In the early 1970s, the medical school of the University of
California at Davis devised a dual admissions program to increase
representation of "disadvantaged" students. Under the regular admissions
procedure, a screening process was used to evaluate candidates for
further consideration. Candidates whose overall undergraduate grade
point averages fell below 2.5 on a scale of 4.0 were automatically
rejected. Of the remaining candidates, some were selected for
interviews. Following an interview, the admissions committee rated
candidates who survived the screening process on a scale of 1 to 100.
The rating considered the interviewer's evaluation, the candidate's
overall and science grade point averages, scores on the Medical College
Admissions Test (MCAT), letters of recommendation, extracurricular
activities, and other biographical data. The ratings were added together
to arrive at each candidate's "benchmark score."
On the application form, candidates could indicate that they were
members of a "minority group," which the medical school designated as
"Blacks," "Chicanos," "American Indians," or "Asians." Candidates could
also choose to be considered "economically and/or educationally
disadvantaged." The applications of those who did so were sent to the
special admissions committee, where applications were screened to
determine whether the candidate met the criteria established for
disadvantaged and minority groups. These applicants did not have to meet
the 2.5 grade point average cut off used in the regular program, nor
were the candidates in the special admissions program compared to the
candidates in the regular admissions program. Of the 100 spots in the
medical school, 16 spaces were set aside for this program.
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 same years,
minority applicants with lower grade point averages, MCAT scores, and
benchmark scores were admitted to the medical school under the special
After his second rejection, Bakke filed suit in the Superior Court of
Yolo County, California. He sought to compel the University of
California at Davis to admit him to the medical school. He also alleged
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.
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 found that the special
admissions program did violate the federal and state constitutions, as
well as Title VI, and was therefore illegal. The Court declared that
race could not be taken into account when making admissions decisions.
However, the Court also ruled that Bakke should not be admitted to the
medical school because he failed to show that he would have been
admitted in the absence of the special admissions program.
The University of California appealed the case to the Supreme Court
of California, which also declared the special admissions policy
unconstitutional. Furthermore, the Supreme Court of California
determined that Bakke should be admitted to the school because the
University failed to demonstrate that Bakke would not have been admitted
without the special admissions program.
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 might 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?
On what point did both the California Superior and California Supreme Courts agree in their Bakke rulings?
Do you agree with the lower courts' decisions? Why or why not?