Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Affirmative Action During the 1970s

During the 70s, the most important issue in education was the issue of Affirmative Action. The purpose of Affirmative Action was to require educational institutions and businesses, that took government contracts, to hire or admit a certain number racial minorities. The intended purpose was to place American blacks, Asians, and Latinos into schools and jobs where they might not have originally been admitted due to any racial prejudices. The relevance of this issue remains to this day. In recent years, Affirmative Action has come under particular attack in the state of California, where Governor Pete Wilson set a bill that abolished Affirmative Action in the University of California system.

Affirmative Action came out of a turbulent decade. In the 70s, the country finally pulled out of a war that neither progressed toward decisive victory nor remained popularly supported at home. In addition, the same president who pulled the U.S. out of Vietnam would be the first president to resign from office. The political picture was offset by the social picture. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the busing system to desegregate the country's public schools. In 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women was passed by Congress but would later fail to be ratified by the necessary number of states. In 1973, the Supreme Court made the still controversial decision of Roe v. Wade, which maintained a womanís right to choose in the maters of her pregnancy. Toward the end of the decade, in 1978, the Supreme Court decided that Affirmative Action was a constitutional policy.

By 1978, in the Supreme Court decision of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Affirmative Action was first challenged. It was challenged by Bakke, a Caucasian, who was been denied admission to a California University. Bakke claimed that his denial of admission was unfair and the direct consequence of the recent implementation of Affirmative Action in that university. His argued that his entrance exam scores were much higher than many of the minority students that were admitted. The eventual decision from the California superior court was that the university's decision to refuse admission to Bakke was in accordance with the university's admission policy, which would stand. Bakke argued that he was being denied his 14th Amendment right and was also being denied his rights according to Title 6 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Bakke appealed to the supreme court of the United States. There, a split decision was handed down. Bakke would be admitted to the university but the University of California's Affirmative Action admission policies were declared constitutional and therefore, would remain in force.

The declaration of Affirmative Action came during a period of history which had grown out of the past and would greatly affect the future. In the 1960s, the various student movements affected perceptions of the education system. One important outcome of these movements was the first Affirmative Action program that developed at the University of California at Los Angeles. Later in 1978, co-educational programs began to be enforced in many of the country's universities. Today, Affirmative Action remains a pointed issue in politics.


Winkler, Allan M. The American People, Creating a Nation and a Society, Vol. #2 Since 1865.

Prepared by Arthur Amos (UCLA)


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