Brown v. Board of Education- On May 17, the U.S. Supreme Court
unanimously rules that segregated educational facilities are unequal and, as
such, violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the
Constitution. The court overturns its earlier decision in Plessy v.
Ferguson (1896), which allowed for "separate but equal" public facilities.
The Brownruling mandates desegregation of public schools and
begins the process of integration, opening the door for affirmative action
The California State Legislature passes a resolution ordering the University of
California to match the racial composition of its student body to that of each
year's graduating high school class in the state. The legislature also mandates
that this process be completed by 1980 (though the schools never reach the
goal). The resolution forces most UC schools to consider race in admissions.
DeFunis v. Odegaard - On April 23, in its first ruling on affirmative
action in higher education, the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to decide whether
the constitution allows professional schools to give preference to racial
minorities in admissions. The court rules 5 to 4 that the case of Marco DeFunis
Jr. is no longer valid because he will graduate from Washington University law
school in June. DeFunis alleged that the University of Washington's admissions
program denied his application because he is white.
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke - On June 28, the U.S.
Supreme Court strikes down a UC Davis Medical School policy that reserves a
fixed number of spots for minority applicants, but rules that race can be
considered in college admissions to improve racial diversity, as long as quotas
aren't used. The Court orders the university to admit Allan P. Bakke, a
38-year-old white applicant whose application was denied despite having higher
admission test scores than many of the minority students admitted to the
program. The case is the first in a series of successful challenges to
affirmative action programs over the next two decades. The ruling sets up a
paradox for University of California schools, which are under a state mandate
to match the racial composition of their student bodies to that of the state's
high school graduates.
On November 17, the U.S Department of Education announces it is investigating
admissions procedures at UC Berkeley, UCLA and Harvard. The probe focuses on
complaints of limits on admissions of Asian students. Critics of the
universities base their complaints mainly on statistics, such as a sharp drop
in the percentage of Asian admissions at UC Berkeley early in the decade, even
though a higher percentage of Asians met UC's eligibility requirements than
applicants from any other racial or ethnic group.
On April 7, UC Berkeley Chancellor Ira Michael Heyman apologizes for admissions
policies that caused a decline in Asian undergraduate enrollment. Heyman does
not admit the guidelines were put in place to intentionally limit Asian
admissions, but promises to change the policies.
On May 24, UC Berkeley announces changes to its admissions policy that will put
more emphasis on high academic performance. The change is largely in response
to earlier complaints that the university put too much emphasis on
extracurricular activities and other subjective criteria in an attempt to limit
admissions of Asian students. The school also announces that it will make its
admissions policy public for the first time.
On October 1, the U.S. Department of Education announces that the UCLA graduate
department of mathematics discriminated against Asian students in 1987 and
1988, but clears 75 other departments of similar charges. UCLA officials deny
the allegations, saying that the government only relied on statistics and
failed to take into account the weight they place on personal recommendations
and the prestige of applicants' undergraduate schools.
For the first time in the history of UC Berkeley, Asian students outnumber
white students in the freshman class. 35 percent of the incoming students are
Asian, while 30 percent are white.
On September 29, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights
releases findings of its investigation into admissions policies at UC Berkeley.
The department says that Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law shielded minority
students from competition with other applicants. The investigation reveals
that, from 1988 to 1990, the school divided applicants into ethnic groups and
compared them only to other applicants within that group in order to meet
affirmative action quotas. The school denies any wrongdoing, but agrees not to
separate applicants based on race or ethnicity in the future. The Department of
Education also announces that it found no wrongdoing at Harvard.
On July 20, after 12 hours of heated debate, the University of California Board
of Regents votes 15-10 to end race-based preferences in admissions, hiring and
contracting. California Governor and board president Pete Wilson, who has not
attended a meeting since 1992, shows up to cast an affirmative vote. At the
time, Wilson is making a run for president of the United States.
Hopwood v. Texas - On March 19, the Fifth Circuit Court of appeals
nullifies a University of Texas Law School admissions policy that seeks out
certain percentages of black and Latino students. Two of the three judges
condemn the idea of using racial classifications to create a diverse student
body, further eroding the allowable motivations for race-based preferences.
On March 20, the U.S. Department of Education announces that it found no
discrimination against white students in its seven-year investigation of
admissions practices at UC Berkeley. The agency also says that it found no
evidence of a decline in academic standards at the school due to affirmative
action. In the fall of 1993 - the year studied in the probe - investigators
found that only 3 percent of the freshman class were admitted without meeting
the academic and other standards outlined in UC policy. Critics of affirmative
action, including California Governor Pete Wilson, dismiss the findings as
On Novemer 5, California voters pass Proposition 209, banning affirmative
action in government employment and public college admissions. Along with the
board of regents earlier decision, Proposition 209 effectively ends all
race-based admissions practices at University of California schools.
Supreme Court refuses to hear Hopwood.
On July 14, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights confirms
it is investigating possible discrimination in admissions against minorities at
the University of California's three law schools. Investigators base their
probe on a complaint that the schools admitted white students in higher
proportions than blacks or Latinos after the University's board of regents
banned affirmative action policies. The complaint, filed by several civil
rights groups representing minorities, alleges that, in the fall of 1996,
Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school admitted one in four white applicants while
accepting only one in 10 Latinos and one in 20 blacks. The groups also say the
school's admissions policies give extra weight to students who attended elite
Eastern colleges but ignore grades from predominantly black and Latino
On October 15, the Center for Individual Rights files a lawsuit on
behalf of two white students denied admission to the University of Michigan
undergraduate program. The suit alleges that the University has a dual
admissions standard and holds white applicants to higher standards for grade
point average and test scores than it does for minority applicants.
On December 2, the Center for Individual Rights files a class action lawsuit on
behalf of several white students denied admission to the University of Michigan
law school. The basis for the suit is similar to earlier action brought by CIR
In its first year without affirmative action in undergraduate admissions, UC
Berkeley admits its least diverse freshman class in over 17 years, accepting 56
percent fewer African Americans and 49 percent fewer Latinos than in 1997.
On February 2, five civil rights organizations file a class-action lawsuit on
behalf of more than 750 black, Latino and Filipino-American students against UC
Berkeley. The suit, filed in federal court, alleges that Berkeley's
undergraduate admissions guidelines discriminate against minority students,
pointing to the school's policy of giving applicants bonus grade points for
advanced placement (AP) classes and its heavy reliance on the SAT test. The
lawyers point out that few minority students have access to AP classes and say
that high SAT scores are a better reflection of family income than of potential
to succeed in college. The school counters that it now relies less on the SAT
than at any time since standardized tests were introduced and says that giving
credit for AP classes is the only way it can differentiate between all of the
applicants with 4.0 grade point averages. In 1998, more than 14,000 applicants
for 8,400 spots in the freshman class at Berkeley had 4.0 averages
On July 27, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California files a
lawsuit against the State of California alleging discrimination against
students and schools in minority and low-income neighborhoods. The suit alleges
these schools offer far fewer advanced placement (AP) courses than schools in
more affluent areas. Because many of the best colleges and universities give
bonus grade points for AP classes, the suit says the state is unfairly
preparing middle and upper class student for college while ignoring the needs
of poor students. Sate officials have no comment.
On August 10, The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that a group of minority
students at the University of Michigan can intervene as co-defendants in the
lawsuit filed by the Center for Individual Rights against the University. The
students feel that the University will not adequately defend their interests in
the lawsuits, and hope to defend affirmative action in admissions decisions at
the school. The case has not yet gone to trial.