DIS 7

Affirmative action refers to programs aimed at giving women, minorities, and other traditionally disadvantaged groups equal opportunities in employment, education, and other areas of life. Affirmative action represented something new. Earlier civil rights policies had targeted what’s called de jure discrimination, which is discrimination based on law, as in the case of state laws mandating segregated schools. In contrast, affirmative action targeted what’s called de facto discrimination, the situation where historically disadvantaged groups, such as women and minorities, have fewer benefits and opportunities because of prejudice and the effects of past discrimination. Affirmative action on a large scale began when Presidents Johnson and Nixon issued executive orders requiring recipients of federal grants and contracts to take steps to give historically disadvantaged groups equal opportunity. Affirmative actions shift the burden of proof to the provider. For instance, if a federal contractors hired a nearly all-male workforce, they needed to provide a compelling reason for the imbalance, such as the physical demands of the job. If the contractor failed to do so, the contract could be cancelled. As affirmative action took root, spreading to evermore firms and institutions, it met increased opposition. Polls indicated that most Americans while believing women and minorities should have a fair chance, were opposed to giving them preferential treatment. In a 1977 poll, for example, more than seven times as many respondents expressed opposition to preferential treatment as supported it. Not surprisingly, affirmative action has been the target of countless lawsuits.

In 1978, the US Supreme Court ruled for the first time on affirmative action. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been denied admission to the University of California Medical School, even though his test scores were higher than several successful minority applicants. Bakke sued this medical school, claiming it had violated his 14th Amendment equal protection rights by setting aside a specific number of slots for minority applicants. The Supreme Court ruled in Bakke’s favor, saying that the school’s quota system was unconstitutional. However, the court also held that government has a compelling interest in fostering a more equal society. Accordingly, it said that race could be taken into account in admission decisions, along with other factors, such as an applicant’s extracurricular activities, as long as race was not the decisive factor. The net result of the Bakke decision– quotas were unconstitutional; affirmative action, per se, was not. In a 2003 case involving the University of Michigan Law School, its admission policy took race into account, along with things such as an applicant’s test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities. No specific weight was attached to any of these factors. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the admission policy, concluding it was narrowly tailored and served a compelling interest–the law school’s goal of creating a diverse community in which students can learn from being around others with a different background. That precedent still holds. Affirmative action is lawful policy as long as it’s narrowly fitted to the situation and serves a compelling interest.

That precedent was reaffirmed in a 2016 case involving the University of Texas at Austin. The university was sued by a white applicant, who after being denied admission, claimed that her equal rights had been violated because the university in its admission decisions had taken race, along with extracurricular activity and other non-academic factors, such as musical or athletic talent, into account. In a 4 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the university’s affirmative action policy met constitutional standards, that it served the university’s compelling interest in creating a diverse student body, and that it was narrowly tailored in the sense that race was not heavily weighted. The court concluded that the university had met its burden of showing that the admissions policy was narrowly tailored (the above material is also found in the lecture of civil rights.)

A Federal District Court is Boston is now reviewing the admissions policy of Harvard University. In the trial, the university is being forced to answer detailed questions about how the university recruits, and admits a class and how it takes race and other factors into account.

Harvard is one of the most selective colleges in the country. It rejects 19 of every 20 applicants. It is also one of the more diverse than in the past. Seventeen percent of the nearly 2000 admitted this year are the first in their family to go to college. Twenty percent come from families with enough need to quality for federal Pell Grants (grants to poorer families). More than half receive financial aid.

The lawsuit has also revealed less favorable data. As a rule, Harvard does not disclose how many children of alumni and what share are accepted. But court documents show from 2009 to 2015, 34 percent of these legacy applicants were accepted. That is far higher than the six percent admission rate for non-legacy applicants.  In addition, 2,500 applicants were designated in that time as “interest lists.” This list  was deemed worthy of special handling, which included children of donors. Their admission rate was 42 percent.

This contrasts with the supposed penalty that Harvard imposes on Asian Americans, according to the plaintiffs in the case. Admission officers described Asian Americans applicants as “quiet, shy, science/math oriented, and hard workers.” These comment may have been meant to reduce the likelihood that Asian Americans would be accepted.

Data also showed that race and ethnicity of the Harvard’s entering class. This includes includes 8.2 percent African American, 13 percent Hispanic,  24 percent Asian American, 47 percent white, and 7 percent multiracial.

A Harvard-retained expert found that if race was not used in admission decisions, the African American and Hispanic share of an admitted class would decline.

The judge in the affirmative action case, Allison D. Burroughs, will decide whether or not Harvard’s admission policy violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution, which ensures the equal protection for all people (all people should be treated equally). This case will probably be appealed to the Supreme Court.

I have included a few articles on the topic, which are fairly short and will give you more details on the issue. Please use some evidence from this material to support your arguments.

Should Harvard University take into account a person’s race or ethnicity when it makes decisions about who is admitted?  

1. Harvard Admission Trial Opens with University Accused of Bias Against Asian Americans Harvard Trial 

2.As Harvard Admissions Policy Goes on Trial, Alleged Victims of Racial Bias Remain Anonymous Victims Remain Anonymous 

3.  Asian Americans Suing Harvard Say Admissions Files Show Discrimination Asian-Americans Sue Harvard, File Shows Discrimination

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4. What’s at Stake in a Harvard Lawsuit What’s At Stake 

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5. Deep Thinking on Affirmative Action Deep Thinking on Affirmative Action 

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6. Interactive on Percentage of Students from Different Ethnic and Racial Groups at various Universities Interactive 

7. Evidence Presented at the Trial Evidence

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