Racial preferences at college

Linda Chavez
Posted: Dec 04, 2002 12:00 AM
For decades colleges and universities have been choosing their students on the basis of skin color, but that may change soon. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up two cases involving the University of Michigan's admissions policy. In one case, Stephanie Gratz, a young, white woman seeking admission as a Michigan undergraduate, was turned down -- despite having higher grades and test scores than most of the black students who were admitted -- because the school holds whites and Asians to a much higher standard than it does blacks. In the second case, another white student, Barbara Grutter, applied for admission to the university's law school and was turned down despite having test scores and grades that would have guaranteed her admission if she were black. In both instances, the university claimed what it did was justified by the need to achieve "diversity" among its students. The Gratz and Grutter examples are no mere flukes, nor do they represent only a minor advantage for black students in the admission's process. When my Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) analyzed admissions standards at the University of Michigan's flagship campus in Ann Arbor, we discovered that the median SAT scores for black students who were admitted to the school were 230 points lower than for whites. What's more, their high school grades lagged nearly a half point (on a four-point scale) behind those of whites. From the data we obtained under a freedom of information request, we calculated that the odds of being admitted if you were a black student with the same qualifications as a white applicant were 174-to-1. Sadly, the University of Michigan isn't alone in applying such racial double standards. CEO has published studies of admissions policies at 47 public colleges and universities and found that virtually all highly competitive schools admit blacks with significantly lower grades and test scores, and many (though not all) admit Hispanic students with somewhat lower qualifications. These schools have sent a very clear -- and, I believe, racist -- message to all students: We don't expect black and Hispanic students to measure up, so we're giving them a pass, while we expect only the best grades and test scores from whites and Asians. Isn't this racism, pure and simple? Few college administrators are as blunt in their assessment as former Rutgers president Francis Lawrence was in 1995 when he told a faculty meeting, "The average SAT (score) for African-Americans is 750. Do we set standards in the future so we don't admit anybody? Or do we deal with a disadvantaged population that doesn't have that genetic, hereditary background to have a higher average?" Lawrence nearly lost his job over the ensuing flap, but because he was such a staunch liberal and defender of affirmative action, he didn't. The Supreme Court should consider what effect racial double standards have, not only on the whites and Asians who are passed over, but on the blacks and Hispanics who benefit from them. The University of Michigan, for example, admits more black students under its affirmative action program than it might if colorblind standards were applied, but many marginal black students at Michigan fail to graduate. CEO found that almost 90 percent of white students graduated within six years, but only about two-thirds of black students did. We saw similar patterns nearly everywhere. The irony is that many of the black students who gained admission through racial preferences at Michigan and other highly competitive schools could easily have gained admission on their own merit at slightly less competitive schools. They wouldn't have landed out on the street, as some college administrators imply, but at good schools where their grades and test scores were the same as their white and Asian peers -- and where they would be poised not only to succeed but even excel. Ever since the Supreme Court handed down its Gordian knot-like decision in the Bakke racial quota case in 1978, colleges and universities have been trying to socially engineer their student enrollment to reflect some ideal racial balance. It's time the court put an end to this mischief once and for all and got back to the original goal of the civil rights movement. No person should be denied opportunity because of the color of his or her skin.