Affirmative action has many names in different parts of the world. Some call it positive discrimination; Canada touts it as employment equity; it is ‘reservation’ in India and positive action in the UK. Affirmative action is the policy of providing special opportunities for a disadvantaged group of society who suffer from discrimination. It is an effort to ‘equal the playing field’ by favoring a weaker/minority group.
The nature of positive discrimination policies varies from country to country. Some countries, such as India, use a quota system, whereby a certain percentage of jobs or school vacancies must be set aside for members of a certain group. In some other regions, specific quotas do not exist; instead, members of minorities are given preference in selection processes. The US public colleges and Universities often consider race and ethnicity during admission process.
The Affirmative action is intended to promote the opportunities for the minority groups – to give them equal access to that of the privileged/majority population.
Now, there has been ongoing argument that the affirmative action is an unfair system and prefers certain groups during a selection process. The Michigan state has been in the news for many years now as the argument (for and against affirmative action) started in a school, leading all the way to the Supreme court. Here is a quick summary:
October 1997: Two students (Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher) sue the University of Michigan regarding the affirmative action policy used in undergraduate admissions after not getting into the College of Literature Science and Arts.
December 1997: Barbara Grutter sues the university regarding the Law School’s use of admissions, which considers race in reviewing applicants.
June 2003: The U.S. Supreme Court held in the Grutter case that diversity is a compelling interest in higher education, and that race is one of a number of factors that can be taken into account during the admissions process. The Court upheld the holistic review used in the Law School’s admissions policy.
August 2003: The university of Michigan adopts a new undergraduate admissions policy that considers race as a factor in a holistic review of an application but drops the point system.
November 2006: ‘Proposal 2’, a ballot initiative known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative passes with 58 percent of the popular vote. It amends the Constitution to prohibit preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender, national origin and ethnicity in public education, public employment, and public contracting. The next day, on Nov. 8, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary and other pro-affirmative action parties mount a lawsuit against Proposal 2.
July 2011: The Federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held Proposal 2 unconstitutional on the grounds that it “reorders the political process in Michigan to place special burdens on minority interests,” and thus violates the 14th Amendment. That decision is upheld by another Sixth Circuit Court ruling in 2012.
March 2013: The Supreme Court agrees to hear the case against Proposal 2, because the Sixth Circuit’s decision is at odds with a decision in the Ninth Circuit — a federal appellate court covering much of the West Coast, which ruled that a California ban on Affirmative Action was legal.
April 22, 2014: The Supreme Court upholds Michigan’s ban on affirmative action, a ban on using race as a factor in college admissions.
So, there you have it – the ban on affirmative action in Michigan is legal, says the supreme court.
Seven other states have similar measures. Will the other states, and rest of the country, follow the footsteps?
Even after the Supreme Court ruling, this case is hardly settled as the both sides still have a lot to say. This is a political issue now. And, there is nothing black and white in politics, only grey!
There continue to be more and more ‘questions’ about the affirmative action and the quota system. As the playing fields level with the decades of affirmative actions, the minority group don’t have the same disadvantage they once had. The social dynamics of today demand a new way to look at diversity and helping each-other, regardless if the age-old social grouping. For example, a student with good grades from a low income family deserves the same opportunity as any other disadvantaged group, regardless of the skin color.
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