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The Black Commentator - The New Affirmative Action: Implications in Education and the Workplace


Recruiting a diverse talent of workers must be a major priority for American businesses. Corporate recruiters and campus career services professionals share the belief that college and university campuses represent the most important source of diverse talent. Recent court decisions, the United States Justice Department, policy actions by the US Department of Education as well as threats and actions from conservative groups, have undermined race conscious policies that are the hallmark of affirmative action.

Brief History

For years, the anti-discrimination policy known as affirmative action has been a part of American social policy in reducing poverty and discrimination among minorities and women. Cornel West, of Princeton University describes in Race Matters the progressive nature of policies such as affirmative action.

“The historic role of American progressives is to promote redistributive measures that enhance the standard of living and quality of life for the have-nots and have-too-littles. Affirmative action was one such redistributive measure that surfaced in the heat of battle in the 1960s among those fighting for equality. Like earlier defacto affirmative action measures in the past – contracts, jobs, and loans to select immigrant groups granted by political machines; subsidies to certain farmers; FHA mortgages to specific homebuyers; or GI Bill benefits to particular courageous Americans - recent efforts to broaden access to America’s prosperity have been based upon preferential policies…Every redistributive measure is a compromise with and concession from the caretakers of American prosperity - that is, big business and big government. Affirmative action was one such compromise and concession…”

Education and Diversity

As early as Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court acknowledged the importance of education to our democratic society. Justice Powell made a similar point in Bakke, emphasizing,” the nation's future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples.”

Patricia Gurin, Professor, Emerita of Psychology and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan conducted an empirical analyses to measure the educational benefits of diversity and provided expert testimony in the Gratz vs. Bollinger, et. al. 539 US 244 (2003) and Grutter vs. Bollinger, et. al. 539 US 306 (2003) cases on behalf of the University of Michigan.

Her studies show that classrooms that are racially and ethnically diverse have far-ranging and significant benefits for all students, non-minorities and minorities alike. They learn to think in deeper and more complex ways, and are better prepared to become active participants in a pluralistic, democratic society. The Gurin analysis went a long way in preserving race as a factor for consideration in higher education admissions.

However, opponents of affirmative action have not been satisfied with the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court since Bakke, notwithstanding Justice O’ Connor’s expression in Grutter, of the terminality of the need for affirmative action policies within the next 25 years. By the 90’s states had mounted campaigns through public referendums such as Proposition 209 enacted in California and Initiative 200 enacted in Washington State. These state actions ban the use of race as a factor for college admissions and public contracting and employment.

It didn’t take long for the anticipated results of the public referendums to become apparent. The number of black students at both Berkeley and U.C.L.A. plummeted, and at U.C.L.A. the declines have continued. In 1997, the freshman class included 221 black students; last fall it had only 100.

Similarly, Richard L. McCormick, President of the University of Washington in addressing the Association of American Colleges and Universities about diversity and affirmative action stated that:

“In 1998 the University enrolled 4,219 new freshmen. Of those 4000-plus new students, 373 were underrepresented minorities-African American, Hispanic/Latino, or American Indian. They made up 8.8 percent of the class. Two months later the voters of Washington

State passed Initiative 200, which prohibits the use of race or ethnicity as factors in college admissions… In September 1999, the number of new minority freshmen at the UW fell from 373 to 255 or from 8.8 percent of the class to 5.6 percent-a drop of almost 32 percent. And in fact the loss is really greater, because the 1999 class as a whole is larger than the previous year's. Taking that growth into account, without Initiative 200 we should have had about 400 minority freshmen this year, instead of the 255 who came. “So roughly 145 black, American Indian, or Latino students in our state who might have enrolled at the UW, learned, enriched the experience of other UW students, graduated, and gone on to success and perhaps leadership, are not there.”


Corporate leaders have reinforced the need for diversity by confirming that the business community is looking to colleges and universities to produce highly valued cognitive and social skills in the educated workforce: ability to work effectively in groups with colleagues of diverse backgrounds, openness to new ideas and perspectives, and empathy with other workers' perspectives.

Carol Knowles Myers, in a discussion paper, uses the California Proposition 209 situation to measure the effects of the elimination of race in employment opportunities. Between 1995-1999 the rate of employment of minorities in California, relative to the rest of the country, where affirmative action programs were not removed, fell by 2.8. This result suggests that Proposition 209 removed significant numbers of women and minorities from the labor force.

Conclusion and Assessment Section

The Civil Rights movement changed the moral imperative of the United States. Today opponents of affirmative action allege reverse discrimination and seek the elimination of race conscious considerations in educational and work opportunities. The relatively recent experiences in the states signal some disturbing warnings of future barriers to progressive social engineering.

Speaking to the 89th Meeting of the American Council on Education, Freeman A. Hrabowski, III President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County stated:

“…the Educational Testing Services recently released a new report that underscores the urgency of “the access imperative.” America's Perfect Storm focuses on the national impact of three converging forces: disparities in the education and skills levels of our population; a restructuring of the nation's economy; and changing demographics. The report…says, essentially, that if current trends continue over the next quarter-century, increasing numbers of educated professionals will leave the workforce and millions of native-born Americans, who will be less qualified for these jobs, will find themselves vying not only with one another and recent immigrants to this country, but also with other better prepared workers earning lower pay throughout the world. Without our intervention, large numbers of Americans will continue to be left behind.”

We cannot afford to waste the talented assets of any of our citizens, nor can we afford the social unrest and divisiveness that flow from unequal opportunity. This is a present and future imperative, as the U.S. minority population grows and globalization puts an increasing premium on our ability to understand and interact with other cultures. Guest Commentator, Mr. Hollar-Gregory, is a graduate of Rutgers Law School and offers over 30 years of combined experience in law, health care, business and academia. He is presently an Assistant Professor, Director of Paralegal Studies in the Managerial Studies Department of LaGuardia Community College an affiliate of City University of New York, where he is active in teaching, professional development and community service. Click here to reach Mr. Hollar-Gregory.

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May 1, 2008
Issue 275

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Peter Gamble
Est. April 5, 2002
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