- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

It wasn't enough that Jennifer Gratz had to take on the University of Michigan and much of the civil rights establishment to try to fulfill a dream. Now one of the biggest corporations in the world, mighty General Motors Corp. (GM), is standing in the way. Why? Apparently it's because Miss Gratz, who happens to be white, has the wrong skin color.

In 1995, Miss Gratz was just another high school senior hoping to get into the university of her choice, the nearby University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. But she was no ordinary student. She was 12th in her high school class of 299, a cheerleader, National Honor Society member, student council vice president. She did volunteer work at a senior citizens center, organized a blood drive and served as a math tutor. Nor was she the child of academic achievement. Neither of her parents completed college; if she got in, it wasn't because she was a "legacy."

But she didn't get in. The school first put her on the waiting list, then rejected her. She was stunned. She was also skeptical because she believed her academic record was better than that of persons she knew had been accepted.

Although she didn't know it at the time, others were also suspicious of Michigan admissions practices. Working with professors at the school who had obtained admissions records through Freedom of Information Act requests, lawyers with the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights (CIR) discovered that the school was actually running a segregated admissions system: If minorities African-Americans, Hispanics and others obtained certain scores, they were automatically accepted. If members of disfavored ethnic groups achieved the same scores, they enjoyed no such guarantee. Many would go onto a waiting list to be admitted only if no minority candidate was available to fill the slot. In 1997, CIR filed a class-action lawsuit against the school on behalf of Miss Gratz and others who had suffered from Michigan's racial manipulations, charging the school with illegal discrimination.

This month General Motors filed an amicus brief defending the school's use of racial bias to set aside admissions openings for preferred races and ethnic groups African-Americans, Hispanics and others at the expense of people like Miss Gratz. It's not the easiest practice in the world to defend, and GM carefully doesn't try. Aside from citing the court case in which she is involved by name, the company's brief makes almost no mention of her or of the substance of her complaint. (Indeed, in a footnote the company tries to distance itself from the particulars of the case even as it defends the race preferences that led to it.)

Instead General Motors lays out an antiseptic vision of social engineering wiped clean of the casualties associated with it. "In General Motors' view," the company said in a press release and in the brief filed in federal district court in Michigan, "only a well-educated, highly-diverse workforce, comprised of people who have learned to work productively and creatively with individuals from a multitude of races and ethnic, religious, and cultural histories, can maintain America's global competitiveness in the increasingly diverse and interconnected world economy." Added GM Vice President Harry J. Pearce in a prepared statement, "We call upon others in corporate America who share our concerns to step forward and articulate their position."

General Motors' argument seems to be that unless U of M classrooms, dorms and athletic locker rooms achieve some percentage quota of racial or religious minorities, education (read: "consciousness raising") can't happen. "Proscribing the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions," complains the company, would "dramatically reduce" diversity and deprive students of the "acquisition of cross-cultural skills."

What kind of diversity? Certainly not the intellectual variety. The National Association of Scholars argues in an amicus brief of its own that "intellectual diversity promotes a rich and valuable educational experience… But intellectual diversity bears no obvious or necessary relationship to racial diversity achieved through racial preferences." To say otherwise, to impute groupthink to one race or another, smells of stereotypes thought to have gone out with the Jim Crow South. How odd to think that a university where one can cultivate the vast expanse of human knowledge for its own sake in literature, fine arts, history and more would settle for such a pale, pinched measurement of diversity as race.

General Motors does not specify the level at which an emergency university roundup of Aleuts or Ethiopian Jews is necessary to salvage diversity in art history class. Rather it defends race consciousness in general, leaving it to the university to fill out the details.

So it is. A minority applicant starts with an extra 20 points (out of a possible 150) just for the color of his skin. Twenty points, says the school's 2000 admissions guidelines, "will be awarded to an applicant who … is a member of a federally recognized underrepresented race or ethnicity, which is also underrepresented on the UM Ann Arbor campus." To put that figure in perspective, the difference between having a 3.0 grade point average (gpa) and a 4.0 gpa or between a 2.0 gpa and a 3.0 gpa is also 20 points. Likewise, getting the highest scores in standardized college placement tests is worth only 12 points.

Alas, for Miss Gratz, she flunked Michigan's skin color test and had to go to school elsewhere in Michigan. When General Motors takes a break from its social engineering, perhaps it could take a few minutes to explain to her why it's a good thing she didn't get that chance.

E-mail: smithk@twtmail.com

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