Civil Rights Project at UCLA Releases Key Report on Affirmative Action in Higher Education

UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, one of the nation’s leading research centers on issues of civil rights and racial inequality, on July 23 released a key report examining critical developments in affirmative action in higher education since the Supreme Court’s landmark 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision, which upheld affirmative action policies.

The report, “Charting the Future of College Affirmative Action: Legal Victories, Continuing Attacks, and New Research,” which is the first to be released since the Civil Rights Project moved from Harvard University to UCLA earlier this year, provides perspectives by leading national researchers on the meaning of the Grutter v. Bollinger decision and cites the active efforts by conservative legal-action groups to interpret the Grutter decision as a limit on affirmative action rather than a victory and to compel colleges to adopt race-blind admissions policies.

The report also cites the Supreme Court’s June 2007 decision on two school desegregation cases — Parents v. Seattle School District No.1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County — as a major setback for conservative groups that had urged the court to adopt a sweeping race-blind policy that would have undermined the Grutter decision.

“Even with recognition of the use of affirmative action in higher education admission policies from a more conservative court than Grutter, we can expect ongoing controversy,” said the report’s editor Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles and a professor of education at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. “It is unreasonable to expect a deeply divided country to come up with a clear and simple, lasting answer.”

The decision in Grutter, in which the Supreme Court upheld the affirmative action admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School, was the first major definition of the right of colleges to pursue race-conscious admissions policies since the court’s l978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

The report concludes that there have been major conflicts over the meaning of the Grutter decision and the right of colleges and universities to pursue such policies.

“Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court powerfully recognized the compelling reasons for universities to educate their students with fellow students who bring into the campus the diversity of experiences and perspectives from all parts of American society,” Orfield said. “The Court concluded that there were major gains from a diverse student body for students of all races and for society and its major institutions. We urge leaders of higher education to resist threats and intimidation and to expand programs to integrate higher education, programs that are more secure now with the recent 2007 decision of the reconstituted Supreme Court.”

The legal and empirical analyses in the report assert that the court’s decision in the Grutter case was a major victory that substantially strengthened and extended the rationale for affirmative action in higher education. In addition, the report notes that the court’s June 2007 decision in Parents v. Seattle School District No.1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County is highly significant, given the insistence by all of the justices that they had not undermined the rationale of the Grutter decision.

The report’s authors, including Orfield and nearly 20 leading scholars from colleges and universities nationwide, indicate that there are a number of issues still not settled by the Supreme Court’s June 2007 decision. Controversy will likely continue around financial aid and special programs that prepare underrepresented minority students for the academic year. Issues such as financial aid decisions, which are important questions of both institutional and public policy, are especially critical to beneficiaries of affirmative action, as well as to all low-income families with hopes of accessing U.S. colleges and universities.

The full text of the report and contact information for the report’s authors can be found at

Founded in 1996 by former Harvard professors Gary Orfield and Christopher Edley Jr., the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles is co-directed by Orfield and Patricia Gándara, a professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Its mission is to create a new generation of research in social science and law on the critical issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the United States. It has commissioned more than 400 studies, published 13 books and issued numerous reports from authors at universities and research centers across the country. The Supreme Court, in its 2003 Grutter decision, cited the Civil Rights Project’s research.

News coverage: The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed and Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

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