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, 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
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