The Big Affirmative Action Question

Categories: Uncategorized

Affirmative action had major forays in the news about 9 years ago when the Supreme Court allowed public colleges and universities to take account of race in admission decisions. And now, with another big legal decision looming, it’s back in the news again.

What is affirmative action?

Higher education institutions that uphold affirmative action take positive steps to increase the representation of minorities among their student bodies. Affirmative action was instituted to increase populations among the student body that have been historically excluded, namely African-American and Latino students.

Why is affirmative action so controversial?

There are those who believe that affirmative action leads to preferential selection by race or ethnicity. Just being of a certain race accounts for points on certain college applications. In 2003, the United States Supreme Court upheld the decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that ruled that the University of Michigan Law School had a compelling interest in promoting class diversity and that its “plus” system did not amount to a quota system that would have been unconstitutional under Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (which set aside 16 of the 100 seats for African American students).

What’s happening now?

Now we’re back to arguing over it again. According to the New York Times, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear a major case involving race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas, both supporters and opponents of affirmative action said they saw the announcement as a signal that the court’s five more conservative members–since 2003–might be prepared to do away with racial preferences in higher education.

A reversal of the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision would make it so that public colleges and universities would not be able to use a point system to increase minority enrollment. Defenders of affirmative action believe the court’s backpedaling of the 2003 decision could seriously affect the building of a more integrated, diverse, and just education system in the United States. Minorities such as African-Americans and Latinos often, unfortunately, land disproportionately in the bottom half of the socio-economic gap. This leads not only to an economic divide, but an educational one as these students are generally not exposed to the same opportunities in education.

So how did this topic makes its way back into the ring once more? In Texas, students in the top 10 percent of high schools are automatically admitted to the public university system. The top 10% policy was created to side-step considering race but simultaneously increase racial diversity in part because so many high schools are racially homogenous. A Texas student who did not make the cut, Abigail Fisher, just missed that cutoff at her high school in Sugar Land, Tex., and then became part of a separate pool of applicants who were to be admitted through a complicated system in which race plays an unquantified but significant role. Ms. Fisher then sued in 2008 on the grounds that, according to the Project on Fair Representation, she and thousands of past applicants have been unfairly denied admission to the University of Texas based upon its unconstitutional use of racial preferences.

Opponents of affirmative action believe that it’s a form of discrimination and whether it’s “for or against”, discrimination is wrong. Hans von Spakovsky, a legal fellow at conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, said,  “The idea that [my daughter] might be discriminated against and not be admitted because of her race is incredible to me.”

What’s to come?

If the Supreme Court forbids the use of race in admission at public universities, it’s possible that it would bar the use at private ones as well under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 2003 decision to allow for affirmative action was made to create a day 25 years down the line where, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who was the on the court in 2003, said, “the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary” to create diversity in higher education. That day might just be approaching a decade early, and depending on which side you take, the timing’s right, or we ended it too early.

What is your opinion on affirmative action? We’d to hear your opinions and create an open, but respectful, dialogue. Share in the comment section below.

Original Post Date: February 22nd, 2012

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