Affirmative action is debated at Utah 2010 general session

Story and photo by ANDREAS RIVERA

In 1969, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law an executive order that stipulated employers must “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Other laws, policies and initiatives like this were meant to give minority populations equal opportunities in employment and education. These polices are known as affirmative action.

Some lawmakers in Utah say that these policies have served their purpose and need to go.

H.J.R. 24, which was introduced in the 2010 General Session, states that it shall “prohibit the State, public institutions of higher education, and political subdivisions from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin with respect to public employment, public education, or public contracting; and provide exceptions.”

The 2010 Legislature debated the need for affirmative action.

The bill’s aim is to remove past affirmative action laws concerning public-sector establishments such as government and education. Proponents of the bill want candidates for employment or education given opportunities based on merit and not race, gender, or national origin. Republican Rep. Curtis Oda of Davis County is the chief sponsor of the bill.

“There is a difference between a hand-up and a handout,” Oda said. “If an employer is hiring and they have three or four candidates, shouldn’t they hire the most qualified candidate?”

To his surprise, Oda, who is of Asian descent, has been criticized by the Japanese community.

“If anyone should be embracing this bill, I would think it would be the Japanese,” Oda said.

The Japanese have a work ethic that drives them, he said. “After the internment of Japanese during World War II, the Japanese did not openly call themselves victims, they overcame the stigma.”

He added later, “You can not fight discrimination with more discrimination, that’s hypocritical.”

The bill would still protect people against discrimination, something that is human nature, he said. The bill’s goal is to put people’s value in their merit, not their minority group.

If someone suspects they were turned down because of their ethnicity even though they were the best qualified person, they could report it, but only because they believe it was racism that prevented them from getting the job, Oda said.

He said religion was not included in the bill because religion is a choice.

However, many oppose the bill and think there will be negative repercussions.

Roger Tsai, an attorney for Parsons, Behle & Latimer who sits on the board of directors of the Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce, said he is concerned about diversity of the public sector.

He said the chamber has stated it is against the bill.

“It is important to recognize diversity, but it does not mean you have to have a rainbow,” Tsai said.

Tsai said The University of Utah’s goal is to diversify, but how can it when it cannot give any advantages to minority groups for attending?

Tsai is worried about what the bill will mean for minority groups at the U. He said he is not sure what it means for funding for these groups. “Is it discrimination to give these groups money?”

It is important to have diverse outlooks on campus because it actually benefits the white majority, Tsai said. Students will be competing in the global economy.

Brittney Vuong, a freshman who is first-generation Vietnamese, said she agrees with the bill. “Different skin color should not deserve special treatment,” Vuong said.

Michael McFall, the news editor for the Daily Utah Chronicle who is first-generation Chinese, said when affirmative action was proposed, it worked well, but it may not be necessary now.

Both Oda and Tsai asked the question: When will we know when we are all equal?

Oda said, “If you go looking for prejudice, you will find it.”

Tsai said, “What’s changed? Are we all on an equal playing field? We have come so far, women are attending college at a higher rate than men.”

The bill made it past the committee stages of legislation, but failed to gain support and did not get the required two-thirds majority to become a law.

Despite this, Oda said this will not be the end of the debate.