Futures At

Fullerton and Cypress Colleges


Dr. Bob Laird

Retired Director of Undergraduate Admissions and School Relations

University of California, Berkeley

The case for affirmative action in university admissions / by Bob Laird.
Berkeley, CA: Bay Tree Publishing, 2005.
Main LC212.42.L35 2005
image - book coverAffirmative action, a three decades-long effort to create equal opportunities for minorities in jobs, business and education, and still a hot-button issue, is the subject of this book. Laird, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of California at Berkeley, provides an inside look at the admissions process at his institution and also tackles the wider issue of the efficacy of maintaining a diverse student body through affirmative action. Throughout the course of this study, he shows how affirmative action works in an educational setting and how it benefits society in general to continue the policy. In so doing, he provides a strong and well-documented case in defense of it with one of his major points being that a "fair society" is part of the social contract of America. Affirmative action in education is the consideration of race and ethnicity in determining admission to institutions of higher learning, in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. That is not to say that these two criteria are the only ones as academic achievement, test scores and other conventional measures are also considered. However, the policy allows for the admission of those with lower than the benchmark for grades, scores etc. if the individual is a member of a specified race or ethnicity. It is essentially based on a "leveling of the playing field" concept that acknowledges the socio-economic disadvantages, poorer neighborhoods, schools etc., that minority groups must deal with in gaining equal access to opportunities. The debate over the policy, which the author points out has been spirited for at least three decades, arises from the fact that, with a limited number of open spots, institutions, in admitting minorities with lower than benchmark numbers, then deny admission to those who meet the benchmarks but are not members of a minority group. Several Supreme Court cases, beginning in the 1970's and as recently as two decisions in 2003, have consistently come down on the side of affirmative action. Laird begins the book with a look at the issues in the two 2003 Supreme Court cases and then surveys the history of the controversy going back to the earliest affirmative action programs (he notes that Harvard Law School instituted the first one in 1966 but by the early 1970's they were prevalent). He then provides his rationale for why affirmative action matters. The remainder of the book is an historical look at the legal, educational and societal aspects of this issue. He examines various court cases and many affirmative action policies, showing flaws where they existed, all the time providing an inside look at the program in operation at UC Berkeley. He ends with a look at the future, which he sees as presaging some trouble given the shifting demographics of this country and the lack of planning at the state level. A final chapter offers a proscription for admissions policy-makers in dealing with the future of the policy. Three appendices reprint policies from the University of California Board of Regents and the University of California at Berkeley on affirmative action on admissions. The book ends with a lengthy bibliography and a general index.