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Affirmative Action

One of the knottiest issues in American life today is affirmative action. Stanley Fish, professor of English and law at Duke University, has argued forcefully on the op-ed page of The New York Times that it is especially troublesome because the debate has been framed (by those opposing affirmative action) as an issue of principle: race neutrality -- rather than as an issue of policy: how should we address the very real practical legacies of historic racism in American institutions?

The Web has copious resources for those interested in exploring both the theoretical and practical aspects of the issue. The most comprehensive site is AAD -- Affirmative Action and Diversity Project: A Web Page for Research, maintained by Carl Gutierrez-Jones and Rita Raley, both English professors at the University of California at Santa Barbara.. AAD includes a subpage devoted exclusively to California's Proposition 209 banning affirmative action, passed by the voters in November but later put on hold by a Federal court. The Prop 209 page encompasses the briefs filed and the court's decision, news reports, policy statements from the University of California system, and other up-to-date material. There is also a useful link to other websites dealing with the issue, both pro and con.

Carl Irving, a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, has a lengthy and good discussion of the debates over affirmative action in the University of California system, published in the April 1995 issue of CrossTalk, the magazine of the California Higher Education Policy Center.

Most university websites have descriptions of their admissions policies, but some are more explicit than others about diversity issues. See, for example, the million-dollar Berkeley Pledge to maintain diversity at the University of California in the wake of the Regents' decision to abandon affirmative-action programs; or the University of Chicago's more oblique outreach evidenced in the brochures published and posted on the Web for Spanish-speaking parents of prospective students.

The White House has posted the text of a staff report ordered by President Clinton in 1995 that reviews all Federal policies and programs that take race and gender into consideration. It discusses the statutes, executive orders, departmental policies, and court decisions and makes recommendations in each area. The document is comprehensive and exhaustively footnoted but is difficult to navigate on the Web, since its eleven sections are not linked to one another. The user must manually alter the URL in the Location line to move from one section to another. Only the numerals need to be changed. Thus, to get from the Introduction (/aa01.html) to section 2, "History and Rationale," change the "01" to "02" -- and so on through the document. The sections are:

01 -- Introduction
02 -- History and Rationale
03 -- Empirical Research
04 -- The Justification for Affirmative Action
05 -- The Varieties of Federal Programs
06 -- Office of Federal Contract Complicance Programs
07 -- Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity in the Military
08 -- Federal Civilian Employment Affirmative Action
09 -- Federal Procurement Policies & Practices
10 -- Education & Health and Human Services Policies and Practices
11 -- Other Federal Policies

For further reading, consult, The Affirmative Action Debate, edited by Steven M. Cahn, New York: Routledge, 1995.

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