|But I think affirmative action limits my opportunities.|
The U.S. Supreme Court is now reconsidering an issue they decided nine years ago — whether colleges may include the race of the applicant in their admissions policy. In Grutter v. Bollinger, a case against the University of Michigan Law School, the court ruled 5-to-4 in favor of the defendant in 2003.
The decision held “the Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body is not prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause or Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”
In her majority opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor advised that she expected the ruling to stand for only 25 years as attitudes in America changed. However, it is being challenged after only nine.
In the present case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (UTA), the questions posed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts to the lawyer for UTA suggest the information the Court is seeking. According to reports, Roberts wants to know how much diversity is sufficient, and whether that level can be attained without racial preferences. Since the University of Texas accepts the top 10 percent of the state’s high school graduates, some believe that this policy might resolve the diversity issue.
Since the 1978 Bakke case (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) there have been a number of reverse discrimination cases. White college applicants have alleged that they were denied admission in favor of less qualified minorities. Older citizens wonder where were the protesters when minorities were the victims of discrimination?
African Americans of vintage years remember when universities in the South did not admit black students at all. In fact, they would not play sports teams from outside the Confederacy that included black players. The Boston College football team had to leave behind their black star running back, Lou Montgomery, when they played Clemson in the Cotton Bowl in 1939 and Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl in 1940.
These restrictions were not limited to the South. New York University (NYU) left behind their fullback, Leonard Bates, when they went to play the University of Missouri in 1940. A group of seven students that protested the action were suspended for three months in 1941. It took 60 years for the NYU administration to issue a formal apology to the protesting alumni.
Those who have stood up against injustice have always paid a heavy price. The NYU students were punished for opposing the “gentleman’s agreement” that denied Bates the right to play football in Missouri. And thousands of protesters risked their lives in the Civil Rights Movement to end racial discrimination in education. Is it not reasonable to expect that some students might be inconvenienced as society struggles to provide a more diverse and racially compatible college environment?
Most whites were silent during the nation’s history of racial oppression. They have come to life now in opposition to efforts designed to ameliorate the damage caused by generations of racial discrimination. Blacks would be well advised to understand that general empathy for inflictions caused by past discrimination is waning.
Justice O’Connor predicted that the rule in Grutter would be good for 25 years. Here it is under attack after only nine. African American leaders should understand from this that the affirmative action window is closing.