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Reflections on Race: Affirmative Action Policies Influencing Higher Education in France and the United States

by Saran Donahoo - 2008

Background/Context: Although frequently associated with the United States, affirmative action is not a uniquely American social policy. Indeed, 2003 witnessed review and revision of affirmative action policies affecting higher education institutions in both France and the United States. Using critical race theory (CRT) as a theoretical lens, this text compares the affirmative action programs and lawsuits litigated in both nations in 2003 and their impact on the educational and social experiences of people who are racially or culturally non-White.

Purpose: This article examines and compares affirmative action policies and lawsuits directed at higher education in France and the United States. Faced with similar challenges, controversies, and racial concerns, these courts offered somewhat diverging opinions on the purpose, meaning, and impact that affirmative action policies should have in this millennium.

Research Design: This article employs legal hermeneutics, a specific form of documentary analysis, to examine affirmative action policies and related court decisions recently issued in both France and the United States. U.S. court decisions such as Gratz v. Bollinger (2003) and affirmative action program self-study reports published by L’institut d’etudes politiques, or Sciences Po, serve as the primary sources for the text.

Conclusions: The 2003 rulings in both France and the United States provide the legal impetus needed for affirmative action programs to continue. However, none of the court decisions or programs on either side of the Atlantic makes any real attempt to address the larger racial issues that created the need for affirmative action from the start. With the exception of the limited use allowed in affirmative action programs, all forms of diversity in the United States have basically the same value and, accordingly, have virtually same impact on social arrangements. Likewise, France accepted the CEP (Conventions éducation prioritaire [Priority Convention Education]) program as an affirmative action measure while giving no thought to the need to reform the overall ideology of the nation, which dictates that all citizens are French and no forms of heterogeneity exist. In essence, the affirmative actions programs upheld in these court rulings fail to enforce the equality principles imparted in the French and U.S. constitutions by inhibiting discussion and deconstruction of racial inequalities.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 2, 2008, p. 251-277
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14531, Date Accessed: 9/21/2021 1:58:26 AM

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About the Author
  • Saran Donahoo
    Southern Illinois University Carbondale
    E-mail Author
    SARAN DONAHOO is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education at Southern Illinois University–Carbondale. She earned both her doctorate in higher education administration and her M.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She completed her B.A. in secondary education at the University of Arizona. Her research interests include history of education, legal issues affecting education, educational policy, and educational diversity and equity. Recent publications include a coauthored book chapter entitled, “Trapped in the Back of the Bus: Black Colleges, the Courts and Desegregation Rulings” with Denise O. Green in Brown v. Board of Education: Its Impact on Public Education, edited by Dara N. Byrne (2005).
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