- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Although President Bush's disappointing last-minute Supreme Court brief opposing the University of Michigan's admissions policies lacked political courage, recent experience shows that, even if the Supreme Court reverses the 1978 Bakke decision, eliminating the use of race in deciding who gets admitted to college will take more than a high court ruling. Current admissions practices at Texas' Rice University suggest that, if the Supreme Court rules against race-based college admissions, university administrators will simply subvert the court ruling and revert to the reverse-discrimination status quo.
Like the University of Michigan Law School, Rice University is a highly selective institution. It accepts only 700 students from the more than 7,000 who apply for admission. Although it is a private university, Rice receives about $45 million annually in federal funding. So in 1996, when a federal court ruled in Hopwood vs. Texas that admissions procedures at public universities in Texas illegally discriminated against white applicants, attorneys for Rice University concluded that they might lose their federal funding if they did not change their admissions policies favoring minority applicants.
How Rice has changed its admissions practices reveals how other colleges and universities will hide race-based discrimination if the University of Michigan loses the Supreme Court case. Rice's dean for undergraduate enrollment, Julie M. Browning, gave a revealing interview to the New York Times last year in which she discussed how her university subverts the court's ruling in Hopwood vs. Texas.
"You can no longer say to the (admissions) committee, "This is a great African-American," Ms. Brown told the Times. "You have to drop a lot of language associated with affirmative action." Note that Ms. Brown does not say you have to stop giving minority applicants preferential treatment based on race. You simply must not admit or acknowledge that race is still a pivotal consideration in admissions.
Here are some of the ways that Rice University's admissions committee has devised to evade the law. At the start, applicants are encouraged to submit essays discussing "cultural traditions." This is an open invitation to identify themselves as members of a racial or ethnic minority. To further aid in picking out minority applicants, Rice asks if students speak English as a second language. The admissions committee scans applications for evidence of race, like membership in a high school black-student group. In one case cited by the Times, a teacher's letter of recommendation cited an applicant's "desire to represent his Hispanic heritage." Even though his SAT scores were 150 points lower than the 1,400 average for successful Rice applicants, he was admitted.
Before Hopwood vs. Texas barred the explicit consideration of race as a deciding factor in college admissions, Rice University's student body was 7.7 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. The year after the Hopwood ruling, the number of blacks and Hispanics in the freshman class dropped to about 4 percent and 8 percent respectively. Last year, thanks to Ms. Brown's sly techniques for identifying an applicant's race to the admissions committee, Rice's freshman class was 7.1 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. In just six years, Rice University has managed to revert to the reverse-discrimination status quo before Hopwood vs. Texas.
The ease with which Rice subverts the Hopwood ruling shows that a Supreme Court decision won't eliminate reverse discrimination. As Ms. Brown's example shows, people in institutions of higher education are not only smart, they are sometimes devious. Other universities are likely to copy Rice's subterranean practices if the Supreme Court rules against the University of Michigan.
Under current law, the burden of proving race-based discrimination is on the individual. By its very nature, it will be extremely hard for a rejected white applicant to prove that race is a key factor in such admissions procedures. This is wrong. With politically incorrect words scrubbed from the admissions process, university officials will simply be able to deny that their decisions were based on race. Nothing in the paper trail or committee deliberations will contradict them. Proving reverse discrimination against conspiratorial admissions committees will be like trying to pin down Bill Clinton in a deposition.
The federal government should bear the burden of ensuring that every college or university that receives federal funding complies fully with any Supreme Court ruling regarding race-based admissions. Congress should make this happen by mandating that college presidents, like corporate CEOs, personally sign an annual report, under criminal and civil penalty, of compliance. Each report should disclose the racial, ethnic and religious composition of the student body and average SAT scores for each group, and truthfully describe the admissions policy. Only vigorous enforcement will accomplish the goal of color-blind college admissions.

John B. Roberts II served in the Reagan White House. He is an author and television producer.


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