In an effort to rationalize his decision to oppose affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan now before the U.S. Supreme Court, school officials say President Bush has wrongly labeled the university admission process as promoting “quotas” … In an effort to rationalize his decision to oppose affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan now before the U.S. Supreme Court, school officials say President Bush has wrongly labeled the university admission process as promoting “quotas” and is providing inaccurate information on how they work.
After making a passing reference to what he says is support for “racial diversity in higher education,” Bush said in a nationally-televised address: “At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes perspective students, based solely on their race.”
In a clear case of racial insensitivity, Bush announced his opposition to the pending affirmative action cases on what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 74th birthday.
Bush announced, “Tomorrow my administration will file a brief with the court arguing that the University of Michigan’s admission policies, which award numerical targets for incoming minority students, are unconstitutional.”
After a front-page story in the Washington Post disclosed that national security advisor Condoleezza Rice had been instrumental in getting Bush to oppose the Michigan programs, she issued a statement saying, “I believe that while race neutral means are preferable, it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body.”
In a seven-minute address from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Bush used the terms “quota” or “quotas” three times in describing the Michigan programs. Quotas were outlawed as part of the Supreme Court’s decision 25 years ago in University of California Regents v. Bakke, and the University of Michigan denies that they use them.
“It is unfortunate that the president misunderstands how our admission process works at the University of Michigan,” University President Mary Sue Coleman said. “We do not have, and have never had, quotas or numerical targets in either the undergraduate or law school admissions programs. Academic qualifications are the overwhelming considerations for admissions to both programs.”
Denouncing programs designed to increase diversity on college campuses as a “quota” is a popular technique of the Far Right. Also depicting them as “race based,” although no university in the United States accepts a student based solely on his or her race, further clouds the issue.
The so-called mainstream media has evidently bought into this manipulation of language. For example, a headline in the Jan. 15 Washington Post read: “President To Oppose Race-Based Admissions.” A headline that same day in USAToday proclaimed: “White House to oppose Michigan policy of race-based admissions.”
The national news media, for the most part, also failed to place the issue in a proper context. While it is true that most public universities use race among many factors when considering qualified applicants for admission, experts say, they also consider other factors, such as whether the applicant is an athlete, whether the student comes from another geographical region and whether their parents attended the same university.
Bush failed to point out that he benefited from a special legacy program at Yale University that gave him extra points when considering his undergraduate application because his father, then a congressman, had also attended Yale. Right-wing groups that crisscross the country attacking affirmative action programs have not attacked these alumni preference programs.
A book to be published in March, titled The Assault on Diversity: An Organized Challenge to Racial and Gender Justice, by Lee Cokorinos, research director of the Institute for Democracy Studies in New York, traces the organized attack on affirmative action.
In his introduction to the book, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers in Lanham,