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Time for a new perspective on affirmative action

Kenneth J. Cooper | 6/27/2012, 8:21 a.m.

“I think it’s time for a reframing of the importance of affirmative action from a framework of social justice to one of human resource development,” he said.

North Carolina AandT has established a public high school on its campus, called Middle College, that enrolls black male students. All the school’s students have been graduating and going to college. Harvey said a similar school for black females is planned.

It is unclear how much help the new arguments will be with a Supreme Court that has been, as Saenz noted, skeptical of “race-conscious affirmative action in many contexts” for 35 years.

“The danger, of course, is the Supreme Court of today goes backward,” Saenz said. “We are all very concerned, despite the fact that it seems to be a very limited case, because of that longstanding Supreme Court skepticism” of affirmative action.

Walton suggested that the term affirmative action, in use for decades, should be modified to reflect that the consideration of race and gender counterbalances systemic biases and produces truly merit-based decisions. The Stanford professor speaks of establishing systems of “affirmative meritocracy” within educational institutions.

Saenz, Walton and Harvey appeared at the annual conference of the American Association for Affirmative Action held earlier this month. The executive director of the Washington-based organization is Shirley Wilcher, a Harvard Law School graduate who grew up in Boston.