Beginning in the early 1970s, the medical school of the University of
California at Davis used a two-part admissions program for the 100
students entering each year: a regular admissions program and a special
admissions program. The purpose of the special program was to try to
increase the number of minority and "disadvantaged" students in the
class, so the 16 spots in the special admissions program were reserved
for "qualified" minority and disadvantaged students.
Under the regular admissions program, if a candidate had an overall
undergraduate grade point average below 2.5 on a scale of 4.0, the
candidate was automatically rejected. Candidates who were not
automatically rejected were evaluated using other criteria such as math
and science grades, Medical College Admissions Test scores, letters of
recommendation, and an interview.
On the application form, candidates could indicate that they wanted
to be considered economically and/or educationally disadvantaged or
members of a minority group. Applications of those who did so were sent
to the special admissions program where a separate committee evaluated
them. This committee was composed mainly of members of minority
groups. The applicants in the special admissions program did not have
to meet the same standards as the regular candidates, including the 2.5
grade point average cut off.
From 1971 to 1974 the special program resulted in the admission of 21
black students, 30 Mexican Americans, and 12 Asians, for a total of 63
minority students.* During the same period, the regular admissions
program admitted 1 black student, 6 Mexican Americans, and 37 Asians,
for a total of 44 minority students. No disadvantaged white candidates
received admission through the special program.
Allan Bakke was a white male who applied to and was rejected from the
regular admissions program in 1973 and 1974. During those years,
applicants with lower scores were admitted under the special program.
After his second rejection, Bakke filed suit in the Superior Court of
Yolo County, California. He claimed that the special admissions program
violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it excluded him
on the basis of race. He wanted the Court to force the University of
California at Davis to admit him to the medical 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 and the Supreme Court
of California both found that the special admissions program violated
the federal and state constitutions, as well as Title VI, and was
therefore illegal. The Superior Court declared that race could not be
taken into account when making admissions decisions but also ruled that
Bakke should not be admitted to the medical school because he failed to
show that he would have been admitted even without the special
admissions program. The Supreme Court of California, however, determined
that Bakke should be admitted to the 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 want to consider race as a factor
in the admissions process? Do you think it is appropriate for a college
or university to do so? Why or why not?
Both the California Superior and California Supreme Courts agreed on what two facts in their Bakke rulings?
Do you agree with the lower courts' decisions? Why or why not?