At first, university administrators and faculty found the rules of Order No.
4 murky but hardly a threat to the established order.
Among the yea-sayers, opinion divided between those who said preferences were morally permissible and those who said they were not.
Within the “morally permissible” set, different writers put forward different justifications.
The ebb and flow of public controversy over affirmative action can be pictured as two spikes on a line, the first spike representing a period of passionate debate that began around 1972 and tapered off after 1980, and the second indicating a resurgence of debate in the 1990s leading up to Supreme Court’s decisions in 20 upholding certain kinds of affirmative action.
The first spike encompassed controversy about gender and racial preferences alike.
“Affirmative action” means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and culture from which they have been historically excluded.
When those steps involve selection—selection on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity—affirmative action generates intense controversy.
4, fully implementing the Executive Order, landed on campus by way of directives from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. 4, first promulgated in 1970, cast a wide net over American institutions, both public and private.
By extending to all contractors the basic apparatus of the construction industry “plans,” the Order imposed a one-size-fits-all system of “underutilization analyses,” “goals,” and “timetables” on hospitals, banks, trucking companies, steel mills, printers, airlines—indeed, on all the scores of thousands of institutions, large and small, that did business with the government, including a special set of institutions with a particularly voluble and articulate constituency, namely, American universities.