What an odd complaint from Ed Kosiur at last week’s City Council meeting, that the defunct Affirmative Action Advisory Committee the council wants to resurrect wouldn’t have enough white members. This is, after all, a committee whose task will be to find ways to increase opportunities for blacks, women, Latinos and others underrepresented in the city’s workforce. Shouldn’t it consist largely of members of those groups?
That said, the council might be going too far in specifying exactly how many from each group, and Mayor Gary McCarthy too far in saying where they must live — i.e., the city of Schenectady. On an advisory committee like this, the most important thing is to have a good mix of smart, dedicated, empathetic people with an interest in diversity and ideas on how to improve it.
Back to Kosiur’s complaint: The council’s specifications do not rule out whites, and in fact would allow as many as five on what will be a seven- to nine-member committee. But only four whites applied, and of those, two are ineligible due to the mayor’s residency requirement, leaving just two as possible appointees to the committee. That’s not the end of the world.
The committee appointment process raises some of the same issues as affirmative action itself. Should a specific number of seats be reserved for members of specific groups, or just an honest effort made to get as many people as possible from as many different groups to apply?
When it comes to hiring and college admissions, should there be quotas and racial preferences, or just an honest effort to cast a wider net, to get more qualified minorities to apply?
The U.S. Supreme Court answered the racial preferences question last week, when it rejected preferences in a case involving Michigan’s college admissions policy. While that will make it more difficult for Michigan colleges to enroll minorities, it won’t make it impossible. The colleges will just have to try harder and find new ways to reach and recruit them.
The city of Schenectady will also have to try harder if it is serious about diversifying its overwhelmingly white workforce.
The Affirmative Action Advisory Committee can help by being a living example of diversity, by getting the community involved in a discussion of these issues and, ideally, by offering some new ideas on how to increase opportunities for minorities in both the public and private sector.