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Affirmative Action in Higher Education

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Affirmative Action in Higher Education



Is this policy practical? Is it principled? Is it professionally sound?


            Throughout the years, affirmative action has been an extremely hot topic in the world of higher education. It is a heated debate because some people find it simply distributes a sense of equality to students of all races; while others feel that it enforces prejudice toward the majority. So how do we get to the bottom of this? First, we will discuss if the policy of affirmative action in higher education is actually practiced in the United States. In other words, is this practice able to be applied to schools in higher education across the country? Second, is this policy principled, meaning does it implement or segregate the concept of equality? Finally, we’ll discuss if affirmative action is practiced in a professional manner.


Affirmative Action; Defined and Understood


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”


– Martin Luther King Jr. (Washington DC, August, 23 1963)


According to Dictionary.com, the definition of Affirmative Action is a policy or a program that seeks to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity, as in education and employment. To put this in simpler terms, affirmative action came about to try and resist schools of higher education from neglecting to admit students who are women and of the minority. In previous decades woman and minorities were not allowed to go to certain schools of higher education based on their skin color and gender. Affirmative action was put into first used and enforced by President Johnson. Furthermore, colleges can’t deny a student into their schools simply based on the fact that they are an African American, an Asian, a woman, etc.


Affirmative action can occur and is also enforced outside of higher education. It was first introduced to do so in places of employment by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Although throughout this policy analysis our primary focus is on affirmative action in higher education, it is important to know that it is put into effect in other places of employment.


Programs and regulations that enforce affirmative action are put into effect in order to compensate for discriminatory practices in our past that have been unfair to those students in the minority. Therefore, the original concept came about to eliminate these discriminations and to allow schools and universities to have an equal representation of the current U.S population in their student body. Although affirmative action is intended to have good intentions, it is debatable if the policy is truly equal.




Is Affirmative Action Practical?




The Debate


It is debatable whether or not affirmative action is practical in higher education. On one side, affirmative action is a policy that eliminates discrimination in all areas of higher education and places of employment. On the other side of the debate, affirmative action is seen as a policy that does nothing but make discrimination worse and in fact place discrimination on the race of the majority. Here are the two sides thoroughly discussed:


Side One of the Debate: Yes, Affirmative Action is Practical


1.     Affirmative Action is Not Government Regulated :


Unknown to many, affirmative action is not forced upon school of higher education. Rather, this policy is completely up to the schools whether or not they want to have a school of diversity. According to the Website, “Making the Case for Affirmative Action in Higher Education”, including diversity in one’s school will positively affect both minority and majority students. On the website it is stated that, “diversity initiatives have an impact not only on student attitudes and feelings toward intergroup relations on campus, but also on institutional satisfaction, involvement, and academic growth.” Therefore, as stated by the website, there is an extremely positive effect that is shown by students who take part in schools with affirmative action enforced.


2.     Minorities and Majorities Interact In Schools:


Through the presence of this policy, students from all over the country have a chance to learn through and interact with other cultures. Many students are not use to branching out of their own town and high schools and only know what they have been taught to. Going to a school that provides students with an accurate sense of the American population allows students to learn how to interact with others of many cultures in the real world.


3.     Minorities are Given an Opportunity to Higher Education :


Through affirmative action, students who come from less fortunate families have the opportunity to continue their education. According to Theodore Cross, the author of “The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education”, a study was done on 3,000 African American students who attended the top 25 colleges in the fall of 1994. From the statistics from that years SAT scores, it was discovered that African Americans made up only approximately 1.5% of the group of students who scored above the mean SAT scores for all students in the top 25 top rated universities. Cross states that without affirmative action, the number of African Americans gaining an education at these top rated schools would be far less, causing the SAT test scores to be well below 1.5%.


It would be complete and total discrimination if we did not offer some sort of way for students of lesser privilege a road to higher education. There are thousands of students in today’s world that hope to move onto college who don’t speak English as a first language. In fact, college admission may be more difficult to those whose native tongue isn’t English. It is not fair to students to deny them the right to a higher education simply based on the fact that they speak another language.


Side Two of the Debate: No, Affirmative Action is Not Practical



1.     Minorities are Seen as Less Capable to be Successful:


It is just as possible that these minorities are viewed by administrators or higher education through stereotypes. These stereotypes create the assumption that those who are culturally different than mainstream America are less capable and not smart enough to gain admittance into a certain college, without the help of affirmative action. It is possible that affirmative action can actually work against the student and lessen their chance to get into a certain school of higher education.


According to Barbara Bergman in the book, In Defense of Affirmative Action, it is in the feelings of many that colleges and universities accept under qualified students only to racially and ethnically diversify the student body (pros and cons). Many do not feel that these students of minorities are judged on an equal or standard basis as other students are. Therefore, regardless of their academic merit, schools of higher education might accept students from diverse populations.


2.     The U.S.’s Majority is being Discriminated Against:



Author Kristy Nova of the article “The pros and cons of affirmative action in the college admissions process”, claims that through the concept of affirmative action, those who are not of the minority in the United States are in fact being discriminated against. Are colleges accepting students of minority and neglecting other students based on the simple fact that they are funded for allowing more minorities in? There are no statistics to prove either way that colleges can and might be discriminating against those who are culturally the majority of America.


3.     Minorities Who Are Able to Afford Higher Education:


Affirmative action was a policy put into effect to serve equal rights for those who are of America’s minority. Unfortunately, affirmative action has led some institutions of higher education to assume that most of America’s minority lives in poverty. What happens if an upper-class Asian family can afford to send their child to an Ivy League university and there is a lower-class white family who cannot? Technically, under affirmative action, the Asian student would be more likely to attain certain types of scholarships than the white student would be able to, simply based on their skin color.


Affirmative action assumes that America’s racial majority is able to afford higher education while America’s minorities cannot. This is not necessarily true. In this case, the university would be more likely to take the Asian student because they are a minority. They are more likely to be influenced to accept this student to better the diversity of the school.


Is Affirmative Action Principled?



                                               "The motivation ... may be very good, but its result is discrimination and that discrimination is wrong."


                                                                   -President George W. Bush (January 15, 2003)


Although it is a common thought that affirmative action is based on quotas, it is not. It has been debatable whether or not affirmative action should place quotas in areas of higher education or not. According to dictionary.com, the definition of a quota is the number or percentage of persons of a specified kind permitted to enroll in a college, join a club, immigrate to a country, etc.


Affirmative action is not here to force schools of higher education to accept a certain percentage of minorities or women into their school. Rather, affirmative action is a policy which was initially put into action to make schools understand the importance for diversity in schools.


 In fact, it was ruled by the Supreme Court after the case Bakke vs. California that setting quotas for minorities in schools was illegal. Rather than put in place to set quotas, affirmative action is put in action to equal out the playing field and to ensure that colleges are not intentionally discriminating against minority groups and women.


In 2005, one of the greatest debates of affirmative action quotas was brought up by the University of Michigan. The university faced two lawsuits in which they faced accusations that challenged their admissions policy. Their admissions policy was challenged because the university was still allowing for the contemplation of race in admissions.


Dean Jeffrey Lehman stated to the press that the decisions made by the Supreme Court allowed for there to be a positive sense of diversity in higher education.  Leeman told the press, “By upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions policy, the court has approved a model for how to enroll a student body that is both academically excellent and racially integrated. The question is no longer whether affirmative action is legal; it is how to hasten the day when affirmative action is no longer needed.”


In March of 2003, current day President George Bush gave a speech to the American public making it known that there were to be no more quotas in higher education today. He states that yes, affirmative action is here to make today’s schools equally racial. And yes, diversity is encouraged in schools of higher education. But attaining this through quotas is wrong, and in the end discriminating against other races of students.



Is Affirmative Action Professionally Sound?



 "I wish it was possible for everything to be race-neutral in this country, but I'm afraid we're not yet at that point where things are race-neutral. I believe race should be a factor among many other factors in determining the makeup of a student body of a university."


-     Colin Powel on CNN's “Late Edition







Motives Behind Affirmative Action that Cause it to be a Professionally Sound Policy





 1) An organized and systematic attempt to fight discrimination against minorities:


           Proivdes practical steps for stopping discrimination and eliminating barriers that stop racial desegregation. This also will hopefully put a stop to those who don't hope for change.


2) The desire for integration:


           To see diversity in the classrooms of higher education. There are positive values that are learned when there is diversity in a community.


3) Reduce poverty of certain groups who are outcasted by gender and race:


          Overcome poverty that is brought upon those of minorities.




Timeline of Affirmative Action


·        March 6, 1961


o   John F. Kennedy creates the committee of Equal Employment Opportunity. He orders people to “take affirmative action” to make sure employers are hiring free of racial bias.


·        July 2, 1964


o   Civil Rights Act signed by Lyndon B. Johnson which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion and ethnicity.


·        1969


o   Philadelphia order was initiated by Nixon. This was a forceful plan that guaranteed fair hiring practices. President Nixon also states here that no quotas will be imposed.


·        June 28, 1978


o   University of California vs. Bakke: Affirmative action is question in higher education. Limitations are put on affirmative action in order to ensure there is not reverse discrimination on college campuses.


·        July 2, 1980:


o   Fullilove vs. Klutznick: The Supreme Court rules modest quotas are constitutional, even though in Bakke’s case they were ruled unconstitutional.


·        May 19, 1986:


o   Wygant vs. Jackson Board of Education: A case in which a school board’s policy is challenged. In this policy, employees of minority were protected in being laid off while non-minority teachers were laid off first. The result of this case is that the Supreme Court ruled against the school board.


·        July 19, 1995


o   President Clinton states that he will ensure that affirmative action has stricter standards. He elimanted the use of quotas, preferences for unqualified individuals and also reverse discrimination was eliminated.


·        March 18, 1996


o   Hopwood Vs. Univeristy of Texas Law School: Four white law school students challenge the University of Texas’s law school program. They said they were rejected because of unfair preferences that were practiced towards minority applicants that were less qualified.


·        Novemeber 3, 1997:


o   Washington State becomes the second state to abolish affirmative action.


·        February 22, 2000:


o   Florida bans race as factor in college admissions


·        June 23, 2003


o   Supreme Court uphoalds affirmative action in college admissions


·        June 28, 2006


o   Supreme Court rules against considering race to integrate schools.




In the End...


Just like any other policy, affirmative action does have its flaws. There are debates on both sides that are for and against it. Of course, affirmative action has great intentions. Intentions to put a stop to all sorts of racial discrimination that still remain today. Affirmative action has already been in effect for over 40 years, but it still has years to go.


So how can we as a nation ensure that all races have an equal opportunity to a higher education? We can start by stop basing acceptance into higher education on race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc, and start looking at the applicant as a true human being. Affirmative action means no harm, but is rather the first step towards a long term approach in ensuring equality in higher education everywhere.



Works Cited


Bergmann, Barbara. In Defense of Affirmative Action. Basic Books, 1996.


Brunner, Borgna. Info Please. 2007. 12 February 2008 <http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmativetimeline1.html>.


Coate, Stephen and Lowly C Gleen. Will Affirmative Action Policies Eliminate Negatice Stereotypes? American Economic Review, 1993.


Cross, Theodore. "What If There Was No Affirmative Action in College Admissions?" The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (1994): 52-55.


King, John. CNN.com/insidepolitics. 16 January 2003. 12 February 2008 <http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/01/15/bush.affirmativeaction/>.


Making the Case for Affirmative Action. 22 May 2002. 3 March 2008 <http://www.acenet.edu/bookstore/descriptions/making_the_case/works/research.cfm>.


Nova, Kristy. Helium. 2002-2008. 12 February 2008 http://www.helium.com/tm/698371/debate-affirmative-action-college.




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