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HKS Authors

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Abstract

I first discuss the Obama administration’s efforts to promote racial diversity on college campuses in the face of recent court challenges to affirmative action. I then analyze opposition in this country to “racial preferences” as a way to overcome inequality. I follow that with a discussion of why class-based affirmative action, as a response to cries from conservatives to abolish “racial preferences,” would not be an adequate substitute for race-based affirmative action. Instead of class-based affirmative action, I present an argument for opportunity enhancing affirmative action programs that rely on flexible, merit-based criteria of evaluation as opposed to numerical guidelines or quotas. Using the term “affirmative opportunity” to describe such programs, I illustrate their application with three cases: the University of California, Irvine’s revised affirmative action admissions procedure; the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003; and the hiring and promotion of faculty of color at colleges and universities as seen in how I myself benefited from a type of affirmative action based on flexible merit-based criteria at the University of Chicago in the early 1970s. I conclude by relating affirmative opportunity programs for people of color to the important principle of “equality of life chances.”

Citation

Wilson, William Julius. "Race and Affirming Opportunity in the Barack Obama Era." Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 9.1 (June 2012): 5-16.