Is Race Neutrality a Fallacy? A Comparison of the U.S. and French Models of Affirmative Action in Higher Education

By Ledford, Danielle | Texas International Law Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

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


SUMMARY

INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................... 356

I. UNITED STATES-AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION AS PERMITTED BY GRUTTER ................................................................................... 358

A. Race and Education? The Achievement Gap .......................................... 358

B. Current Affirmative Action Frame work? Grutter and Recognition of "Diversity" as an Educational Benefit ....................................................... 359

II. FRANCE-THE SCIENCES PO EXPERIMENT IN "CLASS-BASED" AFFIRMATIVE ACTION ....................................................................................... 362

A. The Status of Immigrants of Color in France ........................................... 362

B. The French Educational System and the Grandes Ecoles ....................... 363

C The Sciences Po Experiment ...................................................................... 364

D. France's "Race-Blind" Legal Framework and Challenge to the Sciences Po Experiment .............................................................................. 365

III. THE DEBATE OVER RACE-NEUTRAL, CLASS-BASED AFFIRMATIVE ACTION ................................................................................................................. 368

A. The Argument for Race-Neutral Affirmative Action ............................... 369

B. Parents Involved ? Could the United States Be Moving Toward a Race-Neutral System? ................................................................................. 370

IV. WHAT CAN THE FRENCH MODEL TELL US? ...................................................... 373

A. The Difficulty of Setting Parameters .......................................................... 373

B. Is a Truly Race-Blind System Possible? .................................................... 376

C. Public Opinion and Criticism of the Preference System .......................... 377

V. CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................ 377

INTRODUCTION

For the past several decades, an intense debate has swirled around affirmative action programs, especially those with race-based preferences. Proponents of raceconscious programs have argued that they are needed to correct centuries of racial oppression and discrimination, while many opponents push for class-oriented remedies that will compensate for economic inequalities among both underrepresented minorities and whites. In the United States, as current law stands, race-conscious affirmative action is permissible under certain parameters. In the realm of higher education, Grutter v. Bollinger allows universities to use raceconscious preference programs for the goal of increasing diversity as a benefit to the educational experience, so long as each applicant is given an individualized assessment in which race is one of many factors.1 The recent Supreme Court plurality opinion in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, however, raised a serious question about the permissibility under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause of any race-conscious preference program in the educational context, although it left Grutter undisturbed for now.2

Within the last decade, France has also begun to try its hand at preference programs similar to what Americans would call affirmative action. The most prominent effort is the one made by Institut d'?tudes Politiques de Paris, often called "Sciences Po," to increase diversity among its overwhelmingly white, privileged student body.3 The barrier to any effort directed specifically at including France's growing and increasingly marginalized population of immigrants of color is the French constitutional prohibition of any distinction based on race, religion, or ethnic origin. …

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