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(January 20, 2003 // link)

A group of white students has filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan challenging the universities reliance on race as a factor in college admission decisions. A similar suit has been filed against the University of Michigan Law School. Both of those cases are scheduled to be heard by the US Supreme Court and the Bush administration has weighed in on the side of the Plaintiffs with a recently filed brief.

At the same time that it argues against the policies of the University of Michigan and the Michigan Law School, President Bush proposed spending $371 million, a 5 percent increase, for grants to historically black colleges and colleges where at least 25 percent of the students are Hispanic. White house spokesman Scott Stanzel is quoted as saying the latter was “in keeping with Dr. King’s calls for equal opportunity.”

Both the University and the Law School defend their admissions positions as being consistent with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in California Board of Regents v. Bakke, a 1978 case which prohibited what was termed “reverse discrimination” in admission policies. Mr. Bakke successfully challenged his rejection from the University of California and the Supreme Court rule that admissions decisions could not be made based on race. The door was left open for colleges and universities to consider race as a factor in making admission decisions and in fact that practice was favored in the rhetoric of the court. The current cases seek to expand the Bakke decision to say that race may not be considered as a factor in admissions decisions.

The two positions of the administration, on one hand recognizing the need to give more money to minority schools and on the other opposing the consideration of race as even a factor in admissions decisions, seem at odds to me. The government advocates for race neutral admissions and thus assumes that people of all backgrounds and ethnicity have equal opportunities in this country. If that is the case why do we acknowledge the need to support traditionally black colleges with more money? Either we have a truly color blind society or we don’t. The evidence suggests that we don’t.

If we did have a truly color blind society there would be no place for the likes of Mississippian Charles Pickering who President Bush re-nominated to the to the federal appellate court just hours after the new Congress was sworn in. Young, black males would not make up the overwhelming percentage of the inmates who sit on death row. There would also be no place for affirmative action. Admissions policies, hiring policies and political decisions would be made without reference to color or ethnicity or religion or any criteria other than merit. Unfortunately, decisions are not made that way so there is a compelling need to protect the minority from oppression by the majority, especially where the policies of government are concerned.

The Bush administration has apparently reached the conclusion that we are now a race neutral society. This conclusion has the potential to erase the hard fought gains of racial equality which we celebrate on the birthday of Dr. King. It also foreshadows the return of the abhorrent doctrines of separate but equal. On one hand we favor the minority schools with grant money to keep them alive. On the other we declare that a race neutral society requires the refusal to consider race as a factor in major, main stream college admissions.

Diversity is the new word that we are hearing in place of integration. I am concerned that by ignoring race, we achieve neither diversity nor integration. What we achieve is, in many cases, segregation. Take for example the concept of “school choice” that was supported by the administration during the campaign and in the original version of the No Child Left Behind law. The administration supported a system of vouchers which would be given to parents who did not wish for their children to remain in public schools deemed “failing” under NCLB. There could be no criteria for establishing diversity in these schools in the administrations racially neutral policies. Vouchers allow parents the right to choose what school they send their kids to and thus there is no need to consider the racial makeup of those schools.

Sadly, I believe that the amicus brief filed by the Bush administration has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not it believes this country has achieved a race-neutral society. Instead, the president appears to be simply trolling for votes of northern moderate white suburban women who want to believe that this administration is far more moderate than it really is.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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