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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Affirmative action bake sale at OSU ignores business case for diversity

Thomas Kraemer affirmative action letter in OSU Barometer Mar. 13, 2017, p.14

PHOTO: Oregon State University student newspaper published my letter (Thomas Kraemer, "Diversity is necessary," OSU Barometer, Mar. 13, 2017, p. 14 or Thomas Kraemer, "Diversity is necessary," OSU Barometer, Mar. 13, 2017, p. 14 ( version)) in reaction to the OSU students who joined the national college protests against "affirmative action" by holding a bake sale that used reverse discrimination to determine what price they charged people. (See story by Joe Wolf, "Conservative students hold controversial bake sale," OSU Barometer, Feb. 27, 2017, p. 7 or Joe Wolf, "Conservative students hold controversial bake sale," OSU Barometer, reader) Ironically, perhaps intentionally or not, the editor laid out the opinion page so that the headline for my letter "Diversity is necessary" was placed right above the headline for the next letter, "(Not) renaming buildings on campus," which was a letter in response to the story about erasing the names of slave owners from campus buildings described in the story by Erin Dose, "Certain campus building names cause controversy," Barometer, posted Mar. 6, 2017

A popular Republican talking point, which was started in the 1970's when racists Southern Democrats started to move to the Republican Party, is the Republican talking point asserting that Republicans are not racists and do not discriminate, but conservatives are now the victims of "reverse discrimination" caused by "Affirmative Action" programs, which, in fact, had been legislated by the U.S. Congress and a few companies had been ordered by a court of law to comply with by using a quota based hiring system designed to remedy discriminatory hiring practices.

It is a talking point that resonates positively with many people who are in the majority and feel resentment toward being passed over for hiring or promotion by a woman (who ironically are in the majority) or a member of a minority, such as a black person. I acknowledge that it is hard for anybody to be passed over for a job or promotion because the process is very subjective and it is rarely obvious why somebody is picked for a job as the better candidate by the employer. As a former employer, I know firsthand how often there are multiple candidates who are equally good, making it hard to decide between them.

The legal term "Affirmative Action" is often erroneously used when referring to voluntary "Diversity Programs" that employers often choose to implement for the business purpose of getting a more diverse workforce instead of for for compliance with a court order to remedy past discriminatory hiring.

For example, some conservative OSU students held an affirmative action bake sale that determined prices they charge by using "reverse discrimination" based on your skin color, which echoed the popular Republican talking point about being a "victim" of it. The student newspaper described the bake sale as follows:

"Two weeks ago, a bake sale was held in the SEC Plaza in which the prices of goods were determined by the buyer's race or ethnicity. This event was put on by Turning Point USA, a conservative activist group with chapters on college campuses across the country, to argue against the use of affirmative action to make distinctions between white and minority students in college admissions." (Quoted from oe Wolf, "Conservative students hold controversial bake sale," OSU Barometer, Feb. 27, 2017, p. 7 and Joe Wolf, "Consrvative students hold controversial bake sale," OSU Barometer, reader)

Another student responded negatively to the bake sale in the student newspaper: Jim Gouveia, "Letters: Do your research first," Barometer, Feb. 13, 2017.

The original story of the bake sale prompted me to write the following letter in response:

The conservative students who held an affirmative action bake sale (The Baro, Feb. 27) appear not to understand the business reasons why a 1954 OSU EE graduate, John Young, and his boss Dave Packard wanted more diversity at both OSU and at Hewlett-Packard.

David Packard, cofounder of HP and a lifelong conservative Republican who also served in a Cabinet positon at the request of the Republican U.S. President Richard Nixon, was proud that HP had never discriminated and therefore was not constrained by any court-ordered affirmative action hiring quotas designed to remedy past acts of discrimination, as were some other American companies.

Instead of resting on his laurels, Packard set an objective for his managers to hire a diverse workforce that numerically reflected HP's customers who were of all races and nationalities from around the world, because it would help grow business globally by making it easier to meet the needs of all HP customers.

To accomplish Packard's objective and still hire only the best people without imposing artificial hiring quotas, HP managers expanded the number of colleges from where they typically recruited graduates, such as OSU and Stanford University where HP had hired many White-American male college graduates.

Over three decades, I witnessed the positive business results due to HP's more diverse workforce when I managed engineering research in America, Germany and China.

Diversity at OSU helps all students get a better and more global education, which is necessary today to get the best jobs after graduation.

(Quoted from Thomas Kraemer, "Diversity is necessary," OSU Barometer, Mar. 13, 2017, p. 14 or Thomas Kraemer, "Diversity is necessary," OSU Barometer, Mar. 13, 2017, p. 14 ( version))

On a related note, OSU students are also participating in the popular campus activism that objects to university buildings being named after racists and then the activists demand the buildings be renamed. This type of liberal social justice activism resonates with many minorities. Unfortunately, what gets ignored in the process is the history of how the buildings were named and used over time, for example, if they were named after University Presidents, and also missing is any discusion of the history of how the social construction of racism has changed over the years. In my opinion, it would be better to leave the names alone and use them as a history lesson for students.

A more embarrassing part of the history of building names lies in the fact that at many universities the way a building gets named is by how much money you contributed or by the equivalent political contribution made by a politician or university president to get the money required ot build the building. At OSU, only a few buildings, such as Reser Stadium, have been named after a big donor, perhaps because most OSU alumni are too poor to donate the tens of millions of dollars to OSU required to name a building. See the following links:

Another popular talking point of Republicans, related to building names discussions, is to denounce university people for being much too "politically correct" and as a result enforcing things silly social customs on campus. As somebody who has spent much time in both academia and industry, I can see how many people can get irritated by the social customs in either place, which in my mind is a general problem with any social group you are alien to or don't agree with their customs. Academics can be pedantic and obstructionists when it comes to getting anything done for real, but industry people can likewise be obstreperous and destructive to other people when they are unwilling to slow down and see the implications of their actions. This type of behavior doesn't make the customs of either group right or wrong, because these different approaches by multiple groups of people are usually required for a breakthrough in understanding can occur.

Some dismiss being open to others as being "political correctness," but other people see it as just being polite, for example in a typical university social group. As a result, it is easy to be offended when somebody is not polite or you perceive it that way, even if you don't intend it that way. This has led to the newly popular idea of a "microaggression" on campus. For example of this, see the student newspaper article by Sydney McHale, "Students encounter microaggressions," Barometer, Mar. 6, 2017, which says, "According to Jason Dorsette, the OSU associate director of Diversity and Cultural Engagement, 'Microaggressions are discriminatory incidents that come from well-intended people that do not have the historical background that what they're saying or doing is wrong. They are unintentional racist or discriminating instances.'"

It is ironic that that I have used the politeness argument for years as a way to describe "political correctness" as just an attempt to avoid microaggressions, but after having done this, my favorite comic strip characters showed how the goal of "politeness" can also be misused. (For example, the recent comic strip series by Scott Adams of "Dilbert," which shows how Dilbert's company politeness policy, which forbids employees from turning and walking away before somebody has finished talking, leads to humorous and illogical consequences.