Mainstream Academic Institutions

Is affirmative action an issue practiced in admitting blacks to mainstream institutions?

Affirmative action has its roots in the Civil Rights Movement. On March 6, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, which established the President’s Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity. It called for contractors doing business with the government to ensure that applicants are hired without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. President Lyndon B. Johnson developed the concept into public policies, declaring that affirmative steps must be taken to close the gap between blacks and whites and issued Executive Order 11246 to document such efforts. President Richard M. Nixon was the first to implement federal policies designed to guarantee minority hiring. By the late 1970s the U.S. Supreme Court continued to uphold affirmative action policies but placed certain restrictions on their implementation. In the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, the court held that it was unconstitutional for the medical school at the University of California at Davis to establish a rigid quota system setting aside sixteen of one hundred spaces for entering minorities. Other cases continued to challenge affirmative action into the last decade of the twentieth century.

In 1996 California governor Pete Wilson and Ward Connerly, a conservative African American and member of the University of California Board of Regents, pushed for and got passed Proposition 209, which ended all state-sponsored affirmative action programs. Two years later Connerly led Washington State’s Initiative 200, which also sought to eradicate affirmative action. In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of race as a factor in promoting educational diversity as long as the University of Michigan did not consider it in a “mechanical way.” The Court rejected Michigan’s undergraduate plan saying that it placed too much emphasis on race as a determining factor in its admission policies. On November 7, 2006, Michigan voters approved a referendum calling for an end to race-sensitive admissions at the University of Michigan and in the state’s university system. Affirmative action has been a highly contentious and decisive issue since its inception. With state legislatures, the public, and the courts at variance, its continued status is uncertain.


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