Untitled Essay Research Paper Affirmative ActionAffirmative Action

Untitled Essay, Research Paper

Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action as defined by the Meriam Webster’s Dictionary is an active

effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members

of minority groups or women.

In 1961 John F.Kennedy issued an executive order calling for Affirmative

Action as a means to promote equal opportunity for racial minorities, in

hiring by federal contractors. This was the first official use of the term

by the Federal Government. Eight years later Nixon as President beefed up

the Office of Federal Compliance Programs, which along with the Equal Employment

Opportunity Commission has become one of the governments two main enforcers

of affirmative action policy.(Grolier’s Electronic Encyclopedia, 1993)

Such efforts have vastly expanded opportunities for Afro-Americans. However

they have also touched off complaints from many whites that Afro-Americans

are benefiting from reverse discrimination. Under the equal opportunity act

of 1972 most federal contractors, subcontractors, all state and government

institutions (including universities) must initiate plans to increase the

proportions of their female and minority employees until they are equal to

the proportions existing in the available labor market.(Grolier’s Electric

Encyclopedia, 1993)

Affirmative action plans that establish racial quotas were declared

unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the case of University of California

VS. Bakke in 1978. This case arose when the medical school of the University

of California at Davis twice rejected Allen Bakke’s application while admitting

members of racial minorities who had lower test scores. Bakke charged that

the medical school’s policy of setting aside 16 of the 100 positions for

racial minorities was a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th

amendment. In a complex 5-4 decision the Supreme Court ordered that Bakke

be admitted. The court ruled that even though universities may consider race

and ethnic origins as a factor in evaluating candidates for admission, they

may not establish fixed racial quotas.(Time Magazine, May 27 1991, pp.22)

The decision was, however upheld in the case of Private Business and Unions

in United Steelworkers of America vs. Webber in 1979. This case arose when

Brian F. Webber sued Kaiser Aluminum and the United Steelworkers of America

for setting aside half of the positions in a training program for minority

workers with less seniority. The Supreme Court overruled this case by a 5-2

vote holding that the Kaiser program did not violate title VII of the civil

rights act of 1964. The ruling was that, private employers could voluntarily

adopt plans designed to eliminate conspicuous racial imbalance in traditionally

segregated job categories. Then in 1984 and 1986 the justices ruled against

upsetting seniority systems in favor of minorities.(Harper’s Magazine, July

1991, pp.27)

In 1984 the Supreme Court struck down a Richmond ordinance intended to quarntee

Afro-Americans and other minorities a greater share of the city’s construction

contracts. The decision not only threatened similar programs in 36 states,

but also opened the door to legal attacks against other racially based government

schemes. A key component of the court ruling was the requirement that all

government distinctions based on race be subject to “strict scrutiny.” This

means that public sector affirmative action programs are valid only if they

serve the compelling state interest of redressing identified discrimination.(Time

Magazine, February 6 1989, pp.60)

Affirmative action has moved to the forefront of public debate in recent

months with a proposed California ballot initiative that would end many

race-based preference programs. The University of California itself has become

the focus of debate after Ward Connerly, a Regent for the University of

California system called for an end to such preferences in admissions. The

Chancellor of UCLA Charles E. Young, quickly took a strong stand against

Mr. Connerly, saying that affirmative action had benefited the university

and should continue.(NY.Times, June 4 1995, pp.22)

The University Of California at Berkeley campus was among the first of the

nations’ leading universities to embrace the elements of affirmative action

in it’s admissions policies, and now boasts that it has one of the most diverse

campuses in America, with whites accounting for only 32% of the student body.

However Berkeley may soon become one of the first campuses in the nation

to abandon the cornerstone of affirmative action in higher education. The

University Board of Regents expects to consider a proposal to prohibit the

use of race and ethnicity as factors for admissions.(NY. Times, June 4 1995,


Then on Thursday July 8, 1995, the California University System Board of

Regents adopted a plan to dismantle affirmative action plans within the

university system.

Effective January 1, 1997, the University of California system shall not

use race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin as a criterion

for admission to the University or any program of study. The following is

a brief excerpt from the resolution: The president shall confer with the

Academic Senate of the University of California to develop supplemental criteria

for consideration by the board of regents. . . In developing such criteria,

which shall provide reasonable assurances that the applicant will successfully

complete his or her course of study, consideration shall be given to individuals

who, despite having suffered disadvantage economically or in terms of their

environment (such as an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional home or a neighborhood

of unwholesome or anti-social influences),have nonetheless demonstrated

sufficient character and determination in overcoming obstacles to warrant

confidence that the applicant can pursue a course of study to successful

completion, provided that any student admitted under this section must be

academically eligible for admission. (NY Times, June 4 1995 pp.7)

The regents decision was hailed as an “Historical achievement” by Republican

Governor Pete Wilson. Wilson responded to White House Chief of Staff’s Leon

Panetta’s contentions that the board of regents made a terrible mistake and

that the Justice Department would begin a review of the billions of dollars

that flow from the federal government into the states’ universities, by claiming

that the state will not be intimidated by the implicit threat of losing the

huge largess in student aid and research funds that the university receives.

The university would follow through with the dismantling of the programs

because, they were wrong and unfair.(NY Times, July 22 1995, pp.7)

There are however two unusual twists to the assault on affirmative action

in the University of California system, that defy the stereotypes. First

the race based preferences are being attacked by a black member of the board

of regents and defended by Berkeley’s Asian-American Chancellor. Second the

racial makeup here has extended the fault line in the debate to minority

VS. minority, as well as black VS white.

On the side of those who favor Affirmative Action and would like for it to

remain a part of California’s school system are many optimistic voices.

Affirmative action at Berkeley represents an essential and healthy adaptation

to a changing California and a changing nation. Affirmative action is not

for underrepresented minorities. Affirmative action is for the benefit of

the larger society. Beginning with the admission of women in the 1880’s and

with an early form of affirmative action called the Educational Opportunity

Program in 1964, Berkeley has aggressively promoted inclusion. At Berkeley

if Admissions were based on grades and test scores alone,Asian-Americans

would account for 51.6% of the freshman class. Compared with 41.7% of this

years Asian-American class. Whites now comprising 29.8 %, would account for

34.8% to 37.3%. The figure for Hispanic students would drop from the current

15.3% to 3-6% and Afro-American freshmen would account for less than 2% of

entering freshmen they currently account for 6.4% of the freshmen at Berkeley.(NY

Times, June 4 1995, pp.24)

Troy Duster, a Berkeley sociologist who has studied affirmative action for

years said it is being made a scapegoat for rejection. Faculty,administration,and

students alike have all tried to tell the board of regents that affirmative

action had been working fine to create a genuinely diverse student body.

Yvonne Marsh, Assistant Vice-Chancellor for enrollment services at Davis

said she had been “stunned and disappointed” by the decision of the regents,

but she too was confident that other means of achieving the same end could

be devised.(NY Times, July 24 1995, pp.A1)

Doctor Hopper, President for health affairs in the University of California

system said: “We have creative faculties, I am hopeful that they will be

able to find ways to achieve diversity. This can result in a student body

that will be substantially the same as it is today.Doctor Hopper said his

biggest worry is that minorities may see the regents decision as a door having

been closed to them.(NY Times, July 24 1995, pp.A1)

On the other side of the coin are those who would prefer to do away with

affirmative action. They assert that the successes Asian-Americans have achieved

without being given preferential treatment,raises a question about the necessity

of race-based programs as a remedy for overcoming historic prejudice. The

same critics argue that affirmative action to aid historically disadvantaged

black and Hispanic students, has become a new form of discrimination against

Asian-Americans. Although Afro-Americans and Hispanic students are still

underrepresented at Berkeley as measured by their share of the state’s

population.(NY Times, June 4 1995, pp.24)

Many students believe that if the goal of affirmative action is to move toward

a more equal society, then the effect is to create a campus obsessed with

racial and ethnic divisions. Some skeptics say affirmative action in admissions

contributes to a balkanized campus of racially divided dorms and friendships

that make the benefits of diversity more theoretical than real.

In a lecture Doctor Waldinger, a sociology professor at UCLA, had his own

thesis about affirmative action. He contended that Afro-Americans and other

minorities have historically succeeded without the help of affirmative action

and that such preferences could be dispensed with today for all groups except

Afro-Americans. Ward Connerly, the black businessman and regent who proposed

the resolutions to terminate the preference programs, has argued that affirmative

action has outlived its usefulness and now undermines achievement by

Afro-Americans.(NY Times, May 3 1995, pp.B9)

Having discussed the views of professors and students, it is essential


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