Affirmative action on Arkansas campuses may end 

It could have a huge impact, not just on colleges and universities but on American society at large.

Last spring, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville changed the name of its Office of Affirmative Action to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance. The University said in a news release that the new name "better reflects the office's roles and responsibilities." Possibly true, but the change was timely in another way as well. University officials know there's a good chance that "affirmative action" in higher education will soon be ended by court order.

The end of affirmative action — the end of reverse discrimination, in plain talk — could have a huge impact, not just on colleges and universities but on American society at large. It might mean a greater separation of the races, contrary to what has been official national policy for half a century. Relevant data suggests there would be fewer black students in the more select and prestigious universities if affirmative action ends. And fewer students in these schools could mean fewer black people in the middle and upper classes. The greatest impact would be felt in the professional schools that produce the black doctors and black lawyers for black children to look up to. The possibility of there being fewer such role models is something that most higher educators, confirmed believers in affirmative action, don't like to think, or talk, about. They suggest theories as to why it won't happen, though some of these sound more hopeful than realistic, and others would require a genteel evasion of court rulings.

The term "affirmative action" was coined in the '60s, as policy-makers came to believe that simply ending the centuries-old discrimination against black Americans was insufficient compensation for centuries of injustice, that it provided too little opportunity for today's black Americans to advance in education and employment. So, affirmative action was created, and officially defined as "the encouragement of increased representation of minority-group members." In practice, "encouragement" often came to mean the granting of certain preferences to members of minority groups, at the expense of members of the white majority, when members of the two groups were in direct competition. The reasoning was that a people who'd been oppressed so harshly and so long should now have the scales weighted in their favor, at least for a while, until they could catch up.

Many educators still express that belief today, at a time when affirmative action has come under serious attack and the U.S. Supreme Court seems on the verge of quashing it. G. David Gearhart, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the state's oldest and largest university, says "I'm a proponent of affirmative action. I would hate to see the court completely throw it out. There's no question that before the mid-'60s, the nation didn't really have a commitment to equal opportunity. We have an obligation to have an affirmative plan now that supports African-Americans. That may change down the road, but I think we still have miles to go."

A reporter remembers legislative committee meetings in the 1970s, when officials of the University of Arkansas medical school were accused by legislators of admitting black applicants whose test scores weren't as good as those of the children of legislators — or legislators' rich constituents — who had been denied admittance. The med school administrators admitted in those days that they reserved a certain number of seats for black medical students. They said that if they didn't save spots for blacks, the state would have no black doctors, or hardly any, and the administrators believed that would be detrimental to the state as a whole. Thirty years later, the Supreme Court outlawed black quotas and the arbitrary awarding of "points' to black applicants, and the med center people had to change their tune: No black seats saved here. But ...


Speaking of...

Comments (10)

Showing 1-10 of 10

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-10 of 10

Add a comment

More by Doug Smith

  • The L word and the C word

    I was excited to see the newspaper headline "Bielema liberal." "After all those neo-Nazis, we've finally got a coach who thinks right," I told friends. "I wonder if he belongs to the ADA."
    • May 1, 2014
  • Who's exasperated?

    Jim Newell was gripped by exasperation himself after reading this item in the business section. "Exacerbated" is the word the writer wanted, he sagely suggests.
    • Apr 24, 2014
  • We will run no race before it's ripe

    "What year would Oaklawn recognize as its 100th anniversary? After all, Oaklawn's advertising material is ripe with 'Since 1904,' but it's widely reported the first race wasn't run until 1905."
    • Apr 17, 2014
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Casting out demons: why Justin Harris got rid of kids he applied pressure to adopt

    Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.
    • Mar 12, 2015
  • Ruth Coker Burks, the cemetery angel

    In the darkest hour of the AIDS epidemic, Ruth Coker Burks cared for hundreds of people whose families had abandoned them. Courage, love and the 30-year secret of one little graveyard in Hot Springs. 
    • Jan 8, 2015
  • A child left unprotected

    State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife adopted a young girl through the state Department of Human Services. How did she, six months later, end up in the care of a man who sexually abused her?
    • Mar 5, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Cover Stories

  • The return of Kaleidoscope

    The LGBT Film Festival kicks off in North Little Rock.
    • Aug 17, 2016
  • Seven to watch

    At the Kaleidoscope LGBT Film Festival.
    • Aug 17, 2016
  • The San Antonio Four

    An interview with the subjects of 'Southwest of Salem,' a documentary film with echoes of the West Memphis Three story.
    • Aug 17, 2016
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments


© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation