As a university president in the 1970s (San Jose State) and then as a researcher and writer, Bunzel's long involvement with affirmative action in higher education has led him to conclude that the troubling issues of race and equality cannot be reduced to the easy categories of "right" versus "wrong." He objects to such moral absolutism (also reflected in California's Proposition 209) because it denies legitimacy to the inevitable complexities and nuances inherent in what he regards as a many-sided problem. Affirmative action in college admissions, he argues, must ultimately be viewed in relation to other competing principles and in light of many practical problems.
In trying to balance different claims and interests within a "theory of limits," Bunzel believes a more useful way to think about affirmative action is in terms of a "social contribution theory of universities." Thus he asks (among other questions), "Is some degree of race consciousness never defensible?" He does not think there is only one morally correct answer. Acknowledging that race has too often been considered excessively and sub rosa, he rejects both of the ideologically pure extremes--namely, that anything that overcomes the disadvantages of race is acceptable and that taking race into account is never appropriate under any circumstances.