The civil rights movement and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty in the mid-1960’s launched a movement for the nation to respond by offering equal access to education, housing, and other resources (Alger et al., 2000). In June 1965, President Johnson spoke at Howard University outlining the major principles behind affirmative action. He stated:
“You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others’, and still justly believe you have been completely fair…This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity-not legal equity but human ability-not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result” (ECS, 1).
President Johnson reinforced his speech by signing an Executive Order in late 1965 mandating government contractors to “take affirmative action” in all aspects of hiring and employing minorities (Brunner, 2002). Six years later the order was amended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.
As a result of this mandate, many colleges and professional schools started to recruit minority students as a part of their educational mission. Ultimately, this led to these institutions initiating admission policies that took race into consideration. These policies increased admission for African Americans and Hispanics at predominately white institutions.
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) was the first case to question the legality of affirmative action policies in higher education. Allan Bakke, a white applicant, claimed he was wrongfully denied admission to medical school at the University of California to make room for less qualified minority applicants. The US Supreme Court ruled that the establishment or use of “racial quotas” in determining admission violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; however, institutions of higher learning can still consider race as one factor, among many, in the admission process.
Over the next 25 years, affirmative action policies in higher education sparked many debates and issues. Most recently, the Supreme Court ruled on the monumental decision in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) which allowed the University of Michigan Law School to use race-based affirmative action to diversify its student body. However, in the Gratz v. Rggewis (2003) decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the university’s undergraduate College of Literature, Science, and Arts could not use an admission process that awarded points based on an applicant’s race and ethnicity. The decisions by the Supreme Court have now changed the future of affirmative action in the undergraduate admission process, given that race and ethnicity cannot be awarded “extra” points to help admit certain applicants.
So now I ask you, should minorities have lower admission standards in order to racially balance college populations? Should race and ethnic background be a consideration at all in the college admission process, or does that promote reverse discrimination? Consider the many different races affected by this.