Killing Affirmative Action

Would ending it really result in a better, more perfect Union?

Written by: Ellis Cose

Midterm elections and pending Supreme Court decisions have brought particular attention to affirmative action, which is at a pivotal moment in its evolution.

Chronicling that moment is Ellis Cose, a Newsweek columnist and author, in his new study “Killing Affirmative Action,” published by the Institute for Justice and Journalism (IJJ) at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. This report, funded by a coalition of philanthropic organizations with an interest in social equity, is a case study of the legacy of affirmative action in California and the challenges to it in Michigan and the U.S. Supreme Court. The goal of this nonpartisan, journalistic study is to spur a reasoned national discussion on this contentious topic.

Some findings of Ellis Cose’s report on the effects of Proposition 209 on California include:

* Female- and minority-owned small businesses have been hardest hit over the past ten years.  Since the state is no longer required to provide contracts to these firms, many have been forced to close, unable to compete with larger organizations.

* Public universities saw an immediate drop in minority admissions, especially at top-tier schools, such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, where minority figures are still far below their pre-209 levels.

* While a major argument for passage of Proposition 209 was that it would allow for more energy to be focused on improving economic diversity at public institutions, the past ten years have not resulted in any such improvement.  Nor, Cose points out, did ending affirmative action remove the stigma felt by minority students associated with affirmative action.

* Graduate schools, particularly law schools, experienced the most pronounced decline in minority enrollment levels.

“This is the most insightful assessment we’ve seen of the consequences of efforts to end affirmative action as a remedy for racial and gender discrimination,” said Steve Montiel, director of IJJ. “We’re publishing and distributing it to stimulate informed public debate through in-depth journalism.”

Ellis has noted a more pronounced challenge to these government programs over the past decade.  As the nation and Supreme Court continue to question the efficacy of affirmative action and to consider eliminating affirmative action programs, it is of extreme importance for the nation to be well aware of the facts and impacts surrounding affirmative action, so we can make a better social transition that will continue to help promote equality.  As Cose points out, California’s ten-year experience should inform the transition in Michigan – and any other state that might consider ending affirmative action.

“How do you go about creating a society,” Cose asks, “where all people – not just the lucky few – have the opportunities they deserve?  It is a question much broader than the debate over affirmative action.  But until we begin to move toward an answer, the debate over affirmative action will continue – even if it is something of a sideshow to what should be the main event.”

About USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism

The Institute for Justice and Journalism (IJJ) at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication offers reporting resources to strengthen news coverage involving issues of justice through fellowships, conferences and its Web site ( The Justice and Journalism Fund was established this year by the institute to directly support in-depth reporting.   IJJ is also part of a partnership creating the new Center on the Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York. IJJ was created with funding from The Ford Foundation in the year 2000.

Articles and Other Information:

Newsweek Webchat

An electronic web-conversation, with Ellis and others from around the nation, concerning his new report “Killing Affirmative Action…”


An op-ed, written by Ellis Cose, concerning the approval of The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

The Color of Change

An article (PDF FORMATED) written by Ellis Cose, for Newsweek Magazine, with information taken from “Killing Affimative Action…”