Alternative to Affirmative Action Less Effective, Study Finds

Two reports released this month by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University suggest that affirmative action alternatives–specifically the “race-neutral” percent plans advocated by the Bush Administration–are ineffective in promoting racial diversity.

The evaluated percent programs–implemented in Texas, California, and Florida–purport to enhance racial diversity at universities by admitting set percentages of students–10, 4, and 20 percent, respectively–from each high school. However, researcher and co-director of the Civil Rights Project Gary Orfield argued, “Affirmative action is a modest and effective tool that universities needÉ and it is simply wrong to suggest that we have found any kind of simple nonracial alternative,” reported the New York Times. Using data collected from various sources including state agencies, the federal National Center for Education Statistics, and the US Census, researchers found that in most cases, “institutions have not been successful in maintaining racially/ethnically diverse campuses through percent plans.” For example, at the University of California at Berkeley where affirmative action was last used in 1997, the percentage of blacks and Latinos in the freshman class declined from 6.7 and 16.9 percent in 1995, respectively to 3.9 and 10.8 percent in 2001, according to the Los Angeles Times. Racial breakdowns of university student populations continue to the lag behind those of general state populations.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in March for two related affirmative action cases involving the University of Michigan. Last month, the Bush Administration announced its decision to file an amicus brief supporting the white students against the University of Michigan’s admission policy, which considers race, along with geography, test scores, grades, and a host of other personal achievements. The Washington Post today reported that various groups and individuals including General Motors, the AFL-CIO, the American Bar Association, several Ivy League universities, and retired high-ranking military officers, plan to submit amicus briefs in support of Michigan’s position.


Civil Rights Project 2/7/03; NY Times 2/11/03; Washington Post 2/11/03; LA Times 2/11/03

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