This article was revised at 4:45 p.m., May 20, 2011, to correct the author’s academic credentials.


ORONO – Philip Congdon, formerly Maine’s commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, recently issued a broadside against affirmative action, presumably for its negative impact on the economy.

Congdon’s scapegoating of affirmative action is wrong for three reasons.

First, the largest recipients of affirmative action are, as Time Magazine has noted, white women. Indeed, the University of Maine recently got a $3.2 million grant to promote women in science (not bad for economic development).

But presumably Congdon wasn’t complaining about his wife and daughters, or any other white women: The largest recipients of complaints about affirmative action are and always have been African-Americans.

Given that African-Americans represent 1.2 percent of Maine’s population, and whites 96.1 percent, I can see why Congdon is upset. Every African-American in the state apparently must get offered — and accept — 80.1 jobs (on average), thus not leaving any left over for whites.

I’d be angry too, since all those businesses offering 80.1 places to each African-American apparently haven’t heard that quotas are illegal in America, and have been since 1978. (Of course it can’t be the case that Congdon is complaining about something that stopped taking place 33 years ago, and even then only took place for a few years.)

Second, Congdon’s complaint that affirmative action lowers standards is disingenuous at best. While I am sure that Congdon could dredge up some anecdote about how some of Donald Trump’s friends’ sons’ friends couldn’t get into Northern Maine Community College at Presque Isle — while the county’s one black resident did — I can trump that story: I got chased out of the state of Tennessee by Klan supporters. And worse happened to other blacks in the South before I was born (at a time when Congdon was an adult), so presumably he remembers such stories: the reason we have affirmative action in the first place.

Moreover, I graduated (I can show Congdon the long form of my transcript) second in my class at Harvard and I have a doctorate from Oxford University, where I won its highest mathematics awards for graduate students, and yet I’ve lost out on plenty of fellowships and jobs, including math teaching jobs, to whites. But you don’t hear me complaining. (Insert emoticon.) And that’s despite the alleged shortage of math teachers, despite a Harvard professor calling me “one of the world’s most impressive young mathematicians,” and despite three-time New York Times best-selling math textbook author and actress Danica McKellar calling me “the incomparable, brilliant Jonathan Farley.”

It’s true that there are several universities that claim they want more African-Americans. Stanford University President John Hennessy said in 2006 that he was “worried to death” over the low numbers of African-American faculty. But that was just for PR. Five years later, the numbers at Stanford are still low. (Hennessy’s condition apparently was not terminal after all.)

In conclusion, first, it is mathematically impossible for race-based affirmative action to be the cause of America’s economic woes. If it were, then why would New York City’s black unemployment rate have hit 14.7 percent in 2009, when it was just 3.7 percent for whites?

Second, doctors should treat Congdon for lacunar amnesia, since he was around when segregation — legalized affirmative action, enforced not by a judge’s decree but with bombs — was the law of the land. If Congdon wasn’t marching with Martin Luther King, he has no right to speak out about “reverse discrimination” now.

Third, Congdon’s tirade was the act of a coward, since undoubtedly he never confronted his former bosses about their support for affirmative action when they were paying him.

Congdon’s former boss — not Gov. LePage, but Raytheon — believes in affirmative action. CEO William Swanson gave Tuskegee, a black college where the U.S. government once experimented on unsuspecting African-Americans, $850,000. Congdon’s other former employer, Texas Instruments, gave 25 percent of its business to minorities for one project.

TI reported sales of $3.39 billion and Raytheon $6.06 billion in the first quarter of this year. I guess Maine’s guru of economic development ought to tell them what they’re doing wrong.

– Special to the Press Herald