Academic journal article College and University

Memo to Pundits and Policymakers: Affirmative Action

Academic journal article College and University

Memo to Pundits and Policymakers: Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to reconsider the precedent set in Bakke vs. Regents of the University of California and groups scurrying to hone their rhetoric on affirmative action in college admissions, it is essential that those in the public arena not be tripped up by terminology. Following is a quick primer on some of the more slippery terms in the current affirmative action debate.


It is very important to understand three basic things about racial/ethnic quotas in college and university admissions:

* Bakke essentially banned their use in college and university admissions;

* Quotas are not the same as "plus factor" or "target" programs such as those employed at the University of Michigan (there has been some confusion over this); and

* Everyone is against quotas.

That said, coming out against quotas in the current debate is useful if:

* One's intent is to confuse rather than clarify; or

* One wants to take a position on affirmative action that is not controversial.

Legacy Preferences

Admissions preference based on family legacy at a given institution, viewed by some as a useful tool for institution-building and as affirmative action for rich and well-connected students by others, can also be a minefield for those engaged in public debate.

* For those opposed to admissions preferences based on race/ ethnicity, making sure that one was not admitted to college via a legacy preference is highly advisable.

* For those wont to use legacy preferences to bash critics of affirmative action, it is important not to overplay this card for three reasons: a) legacy admissions affect a small portion of the total collegiate population in the United States; b) many "legacies" are students that likely could have been admitted without the preference; and c) if legacy preferences are so odious, are preferences for artistic or athletic ability similarly objectionable? …

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