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Issue of the Week: Race and public university admissions

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Ilustration by Arnulfo Bermudez
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday January 22, 2003

UM admissions case deals with two issues

The administration's case against the University of Michigan really deals with two different subjects: undergraduate admissions and law school admissions. Judicial precedent ordains that race can be used as a factor in admissions, just so long as applicants are not overtly omitted due to it.
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Caitlin Hall

By this criterion, the undergraduate program is truly unconstitutional. It uses a formulaic system to award extra points the equivalent of a full extra point in one's GPA to minority applicants. The law school's policy is much more ethereal, however: It says merely that the university should seek a "critical mass" of minority students. This undefined standard has led to fluctuating minority enrollment and does not legally constitute a quota, which has served as the constitutional litmus test for race-based policies for the past two decades.

While we're at it, though, it is worth noting the intense irony of President Bush crusading against admission policies which award extra points based on one's heritage. Let's not forget how Bush "earned" his spot at Yale: through legacy points designed to encourage donations from wealthy alumni. These points have entrenched a wealthy, white elite in the institutions of higher education and are partly responsible for the necessity of race-conscious policies.

It's enough to make one wonder if Bush is living in the White House or a glass house.

Caitlin Hall is a philosophy and biochemistry sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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Steve Campbell

Affirmative action corrects societal flaws

In an ideal world, affirmative action would never exist. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a world. If everybody grew up with the same opportunities afforded to those on the other side of the tracks, then affirmative action would simply be saying, "This race is inferior; therefore, they need a handout to achieve what everybody else is accomplishing on their own."

There are times when affirmative action should be put into practice and other times when it becomes a destructive tool.

The University of Michigan got it right when it made race an issue in deciding who is admitted into the institution and who is left behind.

Education is the biggest factor in determining your lot in life. You may not be able to determine where you grow up or how much money your parents make, but once you graduate from high school, you are presented with an opportunity to level the playing field by going to college.

This opportunity should never be taken away from you simply because you were not given the same opportunities as the white kid on the other side of town.

Accept it or not: Race does affect the way a person grows up. It shouldn't, however, affect that person's chance at a good education and a successful life.

Steve Campbell is a senior majoring in Spanish. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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Phil Leckman

Bush ignores U.S. legacy of discrimination

The Bush administration accuses the University of Michigan of instituting "racial quotas" a carefully targeted phrase. Invoking the specter of a quota system has held a treasured place in the Republican playbook for years. Quotas are deeply unpopular with most Americans. They're also unconstitutional.

Unfortunately for Bush and his supporters, the Michigan admissions formula, in which race is only one factor among many used to score potential students, hardly constitutes a quota. Similar policies, whether formal or informal, are currently in use at most selective U.S. universities. Many Americans including Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell still view race as an appropriate factor for college admissions boards to consider.

Just last month, the Trent Lott affair highlighted the persistent legacy of centuries of discrimination and disenfranchisement based on race. Evidence of the economic and educational divide created by that legacy is everywhere; just yesterday, the New York Times reported that American schools are as segregated today as they were thirty years ago. If a society in which opportunities are available to all people regardless of color or class remains an American objective and it certainly should then we must do more to ensure diversity on the nation's college campuses. The President's intrusion into U.S. judicial policy only takes us further from that goal.

Phil Leckman is an anthropology graduate student. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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Erik Flesch

Barbaric, primitive approach to admissions

In America's history, outstanding students were denied admission to a university because of an incidental of birth. Yes, colleges considered a student's race more essential than his character.

What was behind this barbarian view? The erroneous premise that the content of an individual's mind is dictated by something other than his own volition? In this case, his race. Today, most consider this view of man not only false, but immoral. Why? Because we follow in the footsteps of a few revolutionaries who advocated the morality of individualism.

The University of Michigan, with an aim of representing in "meaningful numbers" students from groups who have historically been discriminated against, set an admissions policy that would give certain average students preference on the basis of race. Is this policy well-meaning in principle but flawed in practice? No. Because the policy perpetuates the primitive barnyard view that people are a product of their race, by rewarding ethnic identity over excellence, it is absolutely corrupt.

Martin Luther King, Jr. heroically declared in his famous 1963 speech: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." This principle is the only just admissions standard.

Erik Flesch is a geosciences junior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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Kendrick Wilson

Society has a duty to educate minorities

The Supreme Court could soon declare that race cannot be a factor in determining college admissions. While racial quotas are largely unpopular, using race as a factor is not the same thing. In fact, as an Arizona Daily Star editorial pointed out, at the University of Michigan, now the subject of the upcoming Supreme Court case, minority student numbers at the law school ranged from 12.5 percent to 20 percent over the past several years. This could not have happened had racial quotas been in place

Thirty-eight years since the Civil Rights Act was passed, many minorities who do attend college are still the first in their families to do so. Large numbers of minority students come from families who are unable to pay their college tuition should they be accepted.

Higher education is by far the greatest tool our society can give minorities. Indeed, the common conservative rant that social programs often keep the underprivileged from reaching out of poverty supports the concept of increasing higher-education opportunities for minorities.

Until the day has come when being born African-American or Hispanic does not mean one's chances of success are lower than those who were born white, race must continue to be a factor in college admissions and financial aid.

Kendrick Wilson is a political science sophomore. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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Jessica Lee

Mission of the public institution blurred

There should be a clear moral distinction between affirmative action in a university admission policy and hiring practices in the business world.

A public university a universal mecca for global knowledge cannot be treated as an entrepreneurial entity that chooses its members solely on quality. The mission of a public university is to educate young minds so, upon graduation, each student can enter the real world and make a positive contribution to society. It is not a place reserved for individuals who have a defined academic advantage due to an above-average socioeconomic background. It is unfortunate that this distinction is statistically defined by race.

Historically, the elite America has been molded by rich white kids who have had the luck of following in the footsteps of their privileged daddies. If we truly, as a dedicated society, wish to diversify the elite class, then the playing field needs to be leveled at the university arena.

Perhaps admission standards would be more politically correct if they awarded points for students of less fortunate backgrounds who have the desire to attend college. The university is not a place based on "me, me, me." Rather, a university campus and its goals should be about "we."

Jessica Lee is the Wildcat opinions editor and is an environmental science senior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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