Essay, Research Paper: Affirmative Action

Legal Issues

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As Nick Catoggio went to his mailbox, he knew that his acceptance letter from
Harvard University had arrived. Although Nick was nervous, he knew that his hard
work in high school had gained him admission into one of the world’s most
prestigious institutions of higher learning. Because of his grade point average
of 4.0 in high school, his numerous extracurricular activities, and a combined
score of 1440 on his SATs, Nick believed that he would almost be guaranteed
admission to Harvard. When he opened the letter however, he was shattered when
he read the words, “We regret to inform you …” He immediately called his
friend Richard Sahk, who had also applied, to tell him his news and to see if
Richard had received his letter from Harvard. Richard said, “Yeah Nick, I got
in!” Nick was astonished. Richard’s GPA was only 3.7, and he receive a
combined score of 1100 on his SATs. After a long pause he replied, “It’s
because I’m black, Nick,” Richard felt bad for his friend. Both he and Nick
had realized that he was accepted by Harvard because of his race. Nick was mad
because he was qualified and didn’t get in; Richard felt upset because he
wasn’t as qualified as Nick but was admitted because of his race. This is an
anecdotal example of one of the many criticisms of affirmative action. In fact,
the whole controversy over preferences based on race and gender has been debated
ever since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. I believe that Affirmative
action should be discontinued, this program is a new kind of discrimination to
counter the past discrimination and this defeats the whole idea of the program.
Affirmative action is defined, as a program ensuring that a predetermined
proportion of jobs or college admissions go to African Americans and presumably,
other minorities and women as well (Woods 102). Also, James Q. Wilson in the
winter 1996 issue of The New Republic takes affirmative action to mean the
selecting of persons based on their group membership (23). Nicholas Lehman
writes that affirmative action today refers to " stuff that helps black
people." By this, he says that affirmative action today has come to mean
everything from "preferential college admissions to the way news is covered
to what's hung in museums to corporate promotional practices" (84).
According to Nicholas Lehman, affirmative action started out as Executive Order
10925. Lyndon Johnson, the incoming vice President asked Hobart Taylor Jr., the
lawyer son of one of his friends, to work on a draft of an executive order that
would ban discriminatory hiring by Federal contractors. Taylor later said that
he "was searching for something that would give a sense of positiveness to
performance under executive order, and I was torn between the words 'positive
action' and the words 'affirmative action.’ . . . And I took 'affirmative
action' because it was alliterative" (40). Even during Johnson's proposal
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the issue of racial quotas was controversial.
Said then-Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, "... I know what will
happen if the bill is passed. I know what will happen if there is a choice
between hiring a white man or hiring a Negro both having equal qualifications. I
know who will get the job. It will not be the white man" (Lehman 40). The
people who seek to abolish affirmative action claim that more qualified students
are being displaced by less-qualified students. But there are no more or less
qualified students, only students who can benefit from attending a university
such as Michigan get a chance, and no one knows in advance who they are. The
opinions that accompany the various Supreme Court cases concerning affirmative
action have been perplexing, and, at times, contradictory. Woods Geraldine
referred to the opinions of the justices as pieces of a puzzle that no one,
including the court itself, knows how to solve completely (65). This confusion
is probably the result of disagreement among the justices. Many of the cases
involving affirmative action have been decided by very close votes. Even when
the justices vote the same way, their separate opinions often explain what they
agreed for entirely different reasons. Let’s take the example of the case,
“The Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.” On October 12, 1977,
the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear case no.76-811. Both proponents and
opponents of affirmative action waited to hear arguments about whether a white
male, Allan Bakke, should be admitted to medical school at U.C. Davis. On the
application form, Bakke noticed that there was an item that stated,
"Applicants for economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds
are evaluated by a special subcommittee of the admissions committee. If you wish
your application to be considered by this group, please check this space."
A special taskforce had been created by the University to help bring in more
minorities and economically disadvantaged students into the school. This task
force was included in the admissions process and was charged with helping to
evaluate the applications of minorities and economically disadvantaged persons.
After being rejected by Davis several times, Bakke sued the school claiming that
he had been discriminated against because of his race. Bakke believed that some
of the students that had been accepted by Davis were less qualified, looking at
MCAT scores, than himself but were admitted because they were members of
minority groups. The University countered Bakke's argument by explaining that
all the students at Davis were fully qualified. Because society's past
discrimination against minorities, the school claimed that it was justified in
considering race as one of the factors in the admissions process. The University
also stated that it trained physicians who were more likely to serve
disadvantaged communities after graduation. In June 1978, after several lower
courts had ruled in favor of Bakke and the subsequent appeals of the University
of California, the court announced its decision. Four justices voted to admit
Bakke to the medical school at U.C. Davis. Another four justices voted in favor
of the University of California. In their view, the school's admissions program
was constitutional and Bakke's rights had not been violated. Justice Powell
broke the deadlock. He agreed that Bakke should be admitted because the
admissions process was unfair, but he did not rule against affirmative action.
He said that those types of programs could not assign a particular number of
places to minority candidates, however they could take race or ethnic background
into consideration as a positive factor in their consideration of candidates
(Woods 68). For years, this colleges and universities have interpreted this
ruling as meaning that they could use race, ethnicity, and gender as criteria in
the admissions process. As Lemann put it, "The decision may have been a
statesman like piece of juris prudence, but in admissions office circles, it is
widely viewed as meaning that it's O.K. to reverse discriminate as long as
you're not really obvious about it" (85). Proposition 209 is a California
ballot initiative voted on in November, 1996. It will change the constitution of
the state of California. This proposition prohibits discrimination or
preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin
in public employment, education, and contracting. The so-called California Civil
Right's Initiative, which is neither civil nor right, is really a deceptive
attempt to constitutionalize gender discrimination and slam shut the doors of
opportunity that both women and people of color have fought so hard to open. It
places a hurdle to minorities and women that is not placed to others who seek
legislation to benefit them. he elimination of affirmative action programs for
women and minorities run by the state or local governments in the areas of
public employment, contracting, and education that give “preferential
treatment” on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, or national origin
would have a devastating affect on the minorities in the society but at the same
time we need to keep in mind that the common person is also existing in this
society to be successful and not to be denied what he/she deserves just because
there were injustices done to the minorities and these injustices should be
reversed. As for a review of surveys and polls regarding affirmative action,
Charlotte Steeh and Maria Krysan have reviewed the major polls and surveys
conducted by major organizations over the past 25 years. Among the polls and
surveys they looked at the following: · ABC News/Washington Post surveys ·
Associated Press/Media General surveys · CBS News/New York Times surveys ·
Detroit Area Study · The Gallup Poll · General Social Survey · Harris and
Associates surveys · Los Angeles Times surveys · NBC News/ Wall Street Journal
surveys · National Election Studies · Princeton Survey Research Associates
surveys · Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press surveys One of their
discoveries is that there were very few systematic attempts to survey public
attitudes about affirmative action in the first twenty years of affirmative
action. It wasn't until the mid-1980s that there were systematic attempts to
identify trends in public opinion concerning affirmative action. Despite this
lack of replicated data, the authors were able to come to some conclusions. 1.
Public opinion towards affirmative action is fluid. The deciding factor in
whether people support affirmative action programs or not depends upon the
wording of survey questions. If a question is worded to emphasize the preference
or quota aspect of affirmative action, then people will tend not to support
these types of programs. Also, questions that are worded so that they tap into
the individualistic aspect of what the authors call the "American
creed" tend to be result in lower support for affirmative action. 2. There
is a large difference between the levels of support for affirmative action
programs between blacks and whites. Black support for preferences and economic
aid exceeds 40 percent in all of the surveys and polls studied. White support
for these same types of affirmative action, however, generally is below 20
percent. It should be noted, however, that black support for economic assistance
for blacks and other minorities dropped from about 80 percent at the start of
the 1970s to about 40 percent at the start of the 1980s. 3. More people believe
that reverse discrimination occurs than actually is reported. Between 64 and 80
percent of people believe that reverse discrimination occurs at least
occasionally. This is contrasted to roughly 5 to 20 percent of whites who
reported that they themselves or someone in their families had been denied a job
or promotion (27). Looking at these surveys in more detail, Alpern noted that
women were divided on the issue of affirmative action. Only 49 percent of women
polled thought that a policy that ensures equal opportunities for women should
be continued. Forty-one percent thought that this kind of policy should be
discontinued. Nonwhite women, however, tended to support affirmative action
policies. Roughly 75 percent of nonwhite women favored a policy to ensure equal
opportunities for both women and blacks. On the other hand, Alpern noted that
very few women believed that they themselves had benefited from affirmative
action policies. The Hart-Teeter poll showed that only 9 percent of all women
and 11 percent of working women responded that they had themselves benefited
from such programs. In a Newsweek poll conducted by the Princeton Survey
Research Associates in March of 1995, 27 percent of women thought that their
gender had been helped "a lot" by affirmative action programs (68).
Contrary to previous findings, however, roughly half of respondents in the
Hart-Teeter poll were against requiring employers to seek out qualified minority
and female applicants for jobs. Once again, however, the word
"required" may have affected respondents' affitudes towards
compensatory type of affirmative action programs. In summary, the results of
surveys and polls regarding approval of affirmative action programs differ
dependingpn how survey questions are worded and also the race, gender, and
political orientaion of respondents. After my examination of the history of
Affirmative Action and the various court cases and surveys, I found Out that
equality of oppurtunity has become a basic economic ideal for United States.
Americans appear in general agreement that merit should be the only criterion
for advancement in life. Yet it is also widely ackhowledged that women and
blacks and also members of various other racial, ethnic, and religious
minorities in this country are seriously handicapped by their sex or origin
rather than merely by any lack of ability when they seek career advancement.
It's here that affirmative action comes into the scenario. Instead of providing
a path for these minorities and women to get on a level plane with the other so
called "preferred" people these types of programs actually drift them
even further apart. Some women and members of minority may feel insulted by this
preferential treatment or may always find themselves in a position to prove
their worth. On the other hand, the deprived people may increase their prejudice
against them to a further degree because they feel that they lost out, not to a
better suited person, but to a privileged unworthy person. Therefore plans like
these must be done away with because they defeat their very purpose, as they
appear to be just as racist and sexist as the injustices they are designed to
remedy. It's just another name for discrimination or even reverse
discrimination. Discrimination for a "good" reason is just as terrible
as discrimination for a "bad" reason. Affirmative action denies women
and minorities the right to compete as equals; indeed it actually assumes that
they cannot compete as equals, which is I am sure not its purpose. When
countering the statement that this kind discrimination is necessary to make up
for past it justices, I can all but simply defend my belief by appropriately
saying that "Two wrongs don't make a right". Or, as the wise saying
goes, "You can't use alcohol to treat alcoholism.”

BibliographyKreitner, Robert, Kinicki, Angelo. Organizational Behavior New York: Bryant
and Dillon published, 1998 Lehman, Nicholas. “Affirmative Action.” NEW York
Times 18 June.1995: 40-42,84 Steeh, Charlotte. Krysan, Maria. “Review of
Surveys and Polls” Poll Trends, 1970-1995 1996 Wilson, James Q. “An
Affirmative Action?.” The New Republic winter. 1996: 102 Woods, Geraldine.
Affirmative Action. New York, London, Sydney : Franklin Watts, 1989. Steeh,
Charlotte. Krysan, Maria. “Review of Surveys and Polls” Poll Trends,
1970-1995 1996 Argument in Favour of Proposition 209 ,
“Why are we opposed to Proposition 209?”. FAQs about California votes no on
209 Feburary 18, 2000
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