Encarta Encyclopedia defines Affirmative Action as the “system of policies used in the United States to increase opportunities for minorities and women by favoring them in hiring and promotion, college admissions, and the awarding of government contracts. Generally, affirmative action has been undertaken by governments, businesses, or educational institutions to remedy the effects of past discrimination against a group.” Favoritism is enforced through government agencies.

There is a large amount of controversy today surrounding the use of affirmative action in Florida’s workplace and in the use of admissions in college universities. With the (possible) implementation of Governor Jeb Bush’s “One Florida Plan”, race and gender would no longer be a factor in these decisions. This plan of the governor’s has reawakened the controversies and needs for affirmative action in today’s society. To make an informed opinion about the support of the issue or against the plan, one must look at both sides of the debate and some of the issues.

As it has been long documented, women and minorities have always taken a back seat to the white male in the business world and hit the proverbial ‘glass ceiling”. With the use of affirmative action policies, race and gender quotas are made to insure that women and minorities have an equal opportunity to positions in the white male dominated universities and business world, as well as in local and state government funded contracting projects in which a lesser known minority-run company may not have the opportunities that an established “good old boy” firm has. Affirmative action supporters feel that these policies are necessary to insure fair selection. Affirmative action guarantees diversity in the education selection process, so that an individual of different race or gender with lower grades and a lower family income and housing may have the same chance at a university that a white male from a higher family income and better school system. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who made affirmative action an executive order stated: "You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'You are free to compete with all the others' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.” Adding, he said that the U.S. must have "not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result."

The other side of the coin feels that the use of affirmative action has turned into reverse discrimination, and that companies and universities no longer seek to look for the best worker or student, but instead look at numbers and quotas. While many of the people against affirmative actions do acknowledge the fact that there has been injustices and discrimination past and present, they feel that companies and the city, state and federal governments are literally handing jobs to lesser-qualified individuals at times. This can be caused if an employer has only one position open in his/her business. If two people apply for the same job, but one is an experienced person who happens to belong to a majority and the other is a very poor worker who belongs to a minority, the experienced worker in not guaranteed the job. This is especially true if the employer is close to not filling his/her quota. People against the use of affirmative action feel that the employer is forced to compromise his/her workforce in order to fill a quota. He/she would have the opportunity to "pick and choose" the best employees to fill the job. However, the employer might be faced with the fact that a few people who belong to a minority who are not good workers could force the employer to hire them if they meet the very minimum specifications. While judgements have been ruled unfavorable to opposers of affirmative action, there have been two landmark trials against the system. The first Supreme Court case to directly deal with affirmative action was Regents of California v. Bakke. Alan Bakke, a white male, was turned down for admission, although his test scores and grades were higher that those of some candidates admitted through a "special" program. Bakke argued that he was a victim of reverse discrimination because he was white. Four members of the Supreme Court took the view that admission to a state medical school must be on a completely "color blind" basis; another four contended that "a racial criteria may be used by a state for the purpose of overcoming the chronic minority underrepresentation in the medical profession.” The remaining justice, Lewis Powel, had the controlling opinion in the case. Powell agreed in part with both sides. He believed that a "legitimate justification might exist for using race as a criterion in medical school admission," yet he opposed "explicit" racial classifications. Another landmark case about affirmative action was United Steelworkers of America v. Weber. Unlike Bakke, Weber deals with a private company who voluntarily creates an affirmative action policy. Brian Weber, a white worker, was passed over for admission to a training program in favor for a black worker less seniority. He bought suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court ruled against Weber on two grounds: 1) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was aimed at relieving the plight of blacks, not whites 2) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "did not intend wholly to prohibit private and voluntary affirmative action efforts."

Looking at both sides of the spectrum, one sees that affirmative action is a plan on a grand scale that affects groups but becomes all the more life-affecting on an individual level. While one group says it is needed to ensure fair selection in education and in the workforce and to reduce possible discrimination, the other side contests that this “fairness” has created other social problems and that they are now the victims of discrimination.


1. “Affirmative Action” . Encarta Encyclopedia. (2000) Online. Internet: http://encarta.msn.com/index/conciseindex/AC/0AC74000.htm?z=1&pg=2&br=1

2. Pinkerton, James P. "Ending Quotas Should Help End Racism". Los Angeles Times, 4 June 1995, p. M5

3. “University of California Regents v. Bakke”.Enclyclopedia.com. (2000) Online. Internet: http://www.encyclopedia.com/

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