- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

Area college leaders applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s twin decisions yesterday regarding the University of Michigan’s use of race in its admissions policies, saying the rulings offer a pragmatic way to achieve student diversity and a 25-year time limit to revisit affirmative action.

“This gives a victory to both sides in the debate,” said Stephen J. Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University. “The court says it expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interests [of diversity and pluralism] approved today.

“But … if it hasn’t achieved its goal in a quarter-century, then it needs to be term-limited and eliminated.”

The court, in separate but related rulings, said Michigan’s racially oriented undergraduate admissions system, which gave minority applicants one-fifth of the points needed to guarantee admission, was unconstitutional, and upheld the law school’s consideration of race as a “plus factor” for minority applicants.

Mr. Trachtenberg and other university leaders said the rulings will have “little or no effect” on most Washington-area universities, which have become “a melting pot of America” without resorting to statistical affirmative-action admissions practices.

“We assiduously stay away from anything that looks like a quota system,” said C.D. Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland at College Park. He said Maryland will study the court’s decision to determine if adjustments are necessary.

“While [the court] disallowed Michigan’s undergraduate admission practice of applying a score to weight individual factors, the court has affirmed the right of universities to select their student bodies according to their missions and reflective of today’s global society,” Mr. Mote said.

In practice, the university’s admission practices have led to a more diverse student population whose quality “has skyrocketed since 1991,” Mr. Mote said.

Faculty members at George Mason University offered a discordant view.

“This is a major decision which gives a green light to discrimination in colleges and universities against whites and Asians,” said Nelson Lund, a George Mason law professor. He said he was surprised the majority opinion in the law-school case was written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“In the past, she has been reluctant to find that racial discrimination is legal, but now she has made it legal,” Mr. Lund said.

Toni-Michelle Travis, a George Mason government professor, said race was always a factor in University of Michigan admissions practices.

“Michigan didn’t admit any blacks for the first 51 years of their existence, so race was always taken into consideration, but it was always totally exclusionary against blacks,” she said.

The high court ruling against Michigan’s affirmative-action point system to help black applicants will force some colleges and universities to rethink their policies, she said.

“At George Mason, our applicant pool is quite diverse to begin with, so I don’t think we’re going to change anything in undergraduate administration in any way. But at the graduate or professional level, such as the law school, you don’t get the diverse applicant pool,” she said.

“You get very few who are not white applying, so that raises the question: Do you consider other criteria?”

John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, said the court “appears to have recognized the importance of supporting the goal of diversity in higher education, [and the rulings] respond to an unprecedented interest in this issue and will be tremendously important to higher education and our entire society.”

Mary Kennard, vice president and general counsel at American University, said the two cases confirm her university’s admissions policies to attain a diverse campus.

“We don’t use a point system. We actually look at the background and experience of the individual students to shape our class,” she said.

Leaders at other Washington-area universities also spoke of their admissions processes that evaluated each student as an individual, using many different criteria including race to identify students who would benefit most from their programs while contributing to the institutions’ scholarly missions.

The leaders listed several dozen criteria, including a student’s grade-point average, considered with the percentage of college-bound students from the student’s school; grades in senior year of high school or undergraduate school; performance on standardized tests; specific courses taken and honors abilities; specialties such as music and athletics; and histories of other family members attending the school.

“Some schools give an edge to students if they are not a drain on financial resources of the school” by expecting school-based financial aid, said Michael Tapscott, admissions director for Regent University’s graduate school in Alexandria.

Regent is a Christian school and has a faith-based component in its 30-point admissions “grid,” Mr. Tapscott said. “It’s more of an intensive process than the media and courts have given credit.”

He said he doesn’t think the court’s decisions in the Michigan case will make a difference at Regent. “We already have a very diverse student body and a large range of criteria to make sure the student is a good match for the program and has a high likelihood to be successful in it,” he said.

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