In the early 1970s, the medical school of the University of
California at Davis admitted 100 students each year. The university used
two admissions programs: a regular admissions
program and a special admissions program. The purpose of the special
admissions program was to increase the number of minority and
"disadvantaged" students in the class. Applicants who
were members of a minority group or who believed that they were
disadvantaged could apply for the special admissions program.
In the regular admissions program, applicants had to have a grade
point average of at least 2.5 on a scale of 4.0 or they were
automatically rejected. In the special admissions program, however,
applicants did not have to have a grade point average of 2.5. Sixteen of
the 100 spaces in the medical program were reserved only for the
disadvantaged students. This is known as a quota system.
From 1971 to 1974 the special program admitted 21 black students, 30
Mexican Americans, and 12 Asians, for a total of 63 minority students.*
The regular program admitted 1 black student, 6 Mexican Americans, and
37 Asians, for a total of 44 minority students. No disadvantaged white
candidates were admitted through the special program.
Allan Bakke was a white male. He applied to and was rejected from the
regular admissions program in 1973 and 1974. Minority applicants with
lower scores than Bakke's were admitted under the special program.
After his second rejection, Bakke filed a lawsuit in the Superior
Court of Yolo County, California. He wanted the Court to force the
University of California at Davis to admit him to the medical school. He
also claimed that the special admissions program violated
the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment says, in part, "No
State . . . shall deny to any person . . . the equal protection of the
laws." Bakke said that the University, a state school, was treating him
unequally because of his race. He thought that if he were a minority
that he would have been admitted to the school.
The university argued that their system of admission preferences
served several important purposes. It helped counter the effects of
discrimination in society. Since historically, minors were
discriminated against in medical school admissions and in the medical
profession, their special admission program could help reverse that. The university also said that the special program increased the number
of physicians who practice in underserved communities. Finally, the
university reasoned that there are educational benefits to all students
when the student body is ethnically and racially diverse.
The Superior Court of Yolo County, California agreed with Bakke. It
said that the special admissions program violated the federal and state
constitutions and was therefore illegal. The Court said that a person's
race could not be considered when the University decides whom to admit.
The University of California and Bakke both appealed the case to the Supreme Court of California. This court also declared the special admissions policy unconstitutional and
said that Bakke had to be admitted to the medical school. The Regents
of the University of California then appealed the case to the Supreme
Court of the United States.
*Note: These were the racial classifications used by the University of California at Davis at the time.
Questions to Consider
Why would a college or university consider race when deciding whom to admit?
Why would some people say it is unfair for a college or university to consider race when deciding whom to admit?
Do you think colleges and universities should consider race when deciding whom to admit? Why or why not?
What did the Superior Court of Yolo County, California and the
Supreme Court of California say about choosing applicants based on race?