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Affirmative Action

William & Mary pursues affirmative action in accordance with Federal law and applicable state laws. In recruitment and retention efforts, the University actively seeks to improve opportunities for minorities, women, veterans, and people with disabilities in an effort to maintain and grow our diverse campus community.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights defined affirmative action in October 1977 as "any measure, beyond simple termination of a discriminatory practice, adopted to correct or compensate for past or present discrimination or to prevent discrimination from recurring in the future." Affirmative action recognizes the need to take positive legal action to stop discrimination and ensure equal opportunity for minorities and women, who were denied such opportunities in the past. Affirmative action is a crucial tool to ensuring equal opportunity in employment and education.

The concept of affirmative action has existed since the Civil War, when Reconstruction efforts worked to establish equal opportunity for former slaves. The modern term was coined with President Kennedy’s 1961 Executive Order No. 10925, which required federal contractors to pledge non-discrimination and to "take affirmative action to ensure" equal opportunity. This order was later replaced by President Johnson’s Executive Order No. 11246, and the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) was created to enforce the order’s ban on discrimination and affirmative action mandate.

The amended 1967 order prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and requires them to take affirmative action to ensure equal opportunity for employment without regard to an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or status as a Vietnam era or special disabled veteran. The order requires that federal contractors use numerical goals and timetables to increase their number of minority and women employees.

Under this system, the employer sets a goal that is based on the available qualified minority workers in the labor market and then must make a “good faith effort” to meet that goal within a timetable. Federal affirmative action requirements not only have increased job opportunities for minorities and women but also have encouraged federal contractors to train their managers and supervisors in identifying and rectifying discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Much of the controversy surrounding affirmative action centers on the misconceived idea that affirmative action demands “quotas”—requirements that an employer hire a pre-set number or percentage of a specific group regardless of the existence of more qualified applicants in other groups. However, Executive Order No. 11246’s supporting regulations specifically prohibit the use of quotas, and failure to meet a numerical goal does not automatically result in sanctions for the employer.

Many colleges and universities have developed affirmative action admissions policies to provide for equal access to higher education for minorities and women. Data from the National Center on Education Statistics show that rates of minority enrollment in higher education have steadily increased over time. Nonetheless, some states, including Florida, California, Washington, Nebraska, and Michigan, have passed laws prohibiting affirmative action in higher education.