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,
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