Affirmative Action

“The state shall not discriminate, or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex,
color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
The previous statement is the unedited text of the operative part of Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights
Initiative (CCRI), that passed November fifth by a percentage of 54 to 46. Though the initiative does not actually
mention affirmative action, Californians feel affirmative action may be coming to an end. Will the decision of
Proposition 209 have a great impact on colleges and universities? We will soon find out. We do know that
affirmative action in colleges and universities has a long history of controversy sparked by the 1978 Bakke case and
seems to be far from over with the recent vote on proposition 209.
The Supreme Court’s 1978 decision in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke has been the basis for
most college affirmative action programs. The case involved a white man, Allen Bakke, who applied for admission
to, and was rejected by California University at Davis Medical School in 1973 and 1974. The university had an
affirmative action program to accept sixteen Black, Hispanic, and Asian students for every 100 entering. Allen
Bakke objected when he found out that he had been turned down while minorities students with lower college
grades and MCAT scores had been admitted under the university’s affirmative action program. The court then had
been divided between four justices in favor of admitting Bakke on the basis that the quota affirmative
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action plan had violated Title Four of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, four Justices against admitting Bakke, and Justice
Powell, the swing vote. Justice Powell declared
that Allen Bakke would be admitted to the medical school because the University of California’s affirmative action
plan had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Justice Powells opinion, the
Fourteenth Amendment must be interpreted to protect everyone (McWhirter).
The Bakke decision has sparked many anti-affirmative action movements, the latest being Proposition 209. Backing
the California Civil Rights Initiative, proponents feel it is time to end race and sex-based quotas, preferences and
set-asides now governing state employment, contracts and education. Launching a two million dollar television
campaign to support the ballot measure, Robert Dole and the Republican Party made proposition 209 the centerpiece
in their push for California’s 54 electoral votes (Lesher). Bob Dole states, “If affirmative action means quotas, set-
asides and other preferences that favor individuals simply because they happen to belong to certain groups, that’s
were I draw the line” (qtd. in “What They’re Saying About Quotas and the California Civil Rights Initiative”).
Agreeing with Dole, Governor Pete Wilson states that “Mandating and practicing inequality cannot bring equality”
(qtd. in “What They’re Saying About Quotas and the California Civil Rights !
Initiative”). Another defender of proposition 209 and affirmative action is House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In a
interview with Gingrich, he boldly states that “people who want some kind of quota based on racial background
should be forced to debate in public their version of America. I would make clear that I oppose
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quotas explicitly because I favor an integrated America” (qtd. in “What They’re Saying About Quotas and the
California Civil Rights Initiative”). United States Senator, Phil Gramm, also opposes affirmative action resolutely
declaring that “if I become President,
quotas and set-asides are finished in America” (qtd. in “What They’re Saying About Quotas and the California Civil
Rights Initiative”).
Opposing the measure, California college students and other affirmative action supporters protest to sustain variety
and diversity. The first incident occurred when 500 students from University of California Berkeley met on Sprous
Hall steps, the evening after the election and seized the Campanile clock tower. Some students chained themselves
inside. The same day as the as the Berkeley incident, 300 students from the University of California Santa Cruz
surrounded and picketed the Student Service Building, effectively closing the financial aid and registrar’s office.
Police made no arrests. On November seventh, 100 students from San Francisco State caused a commotion by
blocking 19th Avenue, a main thoroughfare (WALLACE and MARCUM ). A few weeks after proposition 209 was
passed students