Affirmative ActionAffirmative Action as defined by the Meriam Webster’s Dictionary is anactive effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of membersof minority groups or women.In 1961 John F.Kennedy issued an executive order calling for AffirmativeAction as a means to promote equal opportunity for racial minorities, in hiringby federal contractors.
This was the first official use of the term by theFederal Government. Eight years later Nixon as President beefed up the Office ofFederal Compliance Programs, which along with the Equal Employment OpportunityCommission has become one of the governments two main enforcers of affirmativeaction 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 equalopportunity act of 1972 most federal contractors, subcontractors, all state andgovernment institutions (including universities) must initiate plans to increasethe proportions of their female and minority employees until they are equal tothe proportions existing in the available labor market.(Grolier’s ElectricEncyclopedia, 1993)Affirmative action plans that establish racial quotas were declaredunconstitutional 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 ofCalifornia at Davis twice rejected Allen Bakke’s application while admittingmembers of racial minorities who had lower test scores.
Bakke charged that themedical school’s policy of setting aside 16 of the 100 positions for racialminorities 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. Thecourt ruled that even though universities may consider race and ethnic originsas a factor in evaluating candidates for admission, they may not establish fixedracial quotas.(Time Magazine, May 27 1991, pp.
22)The decision was, however upheld in the case of Private Business andUnions in United Steelworkers of America vs. Webber in 1979. This case arosewhen Brian F. Webber sued Kaiser Aluminum and the United Steelworkers of Americafor setting aside half of the positions in a training program for minorityworkers with less seniority. The Supreme Court overruled this case by a 5-2 voteholding that the Kaiser program did not violate title VII of the civil rightsact of 1964. The ruling was that, private employers could voluntarily adoptplans designed to eliminate conspicuous racial imbalance in traditionallysegregated job categories. Then in 1984 and 1986 the justices ruled againstupsetting seniority systems in favor of minorities.
(Harper’s Magazine, July 1991,pp.27)In 1984 the Supreme Court struck down a Richmond ordinance intended toquarntee Afro-Americans and other minorities a greater share of the city’sconstruction contracts. The decision not only threatened similar programs in 36states, but also opened the door to legal attacks against other racially basedgovernment schemes. A key component of the court ruling was the requirement thatall government distinctions based on race be subject to “strict scrutiny.” Thismeans that public sector affirmative action programs are valid only if theyserve the compelling state interest of redressing identifieddiscrimination.(Time Magazine, February 6 1989, pp.
60)Affirmative action has moved to the forefront of public debate in recentmonths with a proposed California ballot initiative that would end many race-based preference programs. The University of California itself has become thefocus of debate after Ward Connerly, a Regent for the University of Californiasystem called for an end to such preferences in admissions. The Chancellor ofUCLA Charles E.
Young, quickly took a strong stand against Mr. Connerly, sayingthat affirmative action had benefited the university and shouldcontinue.(NY.Times, June 4 1995, pp.22)The University Of California at Berkeley campus was among the first ofthe nations’ leading universities to embrace the elements of affirmative actionin it’s admissions policies, and now boasts that it has one of the most diversecampuses 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 toabandon the cornerstone of affirmative action in higher education. TheUniversity Board of Regents expects to consider a proposal to prohibit the useof 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 ofRegents adopted a plan to dismantle affirmative action plans within theuniversity system.Effective January 1, 1997, the University of California system shall notuse race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin as a criterion