Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2003 / 13 Shevat, 5763

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Consumer Reports

One of the most important decisions of Bush's presidency | By the time you read this, President Bush already will have made one of the most important decisions of his presidency. No, I'm not talking about whether the president will give the order to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, though that clearly is at the top of the president's priorities. By Thursday, the president must decide whether or not to disavow unequivocally the use of racial and ethnic preferences in college admissions.

On Jan. 16, briefs are due in the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving racial and ethnic preferences at the University of Michigan undergraduate and law schools, and it is customary in a case of this importance for an administration to file a brief with the Court stating its position. This case has been 25 years in the making, ever since the Court issued its infamous Bakke decision, which established a justification for colleges to use race in selecting their students in the interests of promoting "diversity."

It's inconceivable that the president would support Michigan's program -- one of the worst in the nation. The Michigan affirmative action plan actually awarded extra points to black and Hispanic applicants, allowing students with significantly worse grades and test scores to be admitted over better-qualified white and Asian students. The median test scores of black students admitted to the University of Michigan undergraduate program were 230 points lower and high school grades nearly a half point lower (on a four-point scale) than that of whites in the mid-1990s when my organization, the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), analyzed admissions records for the school. Indeed, Michigan ranked second worst in using racial preferences in selecting students among the 57 public colleges and universities CEO analyzed.

But the administration must go further than simply criticizing Michigan's program. Unless the Supreme Court once and for all throws out the "diversity" rationale as the basis on which schools can elect to take race into account in picking their students, this issue will continue to fester. And the president should lead the way by urging the Court to abandon racial discrimination in the name of "diversity."

The president is already on record supporting this view. When he was running for re-election as governor of Texas in 1998, Bush filled out a questionnaire from the nonprofit Campaign for a Colorblind America, in which he said he disagreed with the statement: "For the sake of obtaining a diversity of viewpoints and experiences, public educational institutions should be allowed to consider the race and ethnicity of applicants." Bush even appended his own comments on the questionnaire: "I do not support race-based quotas or preferences," he said. "Public colleges and universities have an affirmative duty to offer equal opportunity to all applicants. Equal opportunity doesn't guarantee equal results -- but it guarantees that every person will get a fair shot based upon their potential, heart and merit," he added.

The president shouldn't let the administration's brief in the Michigan case be the last word on expanding opportunity, however. One of the reasons Bush was able to disavow racial preferences in the name of diversity and still garner significant support in the black and Hispanic communities in Texas was that he promoted greater access to college for all disadvantaged students in the state by improving high school college preparation programs in low-income schools.

He has an even greater opportunity to promote his vision of "affirmative access" as president. He's already started with his "No Child Left Behind" program by emphasizing higher standards and more accountability in elementary and secondary schools, but there's more work to be done at the higher education level.

Ending racial preferences is the first step, but making colorblind equal opportunity a reality requires a renewed commitment to closing the skills gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts. Pretending this skills gap doesn't exist by promoting race-based "diversity" in college admissions, however, isn't the answer -- and I'm betting the president knows it.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate