Affirmative action laws beneficial, some say
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 03:03
Late last month, the Supreme Court agreed to review an affirmative action case in Texas, which opened discussion about universities' affirmative action policies nationwide.
Abigail Fisher, a white student, accused the University of Texas of reverse discrimination after she wasn't accepted into the school. The school considers race as a factor when deciding between Texan applicants who aren't in the top 10 percent of their class. Fisher fell outside that group, but claimed she would have been admitted if racial preferences did not stand in her way.
Here at the university, officials said policies allow the consideration of race, gender and ethnicity in the admissions process, but said there are no specific quotas that must be met. Margaret Andersen, sociology professor and executive director of the President's Diversity Initiative—a focus group seeing to improve diversity on campus—stated in an email message that while she cannot speculate about the future of affirmative action as federal policy, the university will continue to work in accordance with the law surrounding it.
"Affirmative action law allows universities and other educational institutions to consider race along with other factors in deciding university admissions," Andersen said. "But there cannot be quotas or ‘set asides' in admissions practices and policies."
Leland Ware, a law and public policy professor, said by agreeing to hear this case, the Supreme Court has indicated it might change its stance on affirmative action. The last decision was made in 2003, when the court upheld the University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions program.
Affirmative action originated in the 1970s, when workplaces and educational systems began to consider factors such as gender, sexuality and race, to overcome segregation when reviewing applicants.
"It resulted in affirmative action," Ware said. "Not really outlawing discrimination, but doing something to eliminate the barriers."
Andersen said that while research has shown that affirmative action has been an effective tool to fight discrimination, the public may not fully understand what the policy does and does not allow.
"Affirmative action does not mean admitting or employing people who are not highly qualified for their positions and it does not mean establishing quotas for slots in college admissions or employment opportunities," she said. "It does mean engaging in extra efforts to recruit qualified applicants and see that the university admits and employs a diverse and talented student body, faculty and staff."
Lou Hirsh, director of admissions, stated in an email message that each admitted student is academically qualified for the university, and that race, along with SAT scores or grade point averages, is never the sole reason for any student's admission.
"Each student we admit has something to offer the University of Delaware," Hirsh said. "As we read over 26,000 applications each year, we can never know in advance what configuration of talents and life experiences we will find. What we do know is that we are hoping to enroll the 3,850 most interesting human beings we can persuade to accept our offers of admission."
Hirsh said there are educational and social reasons for enrolling diverse students. He said college students learn from their interaction with each other and with faculty.
"Therefore, the question we ask of every application we read is, ‘How would other students be enriched by having this applicant as their classmate or roommate?'" he said.
Senior Brennan Robinson, a co-vice president of the Black Student Union on campus, said he believes affirmative action is an effective policy, but thinks most people have an obscure understanding of its meaning.
"Affirmative action gives the opportunity to individuals that typically wouldn't be considered for such positions," Robinson said.
However, he believes the university needs to create better support systems for students, which includes a more diverse faculty that especially includes more women, whether black or white. He thinks people perceive the university as not being diverse.
"I don't think it's doing enough right now just to attract students of color," he said. "I go to other schools and when I mention the University of Delaware, there's automatically an assumption that there's this form of resentment against a person of color if you're at University of Delaware—and they don't want to attend."
In July, the university received criticism in the Middle States accreditation report, which said the university isn't diverse in "either absolute or relative terms." The reports, made by the nonprofit organization, can influence a school's level of funding.
Black students constituted 5.2 percent of the undergraduate body in 2010 and the Middle States report said 52 percent of black students graduated from the university in 2004. Hispanics represented 5.7 percent of students in 2010, according to the Office of Institutional Research.
Andersen said diversity is vital to learning in a globalizing world. "If you learn in environments where everyone thinks like you do and comes from the same background as you, you simply do not learn as much," she said. "This means that having a diverse student body is critical to ensuring that universities deliver the best education and prepare students best for living in a world that is now highly diverse."