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Affirmative Action and Higher Education

Affirmative Action and Higher Education

Two people stand in a room looking at a vibrant painting and receive a totally different image. This is something we all realize can happen. It is our different perspectives that make us valuable too each other. When trying to solve a problem or create a new idea, we need each other to bring forth considerations and concepts that would never occur otherwise. This concept is something most of us grasp in theory, yet it never ceases to confound and confuse us if someone draws a conclusion tangent from ours when presented with the same information. This situation lies at the heart of the argument over affirmative action. Policies that are viewed by some as righting past wrongs are viewed by others as creating a level playing field or even instigating a new phase of unjust discrimination. Part of this confusion is because the range of views not only shifts between people, but also over time. Policies that once appeared to be necessary can, in a few decades, seem excessive. When Justice Powell, along with the rest of the United States Supreme Court, handed down the decision in Regents of University of California v. Bakke in 1978, he attempted to give a rational for affirmative action in higher education that did not rely on retribution for one race; however, over time modest progress improving minority representation in schools have combined with the frustrations of a new generation to create a present situation that puts the past’s policies under new political and legal scrutiny.

When the Bakke decision was handed down it set standards for what affirmative action programs should be like. Specifically, it referred to the Harvard process (Schauer 592), but abstractly it was more gener…

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…ronicle. November 5, 1998.

National Center for Policy Analysis. “Racial Preferences Don’t Help Students Graduate.” Idea House. June 11, 1997.

Regents of the University of California. “Text of Resolutions SP-1 and SP-2.” Representations Online. Summer 1996.

Schauer, Frederick and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. The Philosophy of Law. Harcourt Brace College Publishers: Austin. 1996.

Sparks. District Judge. Hopwood v. The State of Texas. August 19, 1994.

Sowell, Thomas. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. “Body Count versus Education.” AEI On the Issues. August 1997.

The Continuing Importance of Affirmative Action

The Continuing Importance of Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is about to take quite a beating. Prominent Republicans from Phil Gramm to Pete Wilson to Bob Dole all plan on making the attack on affirmative action a central plank of their campaign rhetoric. The Clinton administration, perhaps trying to stem the attack before it begins, recently announced that it would reevaluate the merit of all affirmative action programs. And many of those to the left of Clinton oppose affirmative action–albeit probably for different reasons than those to his right. Considering the overwhelming opposition to affirmative action, it seems improbable that affirmative action would have much to recommend it. Yet this contention deserves examination. There are a large number of factors contributing to a given policy’s favorability; it seems unlikely that all aspects of affirmative action, from morality to reality to the gray in between, count as strikes against it.

Concerns over fairness to white males seem to be at the root of most opposition to affirmative action. This argument is difficult to counter; it seems clear that affirmative action does amount, strictly speaking, to reverse discrimination. For some, this fact alone is enough reason to ring the policy death knell. Yet this conclusion seems to me hasty. If affirmative action hurts white males only a little, yet helps minorities and women significantly, then we might well decide to keep affirmative action around, despite its unfairness. Private universities commonly employ policies of preference which are sometimes euphemistically termed “development policies.” Development means that there is a concerted effort on the part of admissions officers to admit students who come fro…

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…(If you are unconvinced of this point, do a bit more reading and thinking.) More than lowering the hiring and admissions standard by which minorities and women are measured, affirmative action works to counteract pervasive racism. If an employer harbors racist, heterocentrist, or sexist views, then being forced to take a second look at minorities and women may counteract that prejudice. Affirmative action, then, may have less to do with lowering the standard by which minorities and women are measured, and more to do with equalizing opportunities given. That sounds to me like sound policy even Newt would find difficult to oppose–policies designed to ensure equality of opportunity. For as long as it has been policy, affirmative action has been implemented with an eye towards equalizing opportunity. A more admirable, mainstream ideal is difficult for me to envision.

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