Affirmative action admissions programs at law and medical schools are "entirely proper and worthy of emulation rather than condemnation," the U.S. Civil Rights Commission concluded in a study released yesterday.
Commission Chairman Arthur S. Fleming also said the agency is "heartened" by the "unequivocal support" for affirmative Court last week in the Allan Bakke medical school admissions decision.
The commission's report, "Toward Equal Opportunity: Affirmative Action Programs at Law and Medical Schools," traces the history of discrimination which has kept minorities critically under-represented in the legal and medical professions.
"Given the long and lamentable history of discrimination against midnorities in higher education, consideration of race or minority status in the admissions process of law and medical schools is certainly justified and appropriate," the report says.
It was prepared before last week's Bakke decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that race may be taken into account in the admissions process, but ordered the medical school at the University of California at Davis to admit Bakke who is white, on the ground that the Davis affirmative action program was in effect a rigid quota that violates the Constitution.
Fleming said he sees nothing in the decision that would stand in the way of affirmative action programs that use race-conscious goals rather than quotas.
"If federal agencies now understand that they have a clear mandate to proceed with affirmative action programs and if employers understand that they are going to respond in such a manner, the nation can look forward to more constructive results than have been achieved to date," Flemming read from a statement approved by the five-member commission.
Four of the five commissioners said they agreed wholeheartedly with the court's decision in the Bakke case. Frankie M. Freeman, the lone black on the commission, said she disagreed with the ruling that Bakke should be admitted to Davis.
The difference between the types of program the court affirmed, and those, like the one at Davis, that it outlawed, are "no more than semantics," she said.
"But it is not surprising that I differ with my colleagues," Freeman said. "Blacks and whites have always had differing opinions about civil rights in this country."
The commission report described the "common but erroneous belief" that objective standards are the usual basis for admissions to professional schools.
The commission was created by Congress in 1957 to investigate complaints of discrimination, and to study federal laws and policies bearing on the question.