The University of Michigan employed an undergraduate admissions policy that was openly and unapologetically racist. So said the U.S. Supreme Court today, when it announced that the university's undergraduate admissions process, which gave significant weight to applicant's skin color, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
This is a good thing.
When I was a senior in high school, I received several scholarship offers. My father flatly refused each one. His reasoning was straightforward - scholarship money should be left to the economically deprived. And since he could pay for my schooling, he did.
What I think my father meant, but was perhaps too stern to say, was that one should always rely on hard work and personal striving to carry the day - every day.
Sadly, this rousing point seems lost on the admission board at the University of Michigan, which discriminated on the basis of skin color. The university ranked applicants on a scale that awarded points for SAT scores, high school grades and ethnicity. For example, a perfect SAT score was worth 12 points. Being black corralled 20 points. As President Bush observed, "At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes perspective students, based solely on their race."
Supporters maintained that the quota system is essential to creating a diverse student body. And indeed, there is some validity to this sort of thinking. A shared history of slavery and discrimination has ingrained racial hierarchies into our national identity.
However, the majority of people taking advantage of affirmative action systems already have the wherewithal to get into a good college. Meanwhile, the most needy fall by the wayside.
The root problem is that most impoverished people have their sense of future possibilities crushed out of them from a young age. In poor, urban schools across the country, minority students are failing to learn basic skills in early grades. According to the 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, 63 percent of black, inner-city fourth graders and 58 percent of urban Hispanic fourth graders are unable to demonstrate a "basic" proficiency in reading. If the students reach high school unable to read and understand the material, they see little reason to stick around. Not surprisingly then, nearly twice as many black Americans drop out of high school as white students.
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