Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Affirmative Action Goes to Wachington

Even before the US Supreme Court sits down to hear arguments in the latest affirmative action case to land at its doorsteps, it has been getting tons of reading material from various groups. One of them [link, link] makes an interesting case: replace race-based AA programs with one that's based on factors such as parental income and education, wealth of the student's neighbourhood, etc. A class-based AA program, in other words.

The broad idea, I think, is to create something that would achieve the diversity-related goals of institutions (without using race explicitly as a factor), and still be acceptable to the public, the lawmakers, and the courts.

The case itself is scheduled for a hearing in the coming days and weeks, and the SCOTUS verdict will probably arrive early next year. It will be interesting to see how this case is decided, and the arguments used for supporting that decision.

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During the Mandal II debate in 2006-07, Yogendra Yadav and Satish Deshpande argued for a reservation system [see this post for links] that would, in essence, provide additional points to students from disadvantaged backgrounds due to their caste, sex, education and income levels of their parents, etc. In the event, the UPA-I government decided to run with a fixed quota for OBC students; the Supreme Court accepted this scheme with just one modification -- the so-called creamy layer clause that would exclude students from wealthy families from the quota benefit.

Unlike the US, there is an expectation in India that admission policies should be based on completely objective criteria; this explains the emphasis on cut-off marks, entrance exam scores, and the like. It's probably this that led Yadav and Deshpande to propose their "deprivation index" so that admissions officials would still have some objective numbers to base their decisions on.