Obama on Affirmative Action in Higher Ed

October 23, 2014

In an interview in The New Yorker, President Obama expressed support for affirmative action in higher education, and questioned how precisely a Supreme Court deadline for phasing out the consideration of race should be viewed. The article looks broadly at President Obama's influence on the federal court system, and touches on affirmative action toward the end of the piece. In a landmark Supreme Court decision upholding the right of public colleges to, under certain circumstances, consider race in admissions, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor suggested that they should no longer be needed in 25 years. Justice O'Connor, since retired from the court, wrote the decision in 2003. Asked about that deadline, Obama told the magazine that Justice O’Connor would “be the first one to acknowledge that 25 years was sort of a ballpark figure in her mind.”

Generally, Obama signaled continued support for affirmative action. “If the University of Michigan or California decides that there is a value in making sure that folks with different experiences in a classroom will enhance the educational experience of the students, and they do it in a careful way,” the universities should be allowed to consider race and ethnicity, he said.

At the same time, however, he said that the best long-term solution to unequal opportunities in American society is improvement of the K-12 education system. “I understand, certainly sitting in this office, that probably the single most important thing I could do for poor black kids is to make sure that they’re getting a good K-through-12 education. And, if they’re coming out of high school well prepared, then they’ll be able to compete for university slots and jobs. And that has more to do with budgets and early-childhood education and stuff that needs to be legislated," Obama said.


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