Tennessee legislators voted against a bill that would have eliminated affirmative action policies in higher education.
The bill, which did not receive the required five votes from members of the Senate Education Committee, would prohibit colleges and universities from granting preference “based on race, gender or ethnicity … to any student or employee of the public institution of higher education.”
Chuck Cantrell, associate vice chancellor for communication and marketing, said affirmative action policies do not apply to university enrollment.
“We are fortunate to have open enrollment, and therefore, we can accept all students who meet our admissions requirements,” Cantrell said. “Affirmative action policies have not affected our enrollment as much as they have campuses that limit enrollment.”
But, Parthasarati Dileepan, professor of management and vice president of the local chapter of United Campus Workers, said affirmative action has increased minorities' presence on college campuses and that removing the policy would be a step in the wrong direction.
“This is a solution searching for a problem,” Dileepan said. “I don’t understand what this solves.”
Dileepan said that high unemployment among minority groups is directly linked to the lack of opportunities to attain a higher level of education.
“Ten to 15 years ago, we had trouble finding minority candidates to fill faculty jobs because they were not in the pipeline,” Dileepan said. “What we need to do more of is make sure minorities have access to education, and one of the reasons is high-paying jobs are only available to those with a college education."
University officials have taken steps to recruit more minority candidates, including targeted recruitment, and Dileepan said because they have had relative success, removing affirmative action policies would undermine those efforts.
According to the 2010 university affirmative action plan, 53 percent of new hires that year were women, and 31 percent were minorities.
However, Matt Wayne, a South Pittsburg, Tenn., senior and president of the College Republicans, said affirmative action policies are themselves discriminatory in nature.
“Many automatically believe that discrimination occurs only to minorities,” Wayne said. “But these circumstances provide a scenario where Caucasians are being discriminated against, compared to the opportunity provided to the minorities who are given a head start in the process.”
Wayne said race should not be a part of the equation when officials admit students to the university or hire employees.
“The rationale is to not use race as a deciding factor in encouraging equality among all candidates, not keep minorities or others out of the process,” he said.
In a Knoxville News Sentinel article, bill sponsor Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, said he would not reintroduce the bill again this legislative session but said affirmative action in institutions of higher education would be a major issue for those up for re-election in 2014.
This article is published with permission of The University Echo.