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Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action As Nick Catoggio went to his mailbox, he knew that his acceptance letter from Harvard University had arrived. Although Nick was nervous, he knew that his hard work in high school had gained him admission into one of the worlds most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Because of his grade point average of 4.0 in high school, his numerous extracurricular activities, and a combined score of 1440 on his SATs, Nick believed that he would almost be guaranteed admission to Harvard. When he opened the letter however, he was shattered when he read the words, “We regret to inform you ..” He immediately called his friend Richard Sahk, who had also applied, to tell him his news and to see if Richard had received his letter from Harvard. Richard said, “Yeah Nick, I got in!” Nick was astonished. Richards GPA was only 3.7, and he receive a combined score of 1100 on his SATs. After a long pause he replied, “Its because Im black, Nick,” Richard felt bad for his friend. Both he and Nick had realized that he was accepted by Harvard because of his race. Nick was mad because he was qualified and didnt get in; Richard felt upset because he wasnt as qualified as Nick but was admitted because of his race.

This is an anecdotal example of one of the many criticisms of affirmative action. In fact, the whole controversy over preferences based on race and gender has been debated ever since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. I believe that Affirmative action should be discontinued, this program is a new kind of discrimination to counter the past discrimination and this defeats the whole idea of the program. Affirmative action is defined, as a program ensuring that a predetermined proportion of jobs or college admissions go to African Americans and presumably, other minorities and women as well (Woods 102). Also, James Q. Wilson in the winter 1996 issue of The New Republic takes affirmative action to mean the selecting of persons based on their group membership (23).

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Nicholas Lehman writes that affirmative action today refers to ” stuff that helps black people.” By this, he says that affirmative action today has come to mean everything from “preferential college admissions to the way news is covered to what’s hung in museums to corporate promotional practices” (84). According to Nicholas Lehman, affirmative action started out as Executive Order 10925. Lyndon Johnson, the incoming vice President asked Hobart Taylor Jr., the lawyer son of one of his friends, to work on a draft of an executive order that would ban discriminatory hiring by Federal contractors. Taylor later said that he “was searching for something that would give a sense of positiveness to performance under executive order, and I was torn between the words ‘positive action’ and the words ‘affirmative action. . .

. And I took ‘affirmative action’ because it was alliterative” (40). Even during Johnson’s proposal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the issue of racial quotas was controversial. Said then-Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, “.. I know what will happen if the bill is passed.

I know what will happen if there is a choice between hiring a white man or hiring a Negro both having equal qualifications. I know who will get the job. It will not be the white man” (Lehman 40). The people who seek to abolish affirmative action claim that more qualified students are being displaced by less-qualified students. But there are no more or less qualified students, only students who can benefit from attending a university such as Michigan get a chance, and no one knows in advance who they are.

The opinions that accompany the various Supreme Court cases concerning affirmative action have been perplexing, and, at times, contradictory. Woods Geraldine referred to the opinions of the justices as pieces of a puzzle that no one, including the court itself, knows how to solve completely (65). This confusion is probably the result of disagreement among the justices. Many of the cases involving affirmative action have been decided by very close votes. Even when the justices vote the same way, their separate opinions often explain what they agreed for entirely different reasons.

Lets take the example of the case, “The Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.” On October 12, 1977, the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear case no.76-811. Both proponents and opponents of affirmative action waited to hear arguments about whether a white male, Allan Bakke, should be admitted to medical school at U.C. Davis. On the application form, Bakke noticed that there was an item that stated, “Applicants for economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds are evaluated by a special subcommittee of the admissions committee.

If you wish your application to be considered by this group, please check this space.” A special taskforce had been created by the University to help bring in more minorities and economically disadvantaged students into the school. This task force was included in the admissions process and was charged with helping to evaluate the applications of minorities and economically disadvantaged persons. After being rejected by Davis several times, Bakke sued the school claiming that he had been discriminated against because of his race. Bakke believed that some of the students that had been accepted by Davis were less qualified, looking at MCAT scores, than himself but were admitted because they were members of minority groups. The University countered Bakke’s argument by explaining that all the students at Davis were fully qualified. Because society’s past discrimination against minorities, the school claimed that it was justified in considering race as one of the factors in the admissions process.

The University also stated that it trained physicians who were more likely to serve disadvantaged communities after graduation. In June 1978, after several lower courts had ruled in favor of Bakke and the subsequent appeals of the University of California, the court announced its decision. Four justices voted to admit Bakke to the medical school at U.C. Davis. Another four justices voted in favor of the University of California.

In their view, the school’s admissions program was constitutional and Bakke’s rights had not been violated. Justice Powell broke the deadlock. He agreed that Bakke should be admitted because the admissions process was unfair, but he did not rule against affirmative action. He said that those types of programs could not assign a particular number of places to minority candidates, however they could take race or ethnic background into consideration as a positive factor in their consideration of candidates (Woods 68). For years, this colleges and universities have interpreted this ruling as meaning that they could use race, ethnicity, and gender as criteria in the admissions process.

As Lemann put it, “The decision may have been a statesman like piece of juris prudence, but in admissions office circles, it is widely viewed as meaning that it’s O.K. to reverse discriminate as long as you’re not really obvious about it” (85). Proposition 209 is a California ballot initiative voted on in November, 1996. It will change the constitution of the state of California. This proposition prohibits discrimination or preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, education, and contracting.

The so-called California Civil Right’s Initiative, which is neither civil n …


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