Affirmative Action in Higher Education

affirmative action

affirmative action, in the United States, programs to overcome the effects of past societal discrimination by allocating jobs and resources to members of specific groups, such as minorities and women. The policy was implemented by federal agencies enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and two executive orders, which provided that government contractors and educational institutions receiving federal funds develop such programs. The Equal Employment Opportunities Act (1972) set up a commission to enforce such plans.

The establishment of racial quotas in the name of affirmative action brought charges of so-called reverse discrimination in the late 1970s. Although the U.S. Supreme Court accepted such an argument in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), it let existing programs stand and approved the use of quotas in 1979 in a case involving voluntary affirmative-action programs in unions and private businesses. In the 1980s, the federal government's role in affirmative action was considerably diluted. In three cases in 1989, the Supreme Court undercut court-approved affirmative action plans by giving greater standing to claims of reverse discrimination, voiding the use of minority set-asides where past discrimination against minority contractors was unproven, and restricting the use of statistics to prove discrimination, since statistics did not prove intent.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 reaffirmed a federal government's commitment to affirmative action, but a 1995 Supreme Court decision placed limits on the use of race in awarding government contracts; the affected government programs were revamped in the late 1990s to encompass any person who was "socially disadvantaged." In the late 1990s, in a public backlash against perceived reverse discrimination, California and other states banned the use of race- and sex-based preferences in state and local programs. A 2003 Supreme Court decision concerning affirmative action in universities allowed educational institutions to consider race as a factor in admitting students as long as it was not used in a mechanical, formulaic manner. This requirement was tightened by the Court in 2013, which said that courts that approve of the consideration of race in university admissions must be sure that the diversity achieved could not have been accomplished using other means.

In Europe, the European Court of Justice has upheld (1997) the use in the public sector of affirmative-action programs for women, establishing a legal precedent for the nations of the European Union.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Actuating Equity: Historical and Contemporary Analyses of African American Access to Selective Higher Education from Sweatt to the Top 10 Percent Law
Heilig, Julian Vasquez; Reddick, Richard J.; Hamilton, Choquette; Rodriguez, Cristobal; Dietz, Laurel.
Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy, Vol. 17, Annual 2011
From Comparing Plus Factors to Context Review: The Future of Affirmative Action in Higher Education
Foley, Lauren S.
Journal of Law and Education, Vol. 39, No. 2, April 2010
The Admissions Equity Struggle: Fisher Case Is Latest in a Long History of Texas Legal Battles over Race's Role in Higher Education
Freedman, Eric.
Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Vol. 29, No. 4, March 29, 2012
Affirmative Action in Higher Education: Costs, Benefits, and Implementation
Berry, RaJade M.
Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer 2004
The Historical Development of Affirmative Action: An Aggregated Analysis
Woodhouse, Shawn.
The Western Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 26, No. 3, Fall 2002
Affirmative Action, the Academy and Compromised Standards: Does Affirmative Action Lower Standards in University Hiring, Tenure and Promotion?
Hanks, Lawrence J.; Sullivan, Jas; Spencer, Sara B.; Rogers, Elgin.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008
Is Race Neutrality a Fallacy? A Comparison of the U.S. and French Models of Affirmative Action in Higher Education
Ledford, Danielle.
Texas International Law Journal, Vol. 46, No. 2, Spring 2011
The Desegregation of Higher Education, Race Conscious Admissions Policies and the Federal Constitution: Before Brown vs. Board and Beyond
Lark, Taj'ullah Sky.
The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), Vol. 5, No. 5, June 2012
Affirmative Action and Racial Preference: A Debate
Carl Cohen; James P. Sterba.
Oxford University Press, 2003
Understanding Affirmative Action : Politics, Discrimination, and the Search for Justice
J. Edward Kellough.
Georgetown University Press, 2006
Affirmative Action and the University: A Philosophical Inquiry
Steven M. Cahn.
Temple University Press, 1993
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