Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2009

Capstone Advisor

Professor Laurence Thomas

Honors Reader

Professor Ben Bradley

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories


Subject Categories

Ethics and Political Philosophy | Philosophy


The following is a study on the use of affirmative action in higher education, particularly with respect to race. Because admission into institutions of higher education has traditionally been perceived as a reflection on one’s merit, the application of race-conscious affirmative action programs has undermined the meritorious prestige of a college education for graduates of all races alike. The use of an uncontrollable trait determined at birth as a factor in gaining admission to one of these institutions raised questions of fairness, legality, and purpose. The consequences of such a policy’s application raised further questions regarding fairness, its success, and its side effects.

In evaluating these questions, this study recognized the necessity of defining its parameters and thus created an abstract philosophical ideal of equality upon which the rest of the study was based. The paper then summarized various affirmative action policies that actually have been implemented in theUnited States, based upon descriptions found in university literature and Supreme Court affidavits. The bulk of the paper was spent critiquing those policies on four main grounds. First, the policies were compared toUnited Stateslaw. Second, they were analyzed in terms of the fairness of using race as a determining factor. Third, in comparison with statistical data, various affirmative action programs’ effectiveness relative to the absence of any program was considered. Finally and most importantly, the paper raised issues about the negative consequences of affirmative action upon the minorities the program seeks to benefit. The remainder of the paper was spent offering alternatives for the future.

The essential argument of the paper is that affirmative action is not the appropriate solution to the problem of equal opportunity. Not only does affirmative action contradict equality laws, it is unfair, it is disagreeable to Rawlsian political theory, and decades of its application have proven ineffective. Above all, the existence of race-conscious affirmative action casts a stigma on every successful individual of minority heritage, attributing their achievement solely to affirmative action rather than their own faculties.

In conclusion, this study found that affirmative action is in fact more harmful than beneficial to minorities, and alternative race-blind proposals may be more effective ways of increasing college admission among underprivileged students.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.