Affirmative Action

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Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action in Higher Education
In its tumultuous forty year history, affirmative action has been both praised and
attacked as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced by President Lyndon
Johnson in 1965 as a method of redressing discrimination that persisted despite civil
right efforts and constitutional guarantees. After the passage of Title VII, which
prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and
national origin, President Johnson shaped affirmative action through the passage of
Executive Order 11246 in 1965. The executive order requires government contractors to
"take affirmative action" toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring
and employment.

On college campuses nation wide, the debate over affirmative action policies started with
the implementation of Title VII. Many viewed affirmative action programs as a tool that
would not only expand the opportunities of minorities but also play a significant role in
diversifying America's colleges and universities. However, in the late 1970's, despite its
good intentions, flaws in the policy began to show up. Reverse discrimination became an
issue, exemplified by the Regents of California vs. Bake case in 1978.

Allan Bakke, a white applicant, had been denied admission twice to the University of
California Medical School at Davis, while less qualified minority students were being
accepted. The medical school had separate admission policies for minority students and
reserved and certain amount of spaces specifically for minorities. Bakke had felt that he
had been discriminated against and maintained that his rejection violated the equal
protection clause of the fourteenth amendment, so he took the University of California
Regents to the Supreme Court of California. The Supreme Court ruled that while race was a
legitimate factor in school admissions, the use of quotas as the medical school had set
aside was not.

The most important affirmative action decisions since the Bakke decision were in the
landmark 2003 cases involving University of Michigan's affirmative action programs. Two
cases, first tried in 2000 and 2001, were involved: Gratz v. Bollinger, which challenged
the University of Michigan's undergraduate admission's policy and Grutter v. Bollinger
which challenged its law school admission's policy. As Bakke had done before, both Gratz
and Grutter challenged the constitutionality of the University's admission policy, which
they argued, was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the fourteenth amendment.
The Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race
can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it
furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a
diverse student body." However, the court ruled that the University of Michigan's
undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rates students and awards
additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the
law school's, did not provide "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed
necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions regarding affirmative action.

While the Supreme Court did put certain limitations on how much of a factor race can play
within the admission process, it essentially upheld the legality of affirmative action.
Today, the majority of both private and public universities use race as a consideration
when selecting their students. The justifications given for implementing affirmative
action programs vary widely.

One of the most common of these justifications is that affirmative action programs amend
the negative effects of past discrimination by providing equal chances and opportunities
to minorities. Numerous research studies have proven that education continues to be "the
most powerful vehicle for achievement." As one public policy researcher stated,
"Increasingly the dividing line between those who are moving ahead and those who are
moving behind is the educational link. Those who get it have a chance. And those who don't
get it don't have a chance" ("Redeeming the American Promise,"1995).Supporters of
affirmative action argue that these programs ensure that all people receive the same
opportunity for higher education. For a variety of socioeconomic reasons, minorities are
often at a disadvantage when they enter into the application process. Affirmative action
programs seek to "level the playing field" for all Americans and expand equal opportunity
admissions for students who historically have been excluded.

Advocates of affirmative action policies also maintain that these policies advance racial
and ethnic diversity and improve the education of all students. In the last forty years,
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