Many people have told me that they were offended, upset and even enraged by my article. This was not my intention. I merely wanted to start a conversation about an issue that was in the news by putting forth my own opinion and then inviting others to do so as well. I apologize for being too insensitive, too vague and too general with my arguments in a way that led many people to feel as though I were disparaging minority students both at this university and elsewhere.
I had no intention of suggesting that anyone at Notre Dame does not belong here. I have no data on Notre Dame’s admissions that would suggest that Notre Dame is accepting minority students who are less qualified than the other applicants it admits. Every student of every race I have met in my more than three years here has been a credit to this institution, and I fully believe we all deserve to be here. In my article, I said other studies had shown other universities had policies similar to Duke’s, but I did not explicitly state Notre Dame was not part of this group. I apologize for this oversight.
I do not believe that SAT scores are the only, or even the most important, criteria in university admissions. Notre Dame has deservingly admitted students with SAT scores below the middle 50th percentile because we are more than our test scores. The Duke data I referenced compared students across every category their admissions office used to evaluate applicants, from essays to letters of recommendation. I cited the SAT in my article because I thought it would be a familiar, quantitative measure of student preparedness.
I do not believe that all minority students, even those at a school like Duke that may significantly relax its admissions standards for certain applicants, are less prepared than the other students at their schools.
I am sure there are many fully qualified minority students at Duke who got in on their own merits alone and who are succeeding in the hardest disciplines. I only meant to illustrate how affirmative action policies negatively affect these excellent students.
By lowering the bar for certain members of a particular group, some universities risk cultivating prejudice by allowing others to falsely assume that all members of the group were admitted by easier criteria.
I did not wish to dehumanize the people about whom I was writing by using the term “URM.” Rather, I wished to avoid making the races that are most commonly considered “under-represented” feel targeted. I realize this has had the opposite effect, and I apologize for this mistake.
I do not claim to understand all of the challenges that minority students face, and I should not have speculated about how these challenges might make them feel or how they might respond to such challenges. It was not my place. I merely wished to describe one academic problem that students could face as a result of a policy like Duke’s. I also think that to increase academic achievement for all students, we must do a better job of ensuring that those who grow up in difficult circumstances of any kind have a safe, nurturing, and enlightening educational environment from an early age.

Elliott Pearce can be reached at epearce1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.