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The Consequences of Ethics and Affirmative Action in College Admission

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Each spring thousands of high school seniors are faced with deciding what will be their next step in life. They may ask themselves, should I go into the military, pick up a trade or enter the work force? A majority of them will ultimately decide to attend college. High school seniors are motivated to attend college for any of the following reasons:

  1. To learn a career skill.
  2. To increase earning potential.
  3. To increase their knowledge about different views on life.
  4. To meet new people.
  5. To have a better lifestyle.
  6. To be an example for your family and friends.
  7. To discover passion.
  8. To become independent.
  9. To create lasting memories.
  10. To obtain job security.


For many underrepresent high school seniors, the motivations above are present, however the ability to achieve those goals are halted at the application and admission process. Even for those students that make it through the application process, many college campuses fail at allowing students to accomplish meeting new people and learning different views on life by not having a diverse campus. Having a diverse campus means including individuals that represent different races/ethnicities, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or religious beliefs. As a result, colleges and universities have decided to use affirmative action to primarily accomplish race/ethnicity and socio-economic diversity. This report provides an analysis and evaluation of the moral force behind the idea of giving minorities a leg up in the college admission process by having affirmative action Policies. It also offers a communication strategy to empower college administrators to articulate to stakeholders why race and socio-economic diversity is important on college campuses.

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Our Company’s Situation: Alpha Omega University

Alpha Omega University, a mid-sized independent institution of higher learning, is experiencing a steep decline in racial/ethnic and socio-economic diversity. A coalition of representatives from all diversity related campus organizations have requested a meeting with the President and Board of Directors to discuss what is being done to reverse this trend. As a result, the C-Suite must develop a Diversity Strategic Enrollment Plan to increase and maintain minority enrollment. They must also develop a Code of Ethics and effectively communicate this code to the campus Tabb, page 2 community to gain acceptance of a more diverse campus. Doing both, will prevent Alpha Omega from facing this situation in the future. This leads to the following question: Is it ethical for colleges/universities to establish Affirmative Action policies to increase minority enrollment?

Ethics/communication philosophy/theory

What is Ethics?

Although the term has many definitions, Cheney suggests that ethics is both about ways of being and principles of guiding moral behavior. As mentioned earlier, a couple of reasons that people decide to attend college revolve around meeting and learning about people different from oneself. Another definition of ethics involves “an opening up of the subject, a willingness to allow oneself to be change by experiencing the difference of the Other. These experiences are sometimes uncomfortable or awkward, not only for students but members of the C-suite as well. Burns and Schapper explain that the acuteness of feeling is significant if we accept that discomfort is a signal that a course of action is ethical, is “worth something”. Without this discomfort we have not been challenged or tested and it is possible that our decisions and actions are cheapened or tainted by a “calculation for rational self-interest” and not ethical at all. Therefore, in order to grown personally and professionally it is beneficial to get out of your comfort zone. Jones, Parker, and Ten Bos argues that one of the factors complicating ethics in organizations is the creation of moral distance between actions and consequences: “If the person who gave the order never sees the person who the order ultimately affects, then they will find it harder to care”. Based on this statement, it is important for C-Suite members to actively engage with prospective, current and former members of Alpha Omega University to truly understand the importance and benefits of campus diversity. In other words, “Acting ethically at work is determining where your legal responsibilities lie and then going one centimeter beyond that”.

Communication Philosophy/Theory

Colleges and universities are at the forefront of many ethical dilemmas. They likewise, provide the moral decisions to those dilemmas. There are times when we mention ethics because the law requires it; speaking about ethics in this case is, ironically a matter of compliance rather than an ethical aspiration. How can Alpha Omega be compliant with the law and remain ethically committed to enrolling students from underrepresented populations? According to Cheney, there are three typical responses to ethics in the organizational world: Tabb, page 3ethical codes, ethics officers, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) communications. Alpha Omega should communicate its Affirmative Action/Diversity philosophy through the development of an Ethical Code to Achieving Diversity, a Diversity and Inclusion Office and demonstrating a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Academic Research

What is Affirmative Action?

As a U. S. civil rights policy, affirmative action commonly denotes race-conscious and result-oriented efforts by private and public officials to correct the unequal distribution of economic opportunity and education attributed to slavery, segregation, poverty and racism. However, in institutions of higher education, Affirmative Action was created to insure diversity in American campuses; the policy is simple a tool that produces diverse campuses by increasing the number of minority students.

The legal justification for affirmative action in admissions is Justice Powell’s University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978) opinion, which held that it is permissible to use race/ethnicity as one of several factors in admission decisions if racial/ethnic diversity is demonstrated to improve the quality of the educational experiences.

Policy Advocates: A preponderance of evidence generally indicates that affirmative action is a flawed system, but it creates a fairer playing field for minorities. Theodore Cross offers the following statistics: Under strict merit-based admissions based solely on SAT scores, blacks would win only about 1. 5 percent of all admissions to the nation’s top colleges and universities. Instead of 3, 000 black freshmen at the nation’s 25 top-rated schools, we would have less than 700. Roughly 2, 300 black students per year would be denied the top-quality education they are now receiving with the benefit of preferential admissions. He further states, if there were no affirmative action programs in place at the top universities and graduate schools, how many of our present-day black entrepreneurs and corporate executives would hold their present positions? How many of the 10 U. S attorneys, 59 black judges, and 25, 000 black lawyers in the United States today would hold their positions if no affirmative action programs had existed at the nation’s top law schools? How many of the 22, 000 black doctors in the United States would be practicing today if there were no affirmative action programs in medical school admissions? Over the past 25 years affirmative action has vaulted huge numbers of blacks into the upper and professional classes in the United States. Research also confirms that if race-conscious policies are banned from universities nationwide, then Black and Hispanic representation will drop by 2% at all four-year universities. This research also concluded that Affirmative Action is statistically significant in boosting minorities’ admissions probabilities especially at elite institutions. After the ban on race-sensitive admission policies, many universities witnessed a decline in underrepresented student populations making their campuses even whiter than ever before.

Policy Adversaries: Opponents of affirmative action have long held the view that its policies are reverse discrimination. David Duke states, “Forced racial integration or ‘diversity in education’ has accompanied a precipitous decline in American educational quality. In a quest for diversity, the civil rights of white people are trampled upon by so-called affirmative action programs that are nothing more than racial discrimination against the better qualified. ” However, this anti-affirmative action belief undermines the benefits of such policies. A participant in the Vue, Haslerig, and Allen study asserts the following:It doesn’t actually let people who are not qualifies in; it just gives people who are qualified a chance to pursue their education and go on with their education and it gives them an awesome opportunity to do it. I think that is what most people get confused on because they think that unqualified individuals will actually go. Affirmative action is most controversial at highly selective private colleges and universities as well at flag-ship state schools where the ability to get accepted is very competitive. Harvard for instance, typically rejects 90 percent of applicants, including 1, 800 high school valedictorians in one recent year. Additionally, opponents of affirmative action view it as being unfair to the majority. Who determines what is fair? Fairness isn’t easy to define because its meaning is only important in the eyes of the person questioning it. However, just because fairness isn’t easy to define doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth striving toward.


The first question a college administrator should ask is, what do we want our college campus and environment to look like? If the answer is, having a racial and socio-economic diverse campus, then the next question should be how do we get there? Finally, how can we use the admission process to accomplish that goal and still be fair? No enrollment management official in his or her right mind would seek to develop an admission process that would be intentionally unfair, but what does being fair to all students going through the admission process look like. Some ethical questions that should be considered: Is being fair about equal treatment or equal consideration? Is it fair for an institution to admit based on institutional interest and priorities? Is an admissions process based on merit fair, given that much of what passes for merit is really about the academic privileges of the majority? Asking those questions allowed the C-Suite at Alpha Omega University to develop the following Code of Ethics and Good Practice:

Code of Ethics and Good Practice

Ethical college admission and financial aid processes are the cornerstone of Alpha Omega University. In recent years, the application process has become influenced external forces that raise complex ethical questions. In this rapidly-changing application/financial aid world, it is important for Alpha Omega University to maintain a document that includes practices and policies supporting the concerns for ethical treatment of underrepresented students in the admission/financial aid process. Alpha Omega University is dedicated to the providing opportunities for minority students to pursue higher education. We believe in the potential and value that each student brings to our school. We want to enable underrepresented students (based on ethnicity and socio-economic) to make the dream of higher education a reality.

Core Values

The following broad ethical principles are based on Alpha Omega University’s core values of integrity, social justice and diversity. These principles communicate the ideals to which Alpha Omega should aspire.

  • Collect and track ethnicity and gender data on inquiries, applications, admits and matriculants.
  • Increase recruitment activities that focus on attracting a diverse student population
  • Establish pre-college programs to improve college awareness and readiness skills for a stronger prospective student for Alpha Omega University.
  • Enhance marketing and targeted communication for underrepresented minority students.
  • Increased outreach to high schools with the highest underrepresented student populations in targeted cities.
  • Enhance need-based student financial aid programs to minority applicants.

The C-Suite should take the above strategic diversity plan to promote what will now become its organizational norm. The C-Suite and campus organization leaders should both participate in drafting what they want to be the direction of their institution and set the tone for how important diversity is to the mission and agenda.

Diversity Inclusion Office

The establishment of diversity councils, committees, and task forces that include students, faculty and staff is another way for colleges to improve diversity. These groups are asked to identify and monitor areas where diversity is lacking. These committees collectively set the tone and climate of the importance of diversity on campus.


In conclusion, affirmative action policies have been used by colleges and university to enhance underrepresented enrollment. The decision to utilize affirmative action to achieve race/ethnic and socio-economic diversity on college campuses is not only ethical but beneficial to faculty, students and staff. It is up to leadership to establish a code of ethics to accomplish this goal. The communication of the code of ethics will determine and impact the plan has on the growth of the underrepresented population on the college campus. Having a racially and ethnically diversity student body is a critical component of an excellent education that prepares students for the complex and diverse world they will face after graduation.


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