In a presidential election in which the youth vote has increasingly taken the spotlight, little attention has been paid to the candidates’ stances on affirmative action — a hot topic in the University environment.

Though never the centerpiece of their stump speeches, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and his Republican counterpart John McCain have at times strove to establish a contrast between their policies.

Amid the struggle for the presidential candidates to establish between themselves a contrast in affirmative action policy, the University has committed to furthering its own agenda on the issue. For the last five years, the University has sought to uphold affirmative action against judicial review and legislation.

In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled on two parallel cases involving the University’s affirmative action policies for its law school and its undergraduate admissions. The Court struck down the points system used in the undergraduate admissions process, arguing that the racial criteria was not “narrowly tailored” toward the goal of diversity. However, the second ruling upheld the law school’s policy to favor minorities in the admissions process.

In 2006 the state passed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, effectively banning the use of race- and gender-based affirmative action. Washington state and California also have bans. A slew of other states will consider bans this fall.

Obama has been careful in voicing his support on the use of affirmative action, asserting that both racial and socioeconomic barriers should be a factor in admissions. He stipulates that he does not support quota systems.

During a primary debate in Pennsylvania on April 16, Obama used the lofty rhetoric that has characterized much of his presidential campaign to touch on his views.

“I still believe in affirmative action as a means of overcoming both historic and potentially current discrimination, but I think that it can’t be a quota system and it can’t be something that is simply applied without looking at the whole person, whether that person is black, or white, or Hispanic, male or female,” Obama said. “What we want to do is make sure that people who’ve been locked out of opportunity are going to be able to walk through those doors of opportunity in the future.”

In May, during an interview on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the Illinois senator acknowledged the lingering effects of racism by pointing to the fact that many black college graduates are the first members of their family to obtain a post-secondary degree.

In the past, Republican presidential nominee John McCain has been at odds with his party on the issue of affirmative action. In 1998, McCain addressed a Hispanic group in his home state of Arizona to discuss a ballot initiative calling for a statewide ban on affirmative action programs. The senator expressed his opposition to such “divisive” initiatives and his desire to instead engage in “dialogue and cooperation.”
The initiative failed to make the ballot.

In July of this year, though, McCain reversed his stance in an interview on This Week. McCain said he supported a new anti-affirmative action ballot initiative in Arizona led by Ward Connerly – one of the nation’s most notable opponents of affirmative action who was instrumental in funding and orchestrating Michigan’s ban.

McCain’s move to contradict his earlier position has sparked criticism that the senator is seeking to placate his conservative base. The senator has maintained that he has “always opposed quotas” – a point on which he and his opponent (and most mainstream American politicians) agree.

Although the University can no longer use race and gender data as a factor in admissions, the level of minority enrollment has remained relatively stable. Underrepresented minorities compose 10.5 percent of the class of 2012 — about a 2 percent drop from the class of 2010’s numbers, the last to be chosen prior to the ban.

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