U-Michigan Case Spurs Discussion For PA Community

As the PA campus discussed the issue of race on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, people across the nation discussed the contentious issue of affirmative action, which has resurged in the recent case against the University of Michigan, a trial which is currently before the US Supreme Court. President George W. Bush ’64 denounced the University of Michigan for its use of race as a factor in admission and said that his administration would take the matter up with the Supreme Court by deeming the institution’s policy of awarding “extra points” to minorities unconstitutional. Bush’s denunciation comes at a time when Phillips Academy students are applying to selective schools including the University of Michigan. His speech took a definitive stance on the long-debated topic of affirmative action in schools and whether schools and institutions have the power to use race as a factor when granting applicants admission. Three white students brought the case before the high court, asserting that they were denied admission into the undergraduate and law programs because they were not minorities. In disagreement with Bush’s anti-affirmative action stance, College Counselor Virginia Fay, who also headed the Affirmative Action in Colleges workshop on MLK Day, said, “I would hate to lose affirmative action…. We’re not at a point where race does not matter.” Ms. Fay continued, “Every school uses some method of quantifying an application; however, the decision is never made solely on the score system.” Although she does not know how the court will rule, she noted, “I hope they don’t overturn the Bakke Decision.… This case will probably bring scrutiny to the application process at large, federally funded schools.” In the 1978 Bakke v. Regents of the University of California decision, the Supreme Court decided that race could be one of the factors in developing a diverse student body in university admission decisions, though quotas were deemed unconstitutional. Shaun Blugh ’03, an African-American student who is still applying to the University of Michigan, said, “I’m against the point system, and I’m extremely against giving 20 points to people based on race. I don’t think I should get particular preference because of the color of my skin.” Alexandra Lee ’03, a Korean-American who has already been accepted into the university and is also a resident of Michigan, said, “In my case, I don’t think that my ethnicity played a role, but rather the fact that I’m an in-state resident.” When asked of her thoughts on Bush’s involvement with the issue, she commented, “I don’t think it’s his place to say. I think there are currently more pressing issues.” Evan McGarvey ’03, a white student who has also been accepted into the University of Michigan, commented on the school’s concern for diversity: “Ideally, all school admissions should be based on merit, but the University of Michigan’s attempt to diversify their campus is admirable.” He went on to say that public schools should “accurately represent” the population of its state. “I think Michigan needs to represent the black population of the state.” The University of Michigan admits applicants through a point system with a maximum score of 150, and generally accepts those who score above 100. In a controversial practice, the school gives African-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics 20 extra points based on their status as members of a racial minority group. In perspective, any student with a perfect SAT score would only receive 12 points in the UMichigan admissions system. The university, known as one of the best state school’s in the nation, has commented that race is only one of the factors that their admissions board uses to assess a student, and that they consider academic qualifications as the “the overwhelming criteria” in admission decisions. Bush has considered the preference toward certain minorities as a way of fulfilling “quotas.” He commented in a statement recorded by the New York Times, “I strongly support diversity of all kinds, including racial diversity in higher education. But the method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal is flawed.” Despite his condemnation of affirmative action, he stated, “Racial prejudice is a reality in America. It hurts many of our citizens. As a nation, as a government, and as individuals we must be vigilant in responding to prejudice wherever we find it.” Bush said in the statement, “We’re committed to racial justice…. My administration will continue to actively promote diversity and opportunity in every way that the law permits.” Opponents of Bush see his stance on affirmative action as a continuation of “a disturbing pattern of using the rhetoric of diversity as a substitute for real progress on a civil rights agenda,” as Massachusetts Senator Jon Kerry stated. Other critics have remarked that during a time when the US is on the brink of war in possibly two separate theaters, the presidential administration should not be concerned with policy changes at the University of Michigan.