Realizing Bakke’s Legacy: Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, and Access to Higher Education
Editors Patricia Marin and Catherine L. Horn provide a comprehensive overview of the lingering impact the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1978 landmark decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke has had on race-conscious policies—broadly termed affirmative action—in education. The publication of their new book is timed to coincide with the decision’s thirtieth anniversary, and its nine articles contribute new research and legal analysis that will benefit administrators and policymakers in their ongoing efforts toward improving educational equity.
Marin and Horn divide the book into three parts, beginning with a legal and philosophical introduction to the case, and concluding with implications for future policy and practice. In part one, Angelo Ancheta, a legal scholar, presents a thorough yet accessible overview of affirmative action jurisprudence during the last three decades. Distilling the competing ideologies of anticlassification and antisubordination norms, he provides readers with a framework to understand the six separate opinions that were written in Bakke, as well as subsequent Court opinions pertaining to affirmative action. Philosopher Michelle Moses unmasks the deeply personal viewpoints surrounding affirmative action issues by outlining the moral and political disagreements over the ideals of equality and liberty at the root of the debate. By including these two different perspectives, Marin and Horn provide a rich foundation that assists advocates of affirmative action policies to frame the debate and generate effective strategies for addressing racial and ethnic inequities in education.
The three articles in part two explore the educational pipeline and document the cumulative barriers to access that exacerbate racial and ethnic disparities in educational attainment and achievement. Authors John T. Yun and Chungmei Lee provide a comprehensive overview of the persistent inequities in K–12 educational resources and outcomes among racial and ethnic groups, while authors Donald Heller and Michal Kurlaender and Erika Felts document how these disparities continue at the college level and beyond. These articles’ findings reveal the overwhelming challenge educators face in realizing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s statement in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision that race-conscious policies may no longer be necessary in the next two decades.
The five articles in the final section of the book provide a rich contextual understanding of higher education admissions practices and highlight the complicated yet increasingly critical role institutional decisionmakers play in attaining a racially and ethnically diverse student body. In “Is 1500 the New 1280?” Catherine L. Horn (editor) and John T. Yun illuminate how admissions practices that rely on standardized test scores as a sole measure of merit may be undermining the diversity efforts endorsed in Bakke. Their findings challenge institutions to reconceptualize their definitions of merit and shatter the “false dichotomy between diversity and academic excellence.” In the next article, legal scholar William C. Kidder explains the important role race-conscious policies have played in maintaining racial and ethnic diversity within the legal profession. The book concludes with two of the most practical chapters for institutional decisionmakers. First, attorney Karen Miksch examines the roles of the general counsel’s office and the media in determining whether race-conscious policies are implemented, followed by social scientists Patricia Marin’s (editor) and Stella M. Flores’s exploration of the interrelation between state- and institutional-level policies for maintaining student body diversity.
The book is admittedly a snapshot of the consequential issues that contribute to the ongoing debate over affirmative action policies. Marin and Horn conclude with a call for future research, such as the need to better understand the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity. An important consideration that is not included in the recommendations is an analysis of whether the diversity-based rationale espoused in Bakke has left racial equity efforts more vulnerable to political manipulation than the pre-Bakke equity-based rationale that sought to address lingering effects of past discrimination. The weight institutional leaders give to the various meanings of diversity—which range from racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic differences to geographic location and musical interests—have consequences for issues of racial equity that are worth exploring in more substantive detail.
Realizing Bakke’s Legacy is grounded in a thorough understanding of higher education law and policy. The array of perspectives presented shows how Justice Powell’s swing vote thirty years ago has influenced and guided policies that seek to reduce educational inequities. The compilation of articles provides theoretical tools for conceptualizing the affirmative action debate, supplies new social science research to inform educational policies, and offers cogent strategies for implementing institutional policies to realize this nation’s promise of equal educational opportunity.