The practices of different institutions for giving priority to the ethnic minorities, women, or students are known as Affirmative Action. This action can be related to the recruitment of employees in different organizations or admitting students in various colleges or universities (Daigle). The affirmative action was designed for providing benefits to those people that do not have the advantage to take admission in any specific college due to their background. Affirmative action works on the assumption that if minority applicants were striving to take admission in colleges, then there would be some limitations or constraints attached with the applicants. Therefore, a system in which an additional weight granted to applicants for their race or ethnicity was made. At the initial stage of this system, it only involved racial quotes but now it has been considering different factors such as gender, sexual status, and economic backgrounds (Moore).
The two US states that are considered as a pioneer for implementing affirmative actions are Texas and California, because they have forcefully implemented affirmative action in their system. The basic problem for affirmative action is that most of the people relate this system with individual’s color, despite the fact that admission granted to the applicant is based on other considerations. The people against and in favor of this system have valid reasons to support their arguments (Moore). Some people argue that this system is not fair for all the students, where other think that people having disadvantages for their race, color or gender should be provided certain advantage for taking admission in colleges. There is no proper measurement of evaluating and calculating opinions of the people regarding affirmative action, and this is the reason that there are issues and reservations for this system (Daigle).
Background and History
The affirmative action can be evaluated based on its wider context, but history of this system is only documented for education and academic terms. The President of USA signed an executive order in 1961, where affirmative action used as a term related to civil rights. The reference of affirmative action initially made for dealing with the contractors, but with the passage of time, this system further moved forward. US President signed another Act in which discrimination in education towards racism was strictly prohibited (Anderson).
The Supreme Court heard a case of “Odegaard and DeFunis” in 1974, but the timing of this case made it debatable, and this is the reason that no comment was given on racial preference in this case. Another case of “Bakke and Regents of the University of California” commenced in Supreme Court in which decision was given that no minority candidate can be judged separately. This ruling was not helpful to reach diversity for racism considerations, as this case carried for more than 20 years. An appeal court gave a decision for “Texas and Hopwood” case in 1996, where order was given that admission on racism cannot be granted at “Texas University Law School” (Sherpa).
Florida State in 2000 prohibits admissions in the state colleges based on racial preferences, and students were only allowed to take admission based on their percentages. Nevertheless, it was revealed that the intended outcomes of these programs were not according to expectations of the authorities. The Supreme Court heard another two cases related to affirmative action in 2003, where the first case was between “Bollinger and Gratz”, while other case was “Bollinger and Grutter”. For the first case, decision was made that policies of affirmative actions were not constitutional, and they must be abandoned, whereas other case gave judgment that minority students should be given preference for getting admission in law school (Sherpa).
People against Affirmative Actions
Thomas Sowell wrote the book “Affirmative Action around the World” in which he has criticized that affirmative action does not work according to the intention of authorities, and it causes harm to a society (Anderson). He further states that if one individual or group get benefits from this system, the other individual or group will be damaged, which means that this system is damaging for the society as a whole. Ward Connerly, founder of American Civil Rights Institute, wrote in his bio that affirmative action is responsible for increasing discrimination and racial disparity in US, no matter this system is made for helping those people who have faced racial discrimination in US. An associate justice named Clarence Thomas said that his law degree was not valuable in front of the employees, because he was black. According to a South African judge, significance of law degree from Yale was different for black people and different for white people. Carol Costello points out that there are many people thinking that this is the right time to end affirmative action because it is not suitable for the society (Dworkin).
People in Favor of Affirmative Actions
Deidre Bowen conducted a research in 2009 in which benefits of affirmative action are explained. He stated that this system is useful to eliminate discrimination for the admissions in colleges, as racism is prevailing in the education system, and students of color have to face difficulties for getting admission in colleges (Sherpa). Anthony Marx, president of Amherst College stated that high-class colleges are not superior nor terrible, because they do not admit lower income students. The co-director of Civil Rights Projects Gary Orfield argued that affirmative action is useful for the people, but policymakers need to listen to the court verdict. Gary found out that he is not a part of the region where racial problems are common, but he feels that this system has many strong benefits related to the education of students. Michael Martinson supported affirmative action that this system did not affect white students to get admission in colleges and universities, and it is useful for black students who have faced discrimination for getting admission in their desired colleges (Sherpa).
Attempts for addressing this Issue
This system is a continuous debate for policymaking decision regarding admission in the education system. The authorities and policymakers have previously used many approaches to increase the number of lawsuits and proposals that have been rejected for affirmative action (Moore). Some policymakers try to increase minority students in their colleges by applying different methods, in which the most common method is to guarantee a particular percentage of students to get admission in their colleges. In some colleges, students gaining top marks are guaranteed to get admission as they deserve to get admission in their desired colleges or universities. Many states such as Texas, California, and New York have tried to decrease racism in education, as many policies regarding black students have been made and implemented. In some states, this system has been successful, but there are many colleges in different states of US where many people have criticized affirmative action (Doverspike, Taylor and Arthur).
The discrimination in education is still a common issue in USA, and strong policies are required that would be helpful to eliminate discriminatory admission practices by different colleges. The best argument for the usage of affirmative action is to promote different students groups so that level of education can be increased (Daigle). The current way of practicing affirmative action is not suitable for many people, as racism cannot be eliminated by overlooking other students that deserve to get admission in colleges. Moreover, if one individual is admitted to the college by affirmative action, then it is evident that the student who has been ignored will suffer from this system. Therefore, the government should take serious measures to address this issue, because discrimination in education can damage future of the students.
Anderson, E. “Integration, affirmative action and strict scrutiny.” NYU Law Review 77 (2002): 1195-1271.
Daigle, S. Affirmative action legality, fairness, and ethical use in college admission in both the graduate and undergraduate levels of federally funded programs. Research Report. Florida: Florida Atlantic University, 2004.
Doverspike, P, M Taylor and W Arthur. Psychological Perspective on Affirmative Action . New York: Nova Science Publishers Inc., 2006.
Dworkin, R. Affirmative Action: Does it work? Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002.
Moore, J. Race And College Admissions: A Case For Affirmative Action. New York: McFarland, 2005.
Sherpa, T. Is Affirmative Action in College Admissions Ethical? Research Report. Miami: International Center of Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, 2011.
Affirmative action in higher education admissions was established to help achieve diversity in the student body and provide greater access to higher education for members of historically underrepresented minority groups. Landmark court cases debating affirmative action in higher education admissions have included the _I_ Regents of the University of California v. Bakke_i_ (1978), _I_Hopwood v. Texas_i_ (1996), and the 2003 University of Michigan cases. However, the future of affirmative action in college and university admissions continues to be debated. Some race-neutral alternatives to affirmative action based on racial preferences that have been considered include class rank percentage plans and admissions plans based on economic preferences.
Keywords Affirmative Action; Class Rank; College Admissions; Desegregated; Diversity; Economic Preferences; Ethnicity; First-Generation Status; Higher Education; Minority; Percentage Plans; Race; Race-Exclusive Programs; Race-Neutral Alternatives; Racial Preferences; Segregated
Patitu and Terrell (1998) explained that the goal of affirmative action in higher education has been to "increase the number of people from underrepresented groups in higher education and to diversify colleges and universities" (p. 41). As a concept, affirmative action first emerged in 1961 in President John F. Kennedy's Executive Order 10925 as a means to end discrimination in government employment and contracting (Shuford, 1998). Executive Order 10925 called for government contractors to voluntarily enact affirmative action in the recruitment, hiring, and promotion of minorities (Kolling, 1998). The voluntary nature of the proposal proved ineffective and it was later enforced under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Kolling, 1998).
In implementing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin, the federal government fought to have higher education institutions put affirmative action plans into place (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). These plans were to apply to all aspects of public and private higher education operations, including student admissions, staff hiring, financial aid, and dormitory assignments (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). Institutions who did not abide by the law faced withdrawal of federal funds granted to them (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). Especially in recent years, affirmative action policies in college admissions have tended to be at the forefront of debate. Affirmative action policies in admissions sought "to bring to campuses people from various groups previously overlooked as sources for the student population" (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997, p. 400). More often than not these people included members of minority groups (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997).
The question of how to appropriately and legally institute affirmative action programs in college and university admissions became particularly pointed in 1978. In that year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). In the case, the special admissions program that reserved sixteen out of one hundred slots for members of historically underserved minority groups at the University of California at Davis's Medical School was called into question (Kolling, 1998). The Supreme Court ruled that the program equated to a quota system, was unlawful, and should be struck down (Kolling, 1998). At the same time, the Court also ruled that some race-conscious admissions programs could be permissible "if the procedure entailed the same process of individualized comparison for all applicants without systematically excluding any group from consideration" (Kolling, 1998, p. 20). Overall, while higher education institutions could consider race or ethnicity in admissions, colleges and universities could not implement what were in effect quota systems (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). Essentially, higher education institutions were not to discriminate against minorities but they also could not have policies that were akin to "reverse discrimination" (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997).
Two cases involving the University of Michigan in 2003 have also received a great deal of attention for the implications they have on the consideration of race in admissions. In the Supreme Court's decisions, the admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School (Grutter v. Bollinger) was deemed acceptable while the undergraduate admission policy of the University of Michigan (Gratz v. Bollinger) was not. The Law School's policy was essentially deemed acceptable because it encapsulated a "holistic approach to admissions" (Eckes, 2004, p. 54) in which race was just one of many different characteristics considered to achieve a diverse student body.
In Fisher v. University of Texas (2013), the high court remanded a challenge to affirmative action back to a lower court for further consideration. The U.S. District Court upheld the university’s race-conscious admissions policy, but the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court had not applied the standard of "strict scrutiny" of such policies established in the Grutter and Bakke cases.
Role of Affirmative Action in Admissions
For all applicants, it is important for America's higher education institutions to be accessible and not be bastions of privilege. In discussing admission preferences for underrepresented minorities, Bowen, Kurzweil, Tobin, and Pichler (2005) also stressed that "a diverse student body provides educational benefits to all students" (p. 167). Students benefit from a diverse campus because they are "being prepared to be members of a global community, having their intercultural communication skills enhanced, becoming aware of and more sensitive to cultural differences, being exposed to views unlike their own, and being allowed to confront and discuss multicultural issues" (Patitu & Terrell, 1998, p. 46).
Additionally, Shuford (1998) noted that research findings support the contention that students benefit in many ways when there is institutional commitment to diversity. For instance, students' cognitive development and satisfaction with their college experience have found to be enhanced when diversity is a priority (Astin, 1993, as cited in Shuford, 1998).
The recent Supreme Court cases have found diversity to be "a compelling state interest in education" (Eckes, 2004, p. 48). Likewise, Massey (2004) outlined three compelling reasons to support affirmative action. First, Massey (2004) noted that community choice arguments would indicate that the lessening of discrimination can only occur when "'fairness' is guaranteed by building it into laws, procedures, guidelines, and organizational practices" (p. 792). Additionally, basic principles of what is fair and reasonable in a just society as well as the "price" most people are willing to pay for future benefits indicate strong support for affirmative action policies (Massey, 2004).
While many support the concept of affirmative action in higher education admissions, there are others who do not, and there have been varied arguments against it. For instance, some argue that affirmative action serves to discriminate against members of ethnic and racial groups it does not protect (Shuford, 1998). Others say it causes the lowering of standards and the admission of individuals who are less qualified than others (Shuford, 1998). There have also been arguments made that it victimizes the groups it intends to serve (Shuford, 1998).
Phases of Affirmative Action in Admissions
Nichols, Ferguson, and Fisher (2005) discussed Dickason's phases of affirmative action in college admission. The three phases include:
• Obligatory affirmative action,
• Voluntary affirmative action, and
• Tempered affirmative action (Dickason, 2001, as cited in Nichols, Ferguson, & Fisher, 2005).
Obligatory affirmative action describes the period (1960s to late 1970s) during which affirmative action was mandated by the federal government for any higher education institutions receiving federal funds (Dickason, 2001, as cited in Nichols, Ferguson, & Fisher, 2005). Voluntary affirmative action (1980 to 1995) was ushered in after the Bakke decision when institutions' admissions plans based on racial preferences began to be challenged (Dickason, 2001, as cited in Nichols, Ferguson, & Fisher, 2005). Finally, Nichols, Ferguson, and Fisher (2005) explained tempered affirmative action (current phase) as the time in which "contradictions existing in legal rulings and precedents and agencies outside of the college and university may dictate what measures are mandated to select students" (p. 25).
Implications of Recent Supreme Court Rulings
Regarding the current phase of tempered affirmative action, Gardner (2007) noted that "in the aftermath of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, lower court cases, and threatened lawsuits by anti-affirmative action groups, universities are opening minority programs to non-minorities" (¶ 2). Much of the drive to open up minority programs came after the 2003 Michigan decisions in which the Court ruled that race could be considered in creating a diverse environment but must not be the only factor considered and could not be reviewed in a "rigid or mechanical" way (Gardner, 2007, ¶ 4). According to the Supreme Court's ruling in Grutter, race-neutral alternatives must also be considered first before deciding to use race or ethnicity as a factor in admissions decisions (Przypyszny & Tromble, 2007). However, while schools should consider race neutral options to meet their goals, they do not need to try every such plan (Eckes, 2004).
After the Michigan decisions, colleges and universities grew concerned that financial aid programs and other programs they had in place based on race would fall under attack as an extension of the...