Political Ethics and Social Questions

The Course

Political Ethics and Social Questions


About Julia Maskivker

Assistant Professor of Political Science Julia Maskivker’s teaching and research  agenda  focuses  generally  on  analytic  ethical  and  political  philosophy,  and more specifically  on  contemporary  theories  of  justice,  global  ethics,  and  theories  of  social  and economic citizenship.  Further interests include gender and its intersection with social psychology.

Migratory Impact: Immigration and Philosophy

The United States has always been involved in very controversial issues around the world. Most recently we have been criticized for our involvement in the Middle East, as well as our consumption of fossil fuels and our percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. People both within our country as around the world critique our policies and actions and in recent years the United States has become increasingly unpopular on a global scale. Another issue that fuels much debate both foreign and domestic is our policies on illegal immigration. In the past decade the problem has become increasingly bigger, and there have even been talks by former president Bush Jr. to erect a wall to keep these illegal aliens out of our country. Is doing this right though? Is closing our borders, or the closing of any country’s borders, morally and politically ethical? There are many political theorists that have opinions on the matter. Some believe that protecting the border is a perfectly logical thing to do, while others argue that the state never has a right to close its borders to anyone.

Immigrants who make the trip from Latin and South America face many dangers along the way, from different gangs in certain areas to natural dangers like crossing large rivers with very rough currents. Once they reach the border, should the United States Border Patrol have the authority to stop them from completing their incredible journey? Joseph Carens, author of “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders”, believes that all borders should generally be open. He especially thinks this to be the case when talking about migrants from third world countries seeking better lives in more developed countries like the United States. One argument he states for closed borders is that “It’s our country. We can let in or keep out whomever we want” (Carens 217). This argument is based on individual and collective property rights. Would this argument hold any water? Based on what these arguments say, individual property rights are the ones emphasized and the idea of collective or national property rights would “undermine the individual rights that these theories wish to project” (Carens 217). So what does the state have to regulate? According to Robert Nozick the state only has the right to enforce the rights that individuals enjoy in the State of Nature. He explains that the land of a nation does not belong to the citizens. The control that the state has over this land is only that the government is only supposed to enforce the rights of the individuals living there. If this is the case, when a person crosses into this land, just like how thousands of people cross into the United States from mostly our southern borders, the government that controls that land has no right to deny them entrance.

There is also a counter argument to this though, which is brought forth by Michael Blake and Mathias Risse in the book entitled “New Wave in Political Ethics”. John Simmons, another political theorist, believes that sovereign states do have a right to control who enters their borders. According to Simmons there are three rights that make up state sovereignty, “rights over subjects, rights against aliens, and rights over territory.” This gives the state a lot of rights over the land. These rights include rights to exercise jurisdiction over those in the territory, reasonably full control of land and resources within the territory that are not privately owned, and the right to tax land that is privately owned. The most important of these rights is the right to control movement across borders and to limit ‘dismemberment’ of the territory, or the secession or outright appropriation (Ryberg 155). If we listen to this argument then, we certainly have the right to not only prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country, but also in keeping track of citizens of the United States who leave and enter the country, as well as citizens of other countries who enter and leave the country legally, which is what happens in America today.

Joseph Carens believes that people do not really want to move from their home country. They become attached to their homelands, the culture, and the language, everything about it. They only really want to leave their homes when life becomes increasingly difficult to the point where they are close to or are actually suffering. The sad truth of today’s world however is that many people south of our border are suffering a great deal and are risking their lives to travel north to sneak into the country.  Once they get here unfortunately ethical problems are not the only things that factors in. Illegal immigrants can take jobs from actual citizens because they are willing to work under the table for hourly wages that are less than the established minimum wage. Much of the money they earn also doesn’t go back to our economy, but rather is sent to family back home in places like Mexico or Ecuador. The documentary entitled “Wetbacks” brought some very interesting statistics to the forefront. One of the most surprising of these statistics was that illegal immigrants actually contribute a good deal to American programs like Social Security and Medicaid, even though since they are not citizens, they will never be able to reap the benefits of these programs.

So is immigration good or bad? Legal immigration is always a good thing. What are questionable is those who cross the border illegally. Political theorists have argued for both sides of the argument, with each side producing valuable and valid points for and against it. Today in America, immigration is one of the more hotly contested issues in both politics and the media. People hold very strong opinions either for or against immigration and reaching an agreement on the issue seems to be a long way away. We still have Border Patrol Agents making rounds up and down the Rio Grande and other points of entry for illegal immigrants, and countless people who are here illegally are caught and then deported. With so many strong opinions on immigration, it will be a challenge to come up with a solution that will satisfy everyone. In fact, it may be impossible. With more and more people being born in the US as well as entering the country across the border, the population in America is skyrocketing. In a country that needs to seriously cut its carbon emissions, a growing population at this rate is not good at all. Instead of worrying about keeping the illegal immigrants out of the country, it could also be beneficial to help stimulate their economies so they are not forced to come here illegally. The Wetbacks documentary did say that much of the money made by immigrants here goes back to stimulate the economies of their home countries. Maybe if they work long enough here, like Carens said, their love for their home countries will call them back, and America will no longer have a widespread illegal immigration problem.

Mike Horan

Migratory Impact: A Case Study of Hungerford Elementary

Ashley Jones

African-American children are historically disadvantaged economically, which has lead to harboring communities in which schools do not have the best educational schools.  These factors have made it difficult for African-American’s to achieve high academically, and to score high on several admission tests to college; for, the “typical American Black scores below more than 85 percent of Whites” (Jencks and Phillips 1).  In the book, the Black-White Test Score Gap, the authors argue that several factors that contributed to the economic and educational disadvantages of African-Americans are no longer as relevant.  Such as the three issues that racial egalitarians argue, which are black poverty, racial segregation, and inadequate public funding for black schools, as the reasons behind the Black community not scoring high on achievement test (Jencks and Phillips 9).  Jencks and Phillips argue that these issues have been tackled through raising “black children’s family income” and the desegregation of schools, but still the gap remains between black and white students (Jencks and Phillips 9).

To begin, these facts were the motivation to my case study.  This case study led me to Hungerford Elementary, which is approximately a seven-minute drive away from Rollins College.  A quick background detail on the school is that it is a predominantly African-American school for 91 percent out of the 244 students at Hungerford Elementary are African-American (“Hungerford Elementary School”). In this particular case study, I interviewed three of the faculty members on the school’s academic statistics, and their methods to improve student performance.

First, I begin with the interview of Tamara Collins, Dean of Hungerford Elementary.  In her explanation of her experience at the school, she describes her experience as challenging, because of the discipline problem and poor academic achievement of the students.  Moreover, the academic curriculum was not rigorous.  Hungerford was an F school, according to Florida Comprehension Assessment Test standards, the year before she came.  After a year of hard work and an administration change, Hungerford moved to a C.

Moreover, most individuals would have stopped there, but newly hired Principal Jenell Bovis and Tamara Collins were determined to bring the school to an “A” status.  Dr. Bovis and Dean Collins monitored the curriculum and student achievement as well as teaching methods.  Also, DriveTime contacted Hungerford Elementary because they were looking to find a school in need to donate laptops, computers, and school supplies too.  The hard work paid off; for, Hungerford has been an A school in the following years: 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011  (“Florida School Grades”).

Not only did Hungerford receive an A, but in the year 2010 to 2011 made the highest significant gains in their district in competition against neighboring schools that are predominantly Caucasian.  The two competing schools were Dommerich and Lake Sybelia Elementary.  In the category of percentage of students making learning gains in reading, Hungerford scored 75%, while Dommerich scored 73% and Lake Sybelia scored 71% (“Florida School Grades”).  In the category of percentage of students making learning gains in math, Hungerford scored 73%, while Dommerich scored 69% and Lake Sybelia scored 62% (“Florida School Grades”).  In the category of the percentage of the lowest twenty-five percentile making learning gains in reading, Hungerford scored 77%, while Dommerich scored 69% and Lake Sybelia scored 70% (“Florida School Grades”).  In the category of the percentage of the lowest twenty-five percentile making learning gains in math, Hungerford scored 71%, while Dommerich scored 67% and Lake Sybelia scored 50% (“Florida School Grades”).  To sum, these statistics are significant because it illustrates the decreasing gap due to the purposeful improvements in learning methods at Hungerford Elementary.

Moving forward, Hungerford Elementary scored lower by 9 percent in the percentage of level 3 or higher in reading and 6 percent lower in the percentage level at 3 or higher in math.  Despite the fact that Hungerford Elementary percentages are lower than the surrounding schools, it is still significant that they have propelled that high on the scale.  It should also be taken into account that Lake Sybelia Elementary school has a population of 592 students and Dommerich Elementary School has a population of 627 students (“GreatSchools”).  While, Hungerford Elementary has a population that is half the size of Lake Sybelia, and about one-third the size of Dommerich Elementary with the population size of 244 (“Education.com”).

The progress of Hungerford illustrates that a change of mindset in the faculty can lead to a change of mindset in the students.  In Black-White Test Score Gap, research found that “teachers have lower expectations for blacks than for whites”, which was the case when Tamara Collins first came to Hungerford Elementary (Jencks and Phillips 29).  Teachers’ expectations had a profound impact on the students’ performance, because when their expectations were low, Hungerford was an F school.  However, when the teachers’ raised their levels of expectations, the students’ rose with it.

Moreover, it was clear that because of the “children’s past performance and behavior”, the teachers expected for this to continue; thus perpetuating “racial disparities in achievement” (Jencks and Phillips 30).  It was essential that the only means to changing teachers’ perceptions at Hungerford was to encourage, train, and keep them accountable to inspire the students’ to reach higher heights.  This plan by the administration staff worked.  In Black-White Test Score Gap, this process is illustrated in the following quote, “professional development programs in which teachers actually see disadvantaged black children performing at a high level can make a difference” (Jencks and Phillips 30).  The administration staff promoted plans for the children to succeed, and when the teachers’ saw that the system worked, they were even more motivated the next year which is illustrated in Hungerford receiving three A’s in consecutive years.

Interview: Tamara Collins (Dean)

  • What were your first thoughts on Hungerford Elementary?
    • Answer: I knew going in that it would be a challenge.  Hungerford was an F school the previous year, and I just left one of the top schools in Seminole County.
  • What were some of the first problems that you saw that needed improvement?
    • Answer:  Well, the first problem that I noticed was the lack of academic focus. Dr. Bovis and I focused on the focus of the administration staff being clear in implementing and administering the academic curriculum structure.  Also, we strived to have more parental involvement, and a positive discipline plan.
  • What were some of the methods you applied to change the environment?
    • Answer:  New reading curriculum, new math curriculum, and rewards for success by for the students and teachers.
  • How did it feel when all the hard work paid off? (Receiving the first A for the school)
    • Answer:  It was rewarding.  I knew that the students could do it if they tried hard enough and were provided with the tools necessary to succeed.  The students overcome adversity that adults do not even have to face every day.  They are learning that the more you read the better you read, the better you read the more you succeed.

Interview:  Adrienne Thompson (Resource Teacher)

  •  Your job is extremely unique, for you get to work with a variety of students.  Please explain the details of your job.
    • I am a Math Resource Teacher at a Title I Elementary School in Eatonville, FL.  In addition to operating as a Resource Teacher I also run the computer lab.  I teach Kindergarten through fifth grade math skills through technology.
  • What does a typical day consist of for you, and your students?
    • A typical day involves a small review of class rules, consequences, and rewards.  Then, we start with a lesson using the interactive whiteboard.  Students then move on to independent practice on a program called Study Island.  During independent practice, I monitor the students to track their progress and provide one on one help and feedback.
  • What would you say are some of the most difficult challenges?
    • Some of the most difficult challenges appear in the bigger classes.  It is harder to make class involvement equitable.  I believe each child should have the opportunity to participate at the interactive whiteboard, but due to time limits and the class size it can be difficult.  Also, the bigger the class, the less time I have to spend with each child.
  • What are some adjustments you have personally made as a teacher to help the students reach their fullest potential?
    • I am involved with the students.  Learning does not just occur in the computer lab.  I am in and out of other classrooms to aid teachers or conduct small group instruction. During lunch I help students achieve their reading goals.  I attend after school activities so I can form a bond with the students and see their accomplishments outside of the classroom.

Migratory Impact: Affirmative Action and Racial Equality

Jack Philbin


The state of racism in America has undergone a paradigm shift in the modern era. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s saw the end of racial segregation with the passage of the fourteenth amendment, and African Americans were able to assimilate into a society where racist sentiments declined slowly, and begin to advance as an ethnic group in the United States. This concept, the separation of individuals based on their race or ethnic identity, promotes racism. While it is inevitably true that some individuals are racist, the generality that minority applicants are always discriminated against in admission to colleges or job interviews is no longer commonplace, and policies looking to correct this extent of discrimination are therefore unjust. The most relevant political issue to this topic is Affirmative action, or policy in place for the purpose of favoring a disenfranchised minority group, for the case of this essay, African Americans. Most of these programs exist in the areas of higher education or employment. The rationale behind affirmative action for black Americans consists of the arguments of retribution for past wrongs, correction for unfair treatment in the present, and the desirability of a diverse workplace or place of higher learning. These three arguments are inadequate in justifying  Affirmative action today. Furthermore, the practice of  affirmative action is not effective in promoting racial equality, instead continuing to implement selection based upon race. Therefore, affirmative action is not only ineffective in practice, but actually detrimental to the state of racial equality in the United States. This concept can be seen in the affirmative action policies of the National Football League (NFL), primarily in the hiring of head coaches. Additionally, Organizations like ABC (A Better Chance), which give African Americans in disadvantaged communities who perform well academically the chance to attend  more prestigious schools than those in their community, would better serve the purpose of facilitating racial equality than the current policies of Affirmative action..

Affirmative action policies can be separated into two categories, strong affirmative action—the use of race as a deciding factor in college admissions offices, or in hiring practices, and weak affirmative action—monitoring the applicant race or gender as a method of determining which applicants will be considered, and appropriating a small number of required minority interviews (Franke 29). The difference between these two is simple; If a minority applicant is actually selected for a position based on his ethnicity, even though there are other applicants who are more qualified, he has benefitted from strong affirmative action.  If a minority candidate is given only a fair chance and an interview, but qualification, not race or gender, is used as the deciding factor, it is only weak affirmative action. This is an important distinction, as weak affirmative action, at least in theory promotes equality. Strong affirmative action, on the other hand, uses reverse racism to promote equality, in turn only solidifying the asymmetrical treatment of individuals based on ethnicity. As a result, policies of strong affirmative action should be condemned, as they do nothing to remedy the root problem affirmative action attempts to correct: racial inequality.

One argument used by supporters of Affirmative action is the argument that Affirmative action is justifiable on the grounds of retribution—or compensation for past wrongs. To expand, the centuries of disenfranchisement of the African American race have left individuals of the minority group farther behind than their white counterparts in achieving high-level career success. As Mosley explains: “ The historical fact is that when slavery was protected by the constitution […] black people were denied the benefits of their labor, denied the right to accumulate wealth, to share it with their families” (Mosley 43). This argument, though it makes a serious appeal to the emotions of Americans sympathetic to the disenfranchised, is a Non sequitur, in that generations have passed since the aforementioned atrocities were performed. As such, the descendants of Europeans who originally participated in and benefitted from slavery should not have to pay for the wrongs of their ancestors. Mosley himself concedes that “people living today were neither slaves nor slaveholders” (Mosley 44). Affirmative Action as a form of retribution, according to Wolf-Devine, must “establish a strong connection between a current black candidate and harms inflicted on the black community by slavery” (Wolf-Devine 62). However, this is not easy to do, and as such, the argument for retribution holds little credibility. Therefore, the argument of retribution is not satisfactory in justifying the use of Affirmative Action policies, as retribution is too broadly applied, and a connection between today’s African Americans and wrongs done to their ancestors are not straight forward.

While the retribution argument addressed past wrongs, the position of Affirmative Action as a tool to correct bias in the hiring process as it exists in the present (Wolf-Devine 64). The basis of this argument is that the best candidates are often not selected due to issues of racism on the part of individuals responsible for hiring, or in racially biased qualifications used to select applicants (Wolf-Devine 64). Again, this argument becomes to general. While there may be existing bias in hiring practices, they are not uniformly distributed across the disciplines. As such, the equal application of corrective policy is undesirable. This argument also makes an assumption about the character of white Americans in positions of power. The corrective argument assumes that white Americans in hiring positions are so biased against black Americans that they are incapable of choosing a more qualified black candidate over a less qualified white one (Wolf-Devine 64). Therefore, the corrective argument for Affirmative Action is too general to create justification for preferential policies, assuming racism in white Americans, and discrimination in hiring criteria.

The final argument for Affirmative Action practices are known as forward-looking. According to Wolf-Devine, supporters of forward-looking arguments believe that placing African Americans in positions of power will create a new generation of role models for younger African Americans (Wolf-Devine 64). The idea of using race as a decisive factor in selecting applicants for high level jobs is not congruent with the creation of African American role models. Even though there would be more African Americans holding high-level positions under this plan, preferential policies which favor race over other defining characteristics of qualified candidates would render the role models a product of diversity quotas or racial preference (Wolf-Devine 64) as opposed to hard work and dedication. Therefore, the argument that African American candidates should be given preference in hiring to increase workplace diversity and create minority role models is not sound in justifying Affirmative action, as these role models would not always earn their position fairly, with racial preferences trumping qualifications.

The landmark affirmative action case regarding the University of Michigan Law School, Gruller vs. Bollinger, the court upheld the notion that public universities could use race as a factor in the admissions process, as a way of providing the highest-level education while still adhering to selectivity in acceptance (Jacques 38). The current state of college admission is one of extreme selectivity, with a majority of total applicants not accepted to schools of the highest caliber like Harvard. The idea of elitism in universities is one of prominence, with the most desired colleges being those most notoriously selective. Instead of widening the scope of students considered for acceptance, elite universities set aside a number of spaces for the purpose of diversity. As a result, elite colleges promote diversity by mandating a certain percentage of the incoming class be of minority descent, but fail to promote equality as race is still used as a decisive factor in admission (Jacques 41). Therefore, elite universities who use policies of Affirmative Action in the form of filling diversity quotas are another example of preferential policies failing to promote racial equality.

Policies of weak Affirmative Action are ineffective in practice, as exemplified by the hiring practices in place for NFL team coaches. In 2003, “The Detroit Lions were fined $200,000 for violating the league’s new policy of requiring at least one minority candidate to be interviewed for any head coach opening—even when a high-profile individual is already being sought” (Franke 29). The league policy, obviously intended to promote diversity, does nothing but mock the concept of equality. The Lions were fairly certain of who they wanted to replace the previous head coach, and they even attempted to interview five minority candidates, but the fact that the decision had already been made repelled the would-be interviewees (Franke 29). While the concept of requiring NFL teams to interview minority candidates for an available head coaching position promotes racial equality, the real-life results thus far have proved to do nothing of the sort. Instead, teams who look to hire high-profile white candidates must scramble to find minority candidates to interview, even if no minority candidates with equal or higher qualifications exist. This example of weak Affirmative Action perfectly depicts the woes of most similar programs. In practice, unless a concrete provision for hiring candidates based on race is set, the desired results of workplace diversity and enfranchising a minority group can not be easily reached. Instead, policies like that enacted by the NFL provide irrational consequences for failing to meet requirements that should not be uniform in every case. Often a team knows who they are looking to hire before the present coach is even fired, and the NFL preferential policies tend to hinder the smooth transition from one coach to the next, requiring mandatory interviews of candidates that may not be qualified to hold the position available. According to Franke, “race extremists are not satisfied with mere equal opportunity. They want equality of result” (Franke 29). Therefore, the NFL head coach hiring policies demonstrate the woes of weak Affirmative Action, which in the case of head coaches, often results in the hiring of African American coaches, even if they are less qualified than white candidates, in order to satisfy the league stipulations, and suppress notions of racism. However, this policy merely promotes the use of race as a deciding factor, and therefore is detrimental to racial equality.

Alternatives to Affirmative action are often overlooked, as most people see the only alternative to preferential hiring as doing nothing to promote equality (Wolf-Devine 59). However, a number of more effective solutions exist, like programs that promote equality of opportunity and process among academically successful minority students. One example of such a program is called A Better Chance (ABC). The ABC program, according to their website, “provides a better education for talented minority students from educationally disadvantaged communities” (About us {ABC}).  The ABC program provides housing for academically gifted but economically underprivileged students near schools of higher caliber than those the student had previously attended. A majority of the chapters of this non-profit organization have perfect or near perfect percentages of students advancing to college and beyond. This one organization has made more progress in the advancement of minorities into high-level fields of study and careers than the policies of Affirmative action outlined previously. Therefore, there are significant alternatives to Affirmative Action which address the issue of mediocre education in lower-class minority communities, a root problem in the advancement of racial equality, rather than try to correct the end-result, as Affirmative Action does.

In summation, the arguments put forth by supporters of Affirmative Action are inadequate in justifying their use, especially in such wide contexts. The argument for retribution does not follow a logical progression, the argument of preferential policies for the purpose of correcting present bias in hiring practices is based upon assumptions and somewhat outdated, and the argument of enacting these policies in order to create a desirably diverse workplace and promote role models in minority communities is also discredited, as the process of enfranchising minorities based on race rather than qualifications hinders actual progress in fields of work. While preferential policies are clearly detrimental, weak Affirmative action is merely ineffective and poorly utilized, as demonstrated by the NFL stipulations for coaching diversity. Finally,  Programs looking to correct the issues of education in lower-class communities, or even scholarship programs designed to increase minority graduation rates would be better suited to promote racial equality than Affirmative Action.

Works Cited

“About us” A Better Chance. New York, NY. Web. 28 April 2012. http://www.abetterchance.org/abetterchance.aspx?pgID=967

Franke, Greg. “Quotas undermine NFL’s colorblind tradition” Human Events; Oct 13, 2003; 59, 35; ProQuest pg. 29

Mosley, Albert. “A Defense of Affirmative Action” Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics.  2005, Blackwell Publishing.

Wolf-Devine, Celia. “Preferential Policies Have Become Toxic” Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics. 2005, Blackwell Publishing.

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