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Essay/Term paper: Affirmative action

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History Essays

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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,
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, pp.23)
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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