The Affirmative Action: Pros and Cons (The Regents v. Bakke Case)
Pros and Cons on the Affirmative Action
An Open Discussion on the Regents v. Bakke Case
(A fictional high school American Government classroom where students express their opinions on The Affirmative Action) By Michael M. Nakade
Teacher: Today, we’re going to have you guys (students) discuss the pros and cons of the Affirmative Action in America. As with cases involving legalized abortion and prayer in public schools, the affirmative action is divisive. There are no easy answers, but I want you guys to express your thoughts freely on the issue. In a truly democratic fashion it is okay to disagree with your classmates. It is not, however, okay to demonize your opponents. No name-callings are allowed. Okay. Who wants to start? Yes, Johnny.
Johnny: (A Caucasian student) I can understand how Bakke felt when he realized that he didn’t get into Davis Medical School even though his grades and test scores were much better than the minority students who were accepted. It just wasn’t fair. I admire him for challenging the school’s Affirmative Action policy because he was speaking on behalf of many Caucasian students who were discriminated against on the basis of their race.
Sue: (Another Caucasian student) I agree with Johnny. I feel added pressure to be really outstanding to go to the college of my choice because my grades may not be good enough for admission since less qualified students are being accepted to bring more diversity to the school. I am for the diversity. Don’t get me wrong. But, I just don’t think it’s fair to exclude better students to good colleges on the account of their skin color.
Johnny: I am glad that Mr. Bakke remained persistent and was later admitted to the med school. He went on to become a good doctor in his home state of Minnesota. It took his legal challenge to show that he had been a qualified applicant all along. The Affirmative Action had taken away his well-earned path to being a doctor.
Mike: (African-American student) One thing that Johnny and Sue did not mention was Mr. Bakke’s environment. I am sure that he was born into a nice family and attended a very nice school as a child. I am not taking anything away from his effort and god-given intelligence here. But, you know what? His having good grades and test scores are not that impressive, given the fact that he had lots of advantages as a child. I can speak for many African-Americans in this country, and believe me, we don’t have lots of things at home. My parents didn’t attend college. My grandparents only had a 6th grade education. Oh, by the way, my grandparents attended the segregated school in Kansas. It was far from being separate but equal, if you ask my grandparents. As Chief Justice Earl Warrant said, their school was inherently inferior because of the segregation.
Cindy: (Another African-American student) I want to add to Mike’s comments. We, as a race, are not stupid, okay? We had to endure generations of discrimination and poor living conditions. Education for African-Americans had been on a backburner for years. We’re not asking for a preferential treatment. We’re only asking for a level playing field. I imagine that Mr. Bakke’s grades and test scores would have been much lower had he come from a disadvantaged background. White students get caught up in the concrete test scores while ignoring the persistent and historical advantages that they enjoy over minority students. Grades and test scores cannot be the only measuring stick to determine applicants’ qualifications because they don’t tell the whole story. The Affirmative Action takes minority students’ disadvantaged backgrounds into consideration. That’s all.
Chen Lu: (An Asian student) I hear both arguments, and they are both legitimate. But, I am leaning against The Affirmative Action because it is condescending to minorities. For the sake of an argument, let’s say that I want to go to Stanford. Let’s say that I get in, fair and square. But, I am afraid that white students at Stanford will be talking stink about me behind my back. They will automatically assume that I got in because of the Affirmative Action. If I am going to be admitted anywhere, I want it to be because of my merit alone. In fact, I will refuse to attend any school that will want me on their campus just because I will help increase the diversity on these campuses. It just feels like being used as a token.
Maria: (A Latino student) As much as I can sympathize with Chen Lu’s personal feelings toward the Affirmative Action, I suggest that we all look beyond our personal feelings on the subject. Chen Lu is Asian, and Asian students in general enjoy a favorable stereotype in this society. People tend to assume that Asians are smart and are hard working, etc. And, that’s a positive stereotype well earned. I do believe that Asians are well represented in such professional fields as law, medicine and engineering. But, the Latinos and blacks suffer from negative stereotypes because there are not too many Latino doctors or black lawyers relative to the size of their population. I do believe that the Affirmative Action will help create more minority doctors and lawyers, and that’ll help change the stereotypes about us and the black Americans.
Janet: (A Caucasian student) Believe it or not, I’m for the Affirmative Action. I grew up in North Dakota where I saw no minorities at my elementary school. Then, my dad got a job in California when I was in the 7th grade. At first, I had a major culture shock because I became a minority at a public junior high school in the Bay Area. But, I am so grateful for the change of scenery. I made lots of new friends who are not white. Pretty soon, the race became a non-factor in choosing whom I wanted to hang out with. I hang out with people who were nice and hard working. I think I am color-blind when it comes to my friends. It’s something that I wouldn’t be saying had I continued to live in an all white neighborhood in North Dakota. So, the diversity on college campuses is good, and the Affirmative Action is the best remedy to bring diversity where diversity is most needed.
Johnny: (a Caucasian student) As much as I like diversity on college campuses, I just don’t like the quota system used in the Affirmative Action policy. I always wonder who gets to decide the percentage of minority students on college campuses. If the Board of Regents say 16%, I want to know why 16% and not 13%. The sheer arbitrary nature of the quota assigned to each minority group kind of offends my sense of what is fair. It’s a system that automatically produces resentment from white students who are denied of admission due to an account of their race.
Sue: (a Caucasian student) Yes, it’s called reverse discrimination. The Affirmative Action is a system that makes people color-conscious, and not color-blind. A profession such as a doctor is too important. Doctors deal with issues of saving lives. Medical schools are ethically obligated to take the very best students. If they can admit 100 students out of 10,000 applicants, they must take the top 100 in terms of their academic preparedness. If 16 minority students get in, even though their grades and test scores are less than that of many rejected Caucasian students, then, the Affirmative Action is a great disservice to humanity. It effectively denies the path to 16 white students who are better qualified (and better prepared) to be doctors. The Affirmative Action will lose its credibility if one minority student out of that 16 flunks out of Med school. We will be saying, “Oh, too bad. His seat could have gone to one of the rejected white students. Because of this unfair system, the society lost potentially a great doctor.”
Mike: (African-American student) Sue, you’re focusing on narrow, potentially unpleasant individual cases associated with the Affirmative Action. I suggest that we adopt a “bigger picture” approach. First of all, the Affirmative Action corrects the past wrong, and the American society needs to do so. Secondly, the Affirmative Action will help America become a color-blind society in the long run. That’s because with the increased number of black doctors and lawyers in America, more whites will reduce their discrimination against us. We won’t be dealing with negative stereotypes that blacks are too stupid to be doctors or lawyers. And, that was the point that Maria had made earlier. If black people are given the chance, they can do just as much as the whites. The Affirmative Action guarantees that black people get that chance, and I say it’s a good thing for society as a whole.
Cindy: (African-American student) Mike is right. We need to know our past. If we didn’t have the institution of slavery, we wouldn’t have had the Jim Crow Law. If we didn’t have the government endorsed segregation, we wouldn’t have had to have the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Past racism in this country is the reason why we’re even discussing the pros and cons of the Affirmative Action. I understand the Affirmative Action has its drawbacks. Like Sue, Johnny, and Chen Lu said, some white people may experience it as reverse discrimination. But, in the larger scheme of things, the Affirmative Action achieves far more than it causes damages. When our society produces more black doctors and lawyers, our society wouldn’t be talking about the Affirmative Action. We’ll all be color-blind. College application forms won’t have the race column for applicants to check off. But, until then, the government of the United States is obligated to assist blacks and other oppressed minority groups in the area of college admissions.
Teacher: Okay. Time is up. I’m very pleased with the caliber of discussions that we had. You all made great points today. Before dismissing the class, I want to tell you Justice Lewis Powell’s opinion on the Board of Regents v. Bakke case in 1978. His opinion had two parts: 1) he agreed with four liberal justices in upholding programs that made race a “plus” factor in admissions, and 2) he joined four conservative justices in striking down the quota system and ordered Bakke’s admission to medical school. In other words, Justice Powell made both sides win. Personally speaking, the affirmative action at a particular time in American history was necessary. It rectified the past wrong. But, I sincerely hope that America won’t be needing this program in the future. Ideally, admission to a college will be strictly based on each applicant’s merit alone, like Chen Lu said. Ideally, we all experience diversity in our everyday life, like Janet said. But, of course, we’re not there, yet. Until we get there, we may have to have this artificial race based program called the Affirmative Action. The system is not perfect. Mr. Bakke was right. He experienced reverse discrimination on the account of his racial background. But, hopefully, we get through this imperfect system so that we can move closer to a truly color-blind society. I think we’re making strides. If you don’t believe me, just ask Mike’s grandparents. They can tell all of us how difficult it was to be black in America when they were growing up. Okay. Class dismissed.
(Historical facts mentioned in this work came from The Teaching Company’s Lecture Series, The History of the Supreme Court, lecture 31, “The Court Faces Affirmative Action,” by Peter Irons, 2003.)