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Bay Tree Publishing, The Case for Affirmative Action in University Admissions

$26.95 trade paperback
288 pages, 6″ X 9″
ISBN: 0-9720021-4-6

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The Case for Affirmative Action in University Admissions

by Bob Laird
Foreword by the Rev. Jesse Jackson

Two recent Supreme Court decisions have insured that affirmative action will continue to play a central role in creating equal educational opportunities for minority students for many years to come at public colleges and universities. This book explains the critical role of affirmative action in creating diverse public institutions, describes the turbulent debates regarding such programs, and explains the guidelines that will govern affirmative action policies in education in the immediate future.

Recounting the stormy history of affirmative action, the author discusses California’s divisive Proposition 209, the role of anti-affirmative action spokesmen such as Ward Connerly and Dinesh D’Souza, and alternative socio-economic “percent plans.” The book concludes with suggestions for practical affirmative action policies within the guidelines of the law and the practical realities of current public opinion.

About the Author

As Director of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of California, Berkeley for six years and an admissions professional for twenty-five, Bob Laird has labored in the eye of the storm surrounding admissions and social policy issues. At Berkeley, he was one of the country’s most respected directors of admission; he continues to be an eloquent advocate for affirmative action and an authority on its legal implementation.


“The reaction against affirmative action comes as America is growing apart, and the middle class is under pressure. In these conditions, it is relatively easy to use a politics of racial division to distract people from society’s failure.

At the same time, it is hard for people of good will to get a sense of what can be done and should be done. Here this fine study is invaluable. Bob Laird shows how affirmative action works, why it works, and why we all have a stake in defending it.” —from the Foreword by the Rev. Jesse Jackson

“Bob Laird had one of the toughest, and most interesting, jobs in America during the 1990s: managing first a tidal wave of applications to America’s premier public university, the University of California at Berkeley, and then a determined political challenge to the policies that had led to Berkeley’s considerably diversifying its student body while also significantly upgrading its academic quality. Now he gives us a book that is both a fascinating account of how he did it, and one of the best defenses of affirmative action in university admissions that anyone has ever written.” —Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and author of The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy

“Bob Laird has written a hard-hitting documentary describing UC Berkeley during the tumultous years of change in affirmative action policies. He explains the state and federal rulings as well as court decisions that have had great impact on the admissions practices in American colleges and universities. With sound advice on how to maintain diverse student bodies in the current climate, this book is a must-read for all admissions officers. It also gives an insider’s view of the operation of one of the most successful admission offices in the nation.” —John A. Blackburn, Dean of Admission, University of Virginia

The Case for Affirmative Action gives an excellent, succinct analysis of the drastic consequences wrought on society by the elimination of affirmative action in our educational system. The demographics of California and the nation have changed dramatically and will not be reversed.

“Future leaders educated in a segregated system will continue the present racial bias in our national and international policies. The U. S. cannot continue as a world leader if racism in the United States is not addressed and ended.

“An integrated education insures a just and equal society. Bob Laird’s message is crucial for the future of our state, our nation and the world; it is too important to be ignored.”  —Dolores C. Huerta, Co-founder and Vice President Emeritus United Farm Workers of America and former Regent of the University of California

“Bob Laird’s new book significantly raises the level of debate about the role of affirmative action in higher education. Written by the consummate insider who knows the process better than anyone in the country, Laird provides us with both rich history and rich detail, yet he never loses sight of the larger picture—the goal of social justice.” —Troy Duster, President, American Sociological Association and Director, Institute for the History of the Production of Knowledge New York University

“A comprehensive and truthful chronicle of affirmative action and the California story. Extraordinary in detail and convincing in its conclusions. A must read for those who should care about national policy.” —Richard H. Shaw, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, Yale University

“Laird is a passionate advocate for affirmative action … He traces the twisting histories of dueling court cases and Berkeley’s administrative steps and missteps in the quest for diversity.

“Laird’s account gained new urgency last week as UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau warned that the campus faces a crisis of diversity because of the sharp drop in the number of minority students since affirmative action was abandoned …”  San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2005

“California has been the primary battleground over affirmative action, from the 1978 Bakke decision through the 1995 Board of Regents decision to end consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions. Laird draws on his experience as director of admissions at the University of California at Berkeley from 1994 through 1999 to examine California’s struggle to include racial minorities as the state becomes increasingly diversified. He details the selection process and how race is factored into admissions decisions to achieve diversity without sacrificing academic quality. But he looks beyond California to explore the basic questions and concerns surrounding the challenge of balancing the need for greater diversity against notions of a color-blind society. Because of the clear connections between the most select colleges and universities and the most elite jobs and social positions, affirmative action is critical to ensuring that minorities have a stake in shaping the nation, Laird argues, in this passionate defense of affirmative action. Laird offers clear recommendations for admissions policy makers faced with implementing practices that have been upheld by recent Supreme Court decisions.” —Vanessa Bush, Booklist, American Library Association

Table of Contents

Foreword by the Rev. Jesse Jackson



 1  Why It Matters

 2  The Core Issue and the U. S. Supreme Court

 3  Dueling Federal Judges and the Ensuing Confusion

 4  Problems With Early Affirmative Action Policies

 5  Attacking Those Early Policies

 6  Unprecedented Policies: SP-1 and Proposition 209

 7  Unprecedented Consequences

 8  Pies in the Sky: Socio-Economic Affirmative Action and Percent Plans

9  More Pie: Outreach! Transfer!

10  Pogo: We Have Met the Enemy…

11  Trouble Ahead

12  What Admissions Policy-Makers Can Do

Appendix 1 — Special Policy 1 (SP-1), July 20, 1995

Appendix 2 — Guidelines for Implementation of University Policy on Undergraduate Admissions, July 1996

Appendix 3 — UC Berkeley Fall 1998 Freshman Admission Policy