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Affirmative Action

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Affirmative action measures were an outgrowth and continuation of efforts in the United States to remedy discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities and women. These measures addressed the recognition that certain patterns of disadvantage and legal and social exclusion might require race- or gender-conscious measures to achieve equality of opportunity.

The first significant wave of progress in enhancing employment opportunities for African Americans and women came during the labor shortages of World War II and immediately afterwards. The civil rights movement had its dramatic victories -- Brown v. Board of Education and the other cases striking down segregation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- which helped advance the Constitution's promise of equal opportunity to all minorities and women.

Discrimination in education was the target of the original breakthrough civil rights cases. Education has consistently been a central focus of civil rights efforts because education is the gateway to opportunity. In 1955, only 4.9 percent of college students were black. This figure rose to 6.5 percent during the next five years, but by 1965 had slumped back to 4.9 percent. Only in the wake of affirmative action measures in the late 1960s and early 1970s did the percentage of black college students begin to climb.

The 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Supreme Court case set the parameters of educational affirmative action. According to this Supreme Court judgment, colleges could use race and ethnicity as a factor in admissions decisions but could not designate set numbers of spaces for members of specific ethnic and racial groups.

Unintended consequences related to fairness and racial equality have complicated perceptions and influenced public opinion relating to the effectiveness and the future of affirmative action programs. President Bush recently announced his administration will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that the University of Michigan's admissions policies -- which currently award students a significant number of extra points based solely on their race, and establishes numerical admission targets for incoming minority students -- are unconstitutional. President Bush cited programs in California and Florida and Texas where race-neutral admissions policies have resulted in levels of minority attendance for incoming students that are close to, and in some instances slightly surpass, those under the old race-based approach. These programs guarantee admissions to the top students from high schools throughout the state, including low-income neighborhoods.



"Race has been a defining element of the American experience."
Bollinger, Lee C. "Diversity is essential." Newsweek (January 27, 2003): 32.
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"We just can't continue to base opportunities on race while the needs of the poor fall by the wayside."
Williams, Armstron. "But not at this cost." Newsweek (January 27, 2003): 33.
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Fore more information ...

Sample WebQuest

What Should be the Future of Affirmative Action?
Monica Kauschinger, Project LEGAL Resources, Maxwell School of Syracuse University
Using defined websites, students analyze the pros and cons of affirmative action and recommend future options. Webquest

Background Resources

Affirmative Action
(Chronicle of Higher Education) Bakke and Beyond.

Afirmative Action History

Federal Affirmative Action Laws. A brief history. By Charles V. Dale. CRS Report (September 13, 2005)

Public Backs Affirmative Action, But Not Minority Preferences. Pew Research Center (June 2, 2009)
"... there is renewed focus on public opinion about affirmative
action programs and overall efforts to improve the position of minorities in this country. The public has generally been supportive of such efforts, but is decidedly opposed to the idea of providing preferential treatment to minorities..."

Timeline of Affirmative Action Milestones

Articles & Web sites

Affirmative-Action Programs for Minority Students: Right in Theory, Wrong in Practice. By Camille Z. Charles, Mary J. Fischer, Margarita A. Mooney, and Douglas S. Massey. The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 27, 2009): A.29.
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Is It Time To End Affirmative Action? By Ward Connerly and Bill Ritter Jr. New York Times Upfront ( February 16, 2009): 22.
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Affirmative Action and After. By W Ralph Eubanks. The American Scholar (Winter 2009): 41-48.
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U.S. Minorities Will Be the Majority by 2042, Census Bureau Says. Report sees quicker growth, more diversity; Hispanics fastest-growing group. August 15, 2008

U.S. Minority Population Continues to Grow. Minorities make up 34 percent of U.S. population in 2007. By David Minkler. America. gov May 14, 2008

Kantrowitz, Barbara, and Pat Wingert. "What's at stake." Newsweek (January 27, 2003): 30-37.
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" Diversity in America: Asians." American Demographics ( November 2002): 14-16.
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"Diversity in America: Blacks." American Demographics (November 2002): 5-7.
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Diversity in America: Hispanics. American Demographics (November 2002): 8-10.
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Diversity in America: Native Americans. American Demographics (November 2002): 17-18.
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Polls & Statistics

NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted by the polling organizations of Peter Hart (D) and Robert Teeter (R). Latest: Jan. 19-21, 2003. N=500 adults nationwide.

"As you may know, the U.S. Supreme Court will be deciding whether public universities can use race as one of the factors in admissions to increase diversity in the student body. Do you favor or oppose this practice?"
Favor 26 %
Oppose 65 %
Not sure 9 %

Survey February 21 -27, 2002 by Harris Interactive for the journal American Demographics
Fetto, John. "Help Unwanted." American Demographics (May 2002): 10-11.

- 77 % of whites and 64 % of Hispanics oppose the Affirmative Action because they think it dictates racial quotas,
- 80 % whites and 71 % Hispanics are against the special preference given by Affirmative Action,
- 84 % blacks think that Affirmative Action is still necessary;
Full Article and Survey


Source: Source: U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, annual

Created: June 2003 Last update: June 2009

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